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Step 8

Beyond the Bedside: Alternative Nursing Opportunities

While you’ve likely heard all about the benefits of a new grad residency program, you don’t have to wait to be accepted into one, or for the perfect inpatient position, to start using your hard-earned RN license. 

As explained a bit further in our article on nurse residency programs, new grad programs are often cyclical, highly competitive, and aren’t always offered every year. What’s most important is that you start working as soon as possible to start building a foundation of knowledge, experience, and skills. 

Keep in mind that it’s highly unlikely your first job will be your last, and having a variety of experiences through an intensive suite of scenarios will enable you to understand which direction you want to take your career. 

Alternative nursing opportunities and contract jobs are often overlooked as entry points for new grads but are highly viable and can get you valuable experience right off the bat!

What Are Contract Opportunities?

Contract opportunities, simply put, are nurse positions where you commit to working for a finite period of time. They’re temporary opportunities and don’t necessarily guarantee a certain amount of work for any given time period.

There is often a lower bar for entry and less competition because they are not being as widely considered, and they take a bit more initiative to pursue. That said, this kind of experience can even help make you more marketable for that perfect position you’d otherwise be holding out for. 

It shows initiative, enables you to meet and network with other health professionals, and similar to any other job, it helps you get a foot in the door. Additionally, it can also be a great opportunity to make extra money and gain experience if you’re already working at a full-time inpatient opportunity.

Contract opportunities differ in that they don’t consist of formal training, mentorship, and oversight in the way a new grad residency program might. Oftentimes, you don’t work directly for the healthcare facility but instead for an agency. This can make it easier to get hired because it’s somewhat unconventional for new grad nurses, yet agencies must deliver on providing an adequate number of nurses to a facility.

When you do find your most ideal position, you might even maintain one of these opportunities part-time to complement and supplement your work, or to be challenged and stimulated in a different way.

nurse puts bandaid on little girl new grad nursing skills


Types of Nursing Contract Opportunities

Start contacting agencies about opportunities for new grads right away. Look for opportunities that are skill-specific, such as flu-shot clinics, BP screening clinics, diabetes patient care as a school nurse, the list goes on.

Flu Shot Clinics

In an effort to get flu compliance from all their employees in the most seamless way possible, medium and large companies often hire an agency to set up flu clinics in the workplace at the front-end of flu season. 

This type of opportunity typically requires little to no previous experience (obviously experience handling needles, but hopefully you did that at some point during nursing school!) and the agency will provide all the supplies.

Urgent Care

New grad opportunities in urgent care will often be in triage, physical assessments, preparing rooms, or for assisting in certain procedures and will give you a wide range of experience. You never know what challenge or situation will walk through the door or be required of you!

Home Health

Many home health opportunities for new grads consist of education, diabetes management, post-operative care and check-ins, and wound and dressing changes. These are general nursing skills and experience that would be applicable to any future opportunities.

Clinics (Volunteer or Paid)

Clinics are a great segue into public health, as there are many that offer care to underserved populations that are frequently hiring clinicians - whether paid or volunteer. These are great ways to learn autonomy, some basic assessment skills, how to communicate with non-English-speaking patients, to understand population health (and perhaps the care your future discharged patients will seek) and build rapport with an interdisciplinary team of physicians, social workers, and medical assistants.

Tips & Tricks

Be Optimistic.

It might be your first job, but it certainly won’t be your last. Every opportunity is one to learn, regardless of how specific.

Put Yourself Out There.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t check every box under a job description. Employers are often ambitious when writing them and don’t advertise the true flexibility that exists.

Be Patient.

Being a new grad is a tough but very exciting time. You won’t be a pro overnight, within the first week, and probably not within first few months either. Be patient with how quickly you’re able to connect certain dots, master tactile skills, or learn how to communicate effectively with various types of patients.

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Sarah Gray, RN
Sarah is a Pediatric Clinical Nurse III at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and a UCSF 2017 Evidence Based Practice Fellow. A New Jersey native, Sarah graduated from Penn Nursing and has been living in San Francisco ever since. She's been an athlete her whole life and continues to be passionate about health, fitness, and making the most of all opportunities. She continues to harness her passion for innovation and process improvement in her role as Founding Clinician at Trusted Health.

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