The “nursing experience” myth debunked

Images By: Peter Dazeley

Every nurse has been told this during a conversation about job opportunities: “You need to get some regular floor experience before you specialize.”

You can paint it any color you want, but most nurses who hear this are either new graduate nurses or are seasoned nurses who are trying to dive back into the clinical world.

I’m here to tell you it’s a MYTH. It’s an urban legend. There is NO theoretical evidence that a nurse needs prior experience in order to perform well at a chosen job. Okay, maybe there is, but in my travels as a nurse I’ve never seen this myth supported in any way.

I was one of the lucky ones. When I started as a nurse, all specialty nursing units (ICU) were frothing at the mouth for nurses. They didn’t care how much experience you had–as long as you were willing to go the extra mile, they hired ya. And I’m not talking some small four- or eight-bed suped-up telemetry unit, I’m talking urban teaching hospitals with level 1 trauma status.

As my career progressed, the needs and wants of nursing units changed, and then the economy dropped the infamous ball. Now we’re back to square one, with many specialty nursing units shunning away from new grads with no experience. I’m not sure if it was the strain on the economy or some weird paradigm shift?

What I can tell you is this: In my short tenure as a nurse, I’ve seen both sides of the coin. I’ve seen a seasoned critical care nurse from another hospital with umpteen years of experience fail miserably at a new job in critical care. And I’ve also seen a green-behind-the-ears new grad with no experience shine and become a hard-charging, take-the-lead nurse who scoffs in the face of danger.

I personally don’t think it has anything to do with want or need or ability or personality. I think it has everything to do with desire, willingness and cojones.

I can say with 100% certainty that you are either built for this job or you aren’t. There is no grey area in critical care. You either survive or your drown. I like to make the parallel comparison to our profession in general–you are either built to be a nurse, or you aren’t.

The next time someone feeds you this line of bull, be sure and explain to them why you would be a perfect fit for the job. Convince them they could use a nurse like you. Or don’t you have the cojones?

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10 Responses to The “nursing experience” myth debunked

  1. mndz87 LPN

    I totally agree. I am a recent grad and it gets very frustrating when many job post say experience only. But really how is one to gain experience when one isn’t given the opportunity?

    • saturn567

      yeah I still remember that, and even now after having 2 years experience , they tell me no because I barely have an acute care experience, hey what if I wanted to jump back into acute care, I can’t because no one will give me chance to prove myself


    I really think it has more to do with how much a person is willing to learn, and almost personality in a way. I am constantly learing new things in the ICU where I work. You have to be open to that, it doesn’t matter if you are fresh out of school or have been working for 20 years in a different department. But also your personality has to match with where you are working/ wanting to work. I have always said, sometimes, its easier to train someone how you want them (a new grad) than it is to retrain someone that has their own ideas about doing things (an experienced nurse).

  3. Abby

    It would be nice for the hospitals to get this message. Also, the hospitals who only hire BSN nurses. ADN and BSN both have similar amounts of actual clinical experience. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t hire ADN as long as their in school for BSN.

  4. tarzan21315

    I love this because as a nurse who is a preceptor for students I get asked alot “what do you think I should do first? Medical surgical or OB”…I always say “what you want to do and will fight for.” and I get awful lookds from older “more seasoned” nurses who believe you must always start on a med surge and get your feet wet first.

  5. Nurse Rene RN

    The BEST ‘experience model’ for new grads that I ever saw was an Internship at a Level 1 teaching hospital. The nurses who chose to participate went through a 12 week ‘rotation’ through every unit in the hospital (a 500 bed facility) before they were ‘cut loose’ to pick their dream job.
    This hospital DID require new grads to have at least 2 years on a med-surg floor before transitioning to an ICU because it was important to hone all of the skills that it takes to work effectively within such a large facility. Getting enough practice with one’s assessment and reporting skills, communication with docs and other ancillary departments and developing your own ‘circle of support’, etc. because you don’t have the TIME to say ‘pretty please’ and WAIT for stuff/help when things go south in the ICU.
    I was also hired in as a new grad in a large urban hospitals’ Surgical ICU as a new grad. However, ICU ain’t what it used to be! We now have more requirements such as ACLS and all of its’ variations along with the ever-changing high tech environment and patients living with maladies that used to kill them outright. We did not even have the FAX machine when i started working!
    Most Guys, however, want to jump in to the ‘sexy’ stuff: ICU, ER, Flight Nurse, etc. as quickly as possible and most do not care to work a mundane med/surg floor. Some do the minimum amount of clinical time required in order to jump in to anesthesia school or some other big dollar specialty. What is scary is that they can find themselves out in some remote surgery ‘center’ without the experience and knowledge to back up their level of responsibility. And most surgeons do NOT know anesthesia well enough to get them out of trouble. When things go bad, they go REALLY bad very quickly.
    (As a patient who had 4 knee surgeries in 4 years, I do not want anyone but the very best board-certified Anesthesiologist on my case!)
    I am also one of the ‘over-50’, highly experienced, with a CCRN and a BSN who cannot get ‘in’ due to age discrimination and current hiring practices.

