Volunteering improves employability for a new nurse

Photo of Jon White

“I worked in information technology for fifteen years and I really enjoyed it, but as I approached 40, I realized I wanted to try something different for the second half of my career. I was interested in helping people, and I wanted something that didn’t involve sitting at a desk all day,” said Jon White.

Around the same time, Jon took up running and started reading books about how to improve his athletic performance. As he learned more about the human body and the way it functions, he became intrigued by the idea of a career in the medical profession. “My mother was a nurse and my sister is a nurse, and after talking with them, I started thinking about a career in nursing.”

Before making a big career change, Jon decided to do volunteer work in medical settings to test the waters while still working full-time as a systems analyst. “I ended up volunteering with a hospice agency as well as one of the local hospitals in the emergency department. I wanted to see if I liked it or not and also to give myself a little more credibility if I decided to apply to school,” he shared.

His volunteer experiences confirmed for him that he wanted to pursue nursing, and after two years of taking prerequisite science courses, he was accepted into the accelerated BSN program at the University of Southern Maine, a highly competitive program. The fifteen-month program, which was for students who already had a bachelor’s degree in a different field, was a great option for him. “I’m an adult learner, pretty established in my life, with a house and mortgage, and I couldn’t just take several years off to go to school. This program, while very grueling because of the compressed time frame, was really ideal for my situation,” he said.

After graduating,  Jon still had some obstacles to overcome. He was surprised to find that, though nurses in general were in high demand, recent graduates were not. “New nurses require a lot of mentoring to get them through their first year. That costs organizations a lot of time and money, and what often happens is people leave very quickly from that first job once they have some experience. All the positions I saw at hospitals were for nurses with at least a year of experience.” Unable to find a position at a hospital, he gratefully accepted a position at a rehab facility. He credits this first job with pushing him out of his comfort zone and helping him to mature quickly as a nurse.  

Your first year of nursing is very difficult, so the more you can prepare yourself, the better.

 

Though he learned a lot at his first job, he was eager to get into a hospital setting to hone his skills and improve his employability in the future. He continued attending job fairs, networking with his former classmates and instructors, and keeping in touch with contacts from his volunteer experience. His persistence paid off when he was offered a position in a nurse residency program in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the hospital where he had volunteered before starting school. “I’m sure I got my foot in the door based on the fact that I had volunteered there and showed some interest in the organization prior to applying to the residency,” he said.

Photo of Jon WhiteDuring the six-month residency, he was paired with a preceptor who guided him through the process of being an ICU nurse. “There was a tremendous amount of support, and it really helped me get my bearings on the new role. It was an invaluable experience,” he said. Now, two-and-a-half years later, he is advancing in his career and orienting new nurses in the unit.

Even though he’s no longer a new nurse, Jon stays focused on improving his employability. He continues to volunteer at various organizations where he can hone his leadership and teaching skills, which he wouldn’t necessarily get to do at work, and he is a big believer in continuing education. “I’ve always been a lifelong learner, and that’s what led me to nursing. I’m always interested in learning new things. The more I know, the better I’m able to handle any situation.”