When searching for a new job, it can be hard to know exactly what the new job entails. Nobody is foolish enough to believe that there is such a thing as a perfect job that has no difficult colleagues to work with or parts of the job that are boring or unappealing. It is a fact that every nursing job has an upside and downside when compared to another.
Chances are you have important questions that you want accurate answers to. Questions that will not be answered in a job posting. Job interviews can often feel superficial and sugar-coated. Finding the answers to specific questions often feels like searching in the dark. As someone on the outside, how can you tell if a new job is truly a good fit before signing the dotted line? Let’s discuss some questions to ask yourself to gauge if a particular job is a right fit for you, and determine how to get the answers so you can make the most informed decision possible.
How well staffed is the unit?
Unit staffing plays an enormous role in the patient experience as well as staff satisfaction. Units that struggle to maintain adequate nursing staffing levels also struggle to maintain healthy and satisfied staff. Conversely, units that are staffed well can prevent staff burnout, provide a better patient experience, and get things done in a more efficient manner. If you hear about poor staffing levels or see that a unit always has job postings, it might be worth investigating this point.
As a potential new staff on a poorly staffed unit, numerous things will be more difficult than they should be and could hinder your job satisfaction. For starters, orientation might be difficult when staff are overly stressed and are overburdened with difficult assignments. This could make the orientation process a disaster. Other aspects of the job could be more difficult than need be.
Take for instance trying to find someone to switch weekends with you when a family event comes up on short notice on your weekend to work. Poor staffing limits your options as far as who could take your shift and colleagues might avoid picking up knowing that adding an extra shift could be burdensome. Units that are appropriately staffed and have higher levels of camaraderie find it easy to get the time off they need because staff enjoy their work, have a positive attitude, and are not burnt out.
Poorly staff units are more susceptible to low work morale. Staff might not enjoy their work and therefore dread coming to work, which is not fun to be a part of.
Caution: some units naturally have a significant turnover but are adequately staffed. High turnover areas can be difficult in their own respect but it doesn’t necessarily mean turnover for
negative reasons. Many ICUs find staff going to CRNA school after a few years on the job and some specialty practices might not attract many RNs due to lack of familiarity with the job. Be sure to understand the why behind turnover or poor staffing levels.
What is the size of the unit?
The size of the unit directly impacts many aspects of your job. Inpatient units can average 40-200 nursing staff in a single unit. Outpatient units can be large or have as many as one to a handful of nurses in a particular practice. When it comes to time off, units with more staff offer more options as far as people to trade with.
Smaller units or practices can have a lot of flexibility, or very little. Small units often don’t have anyone covering their practice while they are away so when they return, a ton of work is waiting and it can be overwhelming to catch up. Smaller units also require someone to cover workload that just isn’t feasible for a single individual. Be sure to consider how the size of the units impacts the ability to get time off and workload when others are away.
Who do you support and how?
Understanding RN responsibilities mean knowing who the RN supports in a potential new role and what their practice consists of. Generally speaking, inpatient nurses work alongside physicians and provide direct patient care whereas clinic nurses support physicians by caring for patients. If the RN supports a physician practice you will need to be located where they consult patients or perform procedures. Does the RN position support one, two or a group of physicians? How do you support them? Do you join them in consults? Place orders? Educate patients? Are these types of practices and interactions you are looking for a new job? If so, this might be a great fit. If not, look elsewhere.
Is the job 24/7, extended, or regular hours?
Nursing offers different job settings and a variety of job variation within each setting. Often nurses in one setting are unfamiliar with the types of hours nurses work in other settings. Inpatient units work 24/7, 365 days of the year. Generally, staff work every other weekend or every third weekend. There is little flexibility in the inpatient setting where you are forced to work off shifts, weekends, and holidays. Staff can combat the lack of flexibility by trading shifts with colleagues to make a schedule that fits their preferences.
Extended positions often start early and can work well into the evening. They have a higher pay rate than the clinic but less than inpatient units. Extended hours often have varying start times and staff can expect to stay late on occasion, sometimes having to wait till the last patient leaves. Extended hours can be difficult to manage for individuals with children or other commitments as the hours can fluctuate and be unpredictable at times. If the unit allows for staff to switch shifts, often staff can work the majority of shifts they desire, but that is never guaranteed.
Clinic hours are predictable and steady. Nurses often work less than full-time which allows them time off during the week. The biggest hindrance to clinic hours is the significant cut in pay. When staff tire of the physical demands and off-shift scheduling of the inpatient unit they often resort to the clinic setting.
Overall, thinking about what you want is critical to making sure your next job is the job versus just a pit stop in your career.
Knowing what you want in a job is only half the battle. Finding the answers to these questions and any other questions you have about a potential new job is the other half of the battle. Here are three ways you can help ensure a potential new job is truly the job you are looking for.
1. Job Shadow
Job shadows are extremely underutilized. If you have big questions you feel were not sufficiently answered in the interview or want to meet and speak with the people you would be working alongside, request a job shadow before or after a job interview. This will get you hours of exposure to the work unit to experience the culture on the unit first hand. It will give you a snapshot of how staffing is and how the RN staff function with physicians and other roles.
Additionally, job shadows allow you the opportunity to freely ask staff any questions in a setting that is likely to get you an honest response. How easy is it to get time off? How often do I work off shifts or on-call? How late do I have to stay on the late shift? Ask the staff why they like their job and maybe the things they dislike about their job. Have you considered how much your potential new manager is liked? The questions and conversations are endless and a job shadow provides a great opportunity to get the answers you’re looking for.
2. Speak to People Who Work There
There is a good chance that you might know someone who works on a unit that you might be interested in. Even better than a conversation with a staff person that you might have just met would be a conversation with a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance who has experience working on the unit you are interested in and can give you the inside scoop. Ask around and even if you know someone who has a relationship with someone who works or worked on the unit, they can help you understand the important questions you have. If you have important questions, you could potentially rule a job out without having to invest time for a job interview or shadow.
3. Meet Unit Leadership
If you are not looking to change organizations, you could reach out to the hiring manager to set up a time to discuss the job you are interested in. This would not be an interview to be clear. The goals would be to meet the manager, get an idea of what they are looking for in a candidate and learn about the position. Managers like to know that potential candidates are knowledgeable about the position they are interviewing for. Otherwise, they fear a new hire might end up not liking the new job and will leave after a short amount of time.
Getting a feel for your potential new manager is a great opportunity as well. Do you see yourself falling under their leadership style or do you think they will make your blood boil every day? Better to know that in advance, right?
Accepting a new job is a major life event. A new job could mean a new pay rate, job description, patient population, co-workers, and so many other things. Make sure before you make the move, that the job you are accepting is the job you think it is by knowing what to ask and how to get the answers.
Tyler Faust is a full-time registered nurse and part-time freelance healthcare writer. He has his BSN and Master’s degree from Winona State University and has worked at Mayo Clinic for over 7 years. Currently, he works as a nurse manager. Tyler is a creative thinker, strategist, and passionate about leadership.