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'I want to be a good nurse, but I don’t feel ready'


Nursing Times resident student nurse blogger Katrina Michelle Rowan on job applications, personal statements and difficult questions.

My little girl is fascinated by babies at the moment. 

Her aunt had a baby just before Christmas and now another aunt has just announced she is pregnant.  My daughter has acquired a collection of dolls that she pretends are her babies.  I was bathing her and she was asking questions about breastfeeding and why her cousin sleeps so much.  Then, “mummy, how do babies get inside mummy’s tummies?”  My other half looked at me in panic and announced I could deal with that question before he promptly left the bathroom.  I didn’t want to lie to my daughter but I felt that she was too young to understand the full workings of baby making, so I gave her a very watered down version of the truth. 

I have found myself thinking of this conversation between myself and my daughter as I fill in application forms for jobs.  We had a full day session last week at university about applying for jobs, writing personal statements and preparing for qualification.  I have 9 months to go before I qualify.  I must admit I had been burying my head in the sand regarding applying for a job, but the day at university made me realise I need to be prepared and start looking.

Part of the day encompassed writing a personal statement to “sell yourself” to the potential employer, writing positive comments that would leave people wanting to know more and hopefully invite you back for an interview.  This is where I have found myself struggling and thinking of that conversation my daughter and I had regarding making babies.  I watered down the truth, gave her the basics, just enough to satisfy her curiosity and told her what I thought was appropriate.  Somehow I have found myself doing something similar when writing my personal statement.  I have put comments like “I am receptive, diplomatic, understanding and supportive to the suggestions and views of others” and  “Working as part of a team where you can share the pleasure of achieving goals and results, I find extremely rewarding, while the challenge of responsibility from undertaking individual roles and tasks I find very satisfying”.  I do believe these comments to be true to me, but actually, what I really want to put is something like the following “I have completed almost 3 years training and don’t feel anywhere near ready to qualify.  The amount of knowledge that I do have is tiny compared to the amount of knowledge I believe I need to know to be a competent nurse.  The thought of looking after a bay of patients as a qualified nurse terrifies me.  I am actually not that good at knowing what the medications many patients are on are actually for and pharmacology makes me cry.  I do however ask endless questions if I’m not sure about something.  I smile a lot, I have a sunny disposition, and I like to laugh.  I have two children who I adore and they have taught me so much about patience that I believe is reflected in my nursing practice.  I believe in compassion and trust.  I think compassion and the ability to communicate are two of the most vital things that being a nurse involves.  I have gone home and cried on some nights when a patient has died.  I have made mistakes, I have learnt from them.  I want to be a good nurse but I don’t feel ready”.

But writing that isn’t going to get me a job even though it’s how I feel.  So, I find myself watering it down, taking out the bad bits, leaving in the positive and hoping an employer somewhere will like my personal statement just enough to consider inviting me for an interview.  On the plus side, I have 9 months to find a job, which is plenty of time to work on my personal statement and in the mean time; I have my daughter, who is still obsessed with babies, to provide me with inspiration for my personal statement. She keeps asking me if I have a baby in my belly.  “No sweetheart” I reply, “Mummy just has too much cake in her belly”.


Readers' comments (15)

  • aya healthcare

    Hi Katrina,

    Keep your chin up and dont give up. It took me 8 months to find a permanent job job and was a traveling nurse during that time.

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  • To be honest I think getting your first post as a Staff Nurse is more down to pot luck on the day than anything else now.

    My own University told me the same stories about the importance of personal statements, having a gleaming and all singing all dancing portfolio, etc etc, they spouted fire and brimstone about it! But that wasn't what got me my first job at all.

    Jobs are scarce now, with many trained staff out of work and unable to find a job. And many trusts are already cutting back on recruitment, I really do see job freezes on the horizon again.

    My own trust did not allow specific wards to advertise, instead we had to go to a trust wide interview.

    We sat an exam first of all, those who passed got invited back for interview. They did not look at my portfolio, they did not ask about individual motivations/experiences etc. We were all asked the same, basic 4 formulaic questions. None of which were clinical in nature really. Okay, maybe the delegation question at a push.

    After all that, they hired less than 10% of all those who went to interview, and I have no doubt that my inclusion in that 10% was luck. It still took admin 4 months after that to start me!

    Not that I want to put anyone off, but the whole getting a job as a trained Nurse when you qualify is a joke. So don't worry about the small stuff now, just fill in as many applications as you can on NHS jobs and hope for the best.

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  • Be positive about yourself, whether you are not having a job, have hope in your life,and with have a vision about what you want to achieve in future. We always learn more as we express ourselves to others.

    Good luck with your studies.

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  • its so nice to know im not alone in feeling completely inadequate and not anywhere near ready to become a nurse in September. i am lucky ive already found a job and have worked on the ward so know what to expect. however im trying to find any excuse to not have to start there such as win the lotto get pregnant or emigrate as the fear has taken over and clouded my judgement. im scared!

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  • Wading through CVs that talk about teamwork and goals and results makes me go blind!. I loved the real one. I least I would know that I was getting an actual caring human being. I'd give you a job on that one!!

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  • I think the fact that so many of us feel unprepared for our first post and the fact that we need preceptorships says a lot about the dismal state of our training.

    Degree vs. Diploma issues aside for the moment, the whole content of both needs an overhaul.

    If the whole course was nothing but A&P, pathophysiology, LTC's, pharmacology and medication, and regular and repeated skills labs, etc, instead of endless 'fluff' subjects like study skills and research modules, then we may feel more prepared for our first day on the ward.

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  • I qualified last year and have been working for 9 months. Everyone I asked "what's it like being newly qualified?" said the same thing: "It's terrifying, but give it 6 months and you will be fine". I have to say that's true. If you weren't scared and feeling un-prepared I would be worried about you. It shows you want to be the best nurse you can, and put into practice all the knowledge and skills you have learned in your course. It won't be enough because, let's face it, you will never stop learning. So, good luck with your job hunt; be honest about yourself, be positive about yourself (this blog is a major selling point) but most of all don't be too hard on yourself. I wasted a lot of energy on that one and it got me nowhere! In 18 months time you will be wondering where the time has gone and final point: try bananas rather than cake, it will sustain you on those long shifts much more effectively!

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  • Just be yourself. From what you saying and your peers are trying to tell you it looks like your are doing fine just fine. Don't panic, take one step at the time. You will get there no matter what and makes sure luck is also on your side. Your passion, fighting spirit and honesty are just inspiring for all.

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  • I am about to start my last placement in July which will carry on till December with 3 weeks A/L in between. I am training in mental health nursing.

    And I feel my knowledge is limited, I'm not a large person, and have been told the horrors of what happens to 'young little nurses like me' many a times by mentors. (i'm only 22 and stand at about 5ft with not much else to me).

    Re- the job thing. We're doing the same thing at the moment, well we are supposed to be doing so, yet due to staff sickness, we are stuck with replacement lecturers who don't really know this module well enough to teach it to us, this has been the case for 2 years now and people wonder why we are demoralised and apprehensive about getting a job.

    Anyway, I wish you well in your job hunt, I am currently working on my portfolio and doing reflections till they're coming out of my arse as thats what employers want.

    I certainly don't feel ready for whats about to hit me!!

    All the best.


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  • Being a newly qualified nurse merely means that you have been trained to recognise that you know nothing.

    This is an important acknowledgment in your development as a nurse and as a human being - embrace this knowledge, learn from it and move forward.

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