Resume FAQs for Nursing Students and New Nurses

By | 2023-08-01T09:40:55-04:00 December 1st, 2022|0 Comments

Whether you’re a nursing student or recently graduated, it’s always a good time to build or update your resume.

The required elements on a nursing resume frequently change, so for nursing students and new nurses, knowing the most important components and executing them well can help them land their first or next nursing role. But what details should you include, and what should you leave out?

Considering all the facets of a nursing resume could be daunting, but identifying and emphasizing all your clinical experience, soft skills, and work or volunteer history will ensure you stand out. Here are some commonly asked questions about nursing resumes for students or newly graduated nurses.

Should I include clinical rotations on my resume?

Clinical rotations immerse you into a healthcare setting and introduce you to a variety of specialties and complex medical environments. You’ll want to emphasize these instances. Having a section dedicated to your student clinical experiences highlights your knowledge and skill set.

Rutgers University’s School of Nursing provides several resume examples that include variations of how to highlight your clinical rotations. One example provides a section titled “Student Clinical Experience,” which recommends listing each healthcare facility where you completed your major rotations (e.g., pediatrics, obstetrics, psych, med/surg). It’s not necessary to be excessively detailed about each position other than providing the location, setting, number of hours, and year and season (e.g., spring 2022). You can mention significant experiences you had or skills you developed, such as working with ventilators or assisting with procedures like placing an IV, in a bulleted list below your clinical experience.

If you completed an externship or internship, be sure to include those details as well. These instances can be listed under your “Work Experience” section. You’ll want to accentuate your responsibilities in each position as well as the proficiencies you advanced, such as becoming more efficient with charting or taking a patient’s vitals. Once you’ve had your first job as a registered nurse (RN), clinical rotations and externships no longer need to be listed.

If you’re already a licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), certified nursing assistant (CNA), or patient care technician with recent experience, it’s not necessary to list clinical rotations. You would simply list positions you held after earning these credentials.

Do I need to mention non-nursing work experience?

Non-nursing work experience highlights the versatility of your skill set, so you should definitely include this on your resume. Whether you’re a second- or even a third-career nurse or you’re a nurse graduate with a minimal work history, you have experience to bring to the table.

Valuable skills that you’ve gained in other positions (e.g., budgeting, writing, selling, or managing an office) can align with the attributes and soft skills you’ll need in a nursing role. Even lifeguarding or waitressing attests to your personal character and qualities.

According to resume guidance from the University of Northwestern, St. Paul, it’s also a good idea to provide non-nursing work history if you have gaps in employment or limited nursing-related work experience. Adding these instances can also show your adaptability in different work environments.

Should I add school-related and volunteer activities?

If you held a leadership role in school or in a professional association, such as a local chapter of the National Student Nurses’ Association, list it in a category titled “Leadership and Volunteer Experience.” Also, think about any special academic honors or acknowledgements you received like making the Dean’s List or graduating with magna cum laude honors, and add those to this section. Avoid the inclusion of high school activities, as this experience can be seen as irrelevant on a professional resume.

Volunteer or community work is another important part of a nursing resume. Examples of volunteer work would be assisting at a homeless shelter, blood bank, Meals on Wheels organization, or with youth groups.

Don’t hesitate to elaborate if you did substantial volunteer work. If you received special recognition or an award for your community service or another related activity, you’ll want to emphasize that. For example, if you organized a blood drive at your school or read to residents of a nursing home, expand on the details of these occasions.

Does my resume have to be on one page, and what other format details should I consider?

According to Yale University’s School of Nursing, resumes should be one to two pages in length. The university also recommends having a 0.5-inch or larger margin, an 11-point text size, and a standard font like Times New Roman for readability.

When constructing your resume, it’s also important to be consistent. Ensure that your spacing, indentation, bullets, and capitalization share the same structure, as this will make your resume easy to follow. Also, when describing your job responsibilities under each piece of work history, make sure your action verbs are written in past tense — except for your current position. For example, if you previously held a role at a medical office, you would write your job responsibilities in this way, “Assisted with the patient intake process.”

Have a friend, classmate, or family member proofread your resume. A second set of eyes can help ensure that everything looks and reads correctly. In fact, an article in the Journal of Nursing Education showed how helpful this practice can be. When nursing students completed practice interviews and their resumes were peer reviewed, they received practical guidance they could apply to future resumes. Peer reviewing can be an effective practice in catching potential errors in formatting or missing information.

Is it required to have a cover letter with my resume?

A cover letter — usually one page in length — gives a more personalized introduction to who you are professionally. It also lets prospective employers know why you want to work for them while expressing your passion for nursing and other special interests.

While cover letters may seem outdated to include, they complement the points made in your resume and emphasize certain skills or experiences you’ve had. You’re inviting potential employers to view aspects of your career and education that you value most.

According to Duke University, it’s also helpful to consider the following elements when writing your cover letter.

  • First impressions — When constructing your cover letter, you’ll want to ensure you’re making a powerful first impression. In your first paragraph, you should include captivating information that describes why you’re a top candidate for the role.
  • Stand out language — Duke University suggests crafting statements that “go beyond” what other candidates are using. So taking certain experiences and highlighting them in a unique way will help you stand out. For example, you can describe tasks you performed in certain roles that required high precision. You can then relate these experiences to the abilities needed for the nursing position you’re applying to.
  • Who you are — A cover letter presents an opportunity to showcase who you are. You can do this in various ways, but one way is to associate your talents, interests, and experience to aspects of the organization’s values or mission statement. This shows you’ve done research on the organization or facility to understand who they are and what they stand for.
  • State the facts — When describing the skill set or characteristics you embody, be clear and factual. As potential hiring managers or recruiters read through your cover letter, they’ll want to see examples of the skills and qualities that match the experiences in your resume.

As you build your nursing resume and start applying with potential employers, be sure you’re highlighting all that you’ve accomplished in school, clinical rotations, internships, volunteer work, and more. By including all these elements and emphasizing your experience, you’re taking the first important step toward a new nursing journey.

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About the Author:

Zelda Meeker is a content marketing specialist for At, she partners with physicians, nurses, curriculum designers, writers, and other staff members to shape healthcare content designed to improve clinical practice, staff expertise, and patient outcomes.

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