  6. Belasko RN

    I think that this article has over simplified the issue by presenting one aspect of a more complex formula for a good specialty nurse. Yes, I completely agree that it takes a certain personality and the desire to put in the time and effort to learn the job as well as the “cojones” to do it. However making a good ICU nurse is more than just desire and personality. It would be very easy to say that people that try this area and don’t succeed at it didn’t have the desire to do it, learn it or the personality since most will go into another area and most likely won’t try again. I base this on several nurses that have started in our ICU (both experienced and new grads) and of those only two have tried it again. At least in the same ICU. In both cases those two were solid ICU nurses the second time around, where the first time they severely struggled. I have also seen new grads that came in. Got 3 months orientation to the ICU w/ the best preceptors we had to offer and they have become some of the best nurses I know. But I’ve also seen nurses with 6 months to >5 years experience come in, get the standard 6 week orientation with the same preceptors and fail.

    This idea that you can and should jump right into your specialty of choice just because you want to is too easy. I would suggest that you need to analyze it carefully. Maybe start on a med/surg or tele floor with the intent and plan to move into your specialty when you have learned how to quickly connect an ambu back to O2, push epi in an IV port without stabbing yourself, and how to prime blood tubing properly. Because no matter what school you go to, you probably didn’t remember everything they taught you, and afterwards you realize how much they didn’t teach you. I know that was my experience.

  7. breehat

    It took me such a long time to get a job because every employer or agency I go to look for experience when I was just a freshly-licensed new graduate. I had done volunteering jobs without pay, and a lot of them don’t count them as experience. I was on the point of desperation because Nursing is a Catch-22 world….they need “experienced nurses but they don’t want to give experience.” And even with my home care experience, employers don’t want it because they think it’s not experience. Even though I am a very dedicated, hardworking willing -to-go-the-extra-mile , smart nurse,they don’t like to hire me SIMPLY because I have no experience and it’s terribly frustrating that their ignorance and narrow-mindedness in setting their limitations could also hurt them. The only way I got my job is I constantly updated my skills through certifications and largely because of my “connection”–friends who hold high positions in the administration of facilities. I think that’s the only way to go—social connections…otherwise, you’ll end up not having a job for years even though you’re the brightest, most hardworking, and pleasantly compassionate nurse ever existed.

  8. partsgirl0991

    In school, we had clinical rotations through each department. I love that model, because I found out right away that I hated OB and Med/Surg. I fell in love with CCU. I knew that’s where I belonged. The hospital that hired me is a level 2 trauma center, with a 48- bed CCU. I went through 16 weeks of extensive classroom training and hands-on training with various preceptors. Now, I am “on my own” but I shadow the same schedule as my mentor for two more months, so that if I have questions I know I have a dedicated go-to person. Even that’s not entirely necessary, because 98 percent of the nurses I work with are happy to help and teach me. Even the intensivists and neurologists are happy to spend 10-15 minutes teaching me concepts that are new to me. They’ve all helped make my dream job a reality and I know I will continue to grow.

  9. 8743

    Sorry, I think it’s just another way for colleges to make more money, as far as requiring a BSN to be hireable as an RN. I’m all for furthering your education but I’m 56, have been a nurse for 21 years, and am looking forward to slowing down and retirement. I have no interest in going back to school, unless it was in a different field. In another 10. Years they will start requiring a masters degree. When does it stop. I believe sometimes requiring more years of education discourages many people from entering many careers.