Graduate Programs - How To Find Your First Job In Nursing

How do soon-to-be graduate nurses or new graduate nurses, without work experience, get great nursing jobs? And what happens if you don’t get  in to a post-graduate professional transition (PPT) program of choice? uPaged explores the options.

First Stop: Get AHPRA-registered

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is the organisation responsible for the implementation of the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for nurses across Australia, and nurses in turn are represented by a National Board - The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA).

You might also wish to join the union in your state. Membership benefits are considerable and range from legal safety nets, journey accident insurance, confidential advice and assistance, professional indemnity insurance and more. In New South Wales, the Union is the NSW Nursing and Midwives’ Association.

AHPRA Registration And Student Nurses

Students of nursing or midwifery in their final year of an approved program of study who are about to graduate can go online to apply for AHPRA registration as a nurse or a midwife, from 4 to 6 weeks before completing a program of study. 

When study is completed, nursing graduates are encouraged to apply for AHPRA registration ASAP, and you can apply for registration online up to 6 months after completing your course. 

Once a new graduate is registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, you are eligible to start working as a nurse or midwife as soon as your name is published on the national register.

It’s also important to note that once you are AHPRA registered, you can only work in the capacity in which you are registered. For example, if a student nurse had been working as an Assistant in Nursing (AIN) while studying, once AHPRA-registered as a Registered Nurse, you can only work as a Registered Nurse.

The Importance Of Post-grad Experience In A Hospital Program

Once registered, it stands to reason that your thoughts will turn to getting your first job in nursing. You’ve studied hard, done the prac but now is the time to get to work. 

PPT programs are designed to facilitate the transition of the newly registered nurse from novice to advanced beginner registered nurse and are delivered over a 12-month period. 

Participation in a post-grad hospital program will ensure you receive the opportunity to consolidate your learning while being part of a supportive team of professionals. This broadening of experience, and ability to specialise, will set you up for a successful nursing career and is a critical first step for all nursing graduates.

Your graduate year is usually a 12-month program, typically made up of graduate study days, formal courses, workshops, education sessions and supernumerary hours (where you are allocated in addition to the clinical staff to take a patient load under the direct supervision of an experienced nurse, to learn, develop skills and get experience) which will support you in your first year. And as an added bonus, you’ll be working with and learning from educators, clinical nurse specialists and consultants, team leaders and a regular team of nurses that are genuinely invested in your success in nursing. They understand what you’ll experience during your first nursing job and are ready to help. 

Timing Is Everything

As many new graduates find out, securing a place on a Graduate Nurse Program (now called Transition to Professional Practice (TPP) or Transition to Professional Practice Programs (TPPP)), isn’t as easy as it sounds. PPT programs are highly competitive, with in-demand programs at sought-after hospitals often gaining far more applicants than there are places. 

Deciding on what your nursing future holds requires planning, ideally well before PPT programs open their doors for applicants. 

‘Savvy nursing students will plan for their PPT from the start of second year.’

The reality is that planning for your PPT should begin well in advance of the availability of programs. Savvy nursing students will typically be planning the ‘what next’ and exploring opportunities from the start of their second year, because it’s often only 12 months later that PPT applications open for the year following university graduation. 

Many nurses also secure work as Assistant in Nursing (AINs) while studying, and this can be a great pathway to getting experience and know-how, as well as a great way to meet mentors, who can help shape your career choices.

While every PPT program differs, it’s also around the beginning of second year that a nursing student starts to get a feel for where their interests lie and what area of specialisation attracts them most. 

What’s Included On A PPT?

Most PPTs will typically offer 2 x 6-month rotations across specialisations, such as Medical, Surgical, High Dependency, Operating Theatre, Intensive Care Services, Emergency, Orthopaedic, Immunology, Respiratory, Vascular, Cardiothoracic, General Surgery, General Medicine, Neurology, Transplant, Trauma, Neurosurgery, Gastroenterology, Cardiology, ENT Surgery, Rehabilitation, Drug & Alcohol, Urology, Day Stay, Renal/Nephrology, Gynaecology, Medical Assessment and Coordination Unit, Imaging, Dialysis, Endoscopy and Post Anaesthetic Recovery Unit.

More often than not, your chosen specialisation and areas of interest will determine where you seek to complete your PPT.

How, When And Where To Find Your Post-graduate Professional Transition Program

So just how do you find a graduate year placement? What hospitals offer PPT programs? 

Your first stop should always be your educational provider who should be able to advise on available nursing career pathways linked to your university, but there is nothing stopping you from seeking out your own opportunities. 

Both public and private hospitals offer graduate programs. Most large hospital graduate programs have 2 intakes each year (at the start of the year and mid-year), and application dates, contact names, application process details etc. are freely available on each hospitals website. 

In the absence of a single point of information about all of Post-graduate Professional Transition Programs available in Australia’s private and public hospitals, we’ve collated a list of available PPTs here.

Check Out Our Database of Graduate Nurse Transition to Professional Practice Programs here.

What If You Can’t Get A Place On A Hospital PPT?

But what if you don’t or can’t get into a graduate program? Then what? 

Never fear, you still have options. 

Keep In Touch With The PPT Coordinator At Your Hospital Of Choice

  • It’s not unusual for places to become available in a PPT due to drop-outs,  whether because a participant has a change of heart or circumstances, it can pay to keep in touch on a  regular basis with the PPT coordinator at your hospital of choice. The PPT coordinator will often be the gatekeeper to available positions and will know exactly what you need to do to increase your chances of securing a place if you don’t succeed at first, so keep in touch with them and ask what you need to do to improve your chances of selection. 

  • Before applying to a program in the first instance, you should always contact the PPT coordinator to learn more about the hospital, the program itself, and see what you can glean about the application and selection process, because this sort of information may give you an edge over the other candidates, so you can tailor your application accordingly. Check out some top tips for what to ask graduate recruiters here.

  •  Keep in touch with the PPT Coordinator throughout the application process, and if you are unsuccessful, seek feedback as to why, so you can amend your next application accordingly, and ask for their advice on future applications or alternate pathways based on their experience. 

  • You can also let them know that you’re happy to join at any time should a vacancy occur, and  ask them to keep your application on file. Most PPT coordinators will have their name and contact details listed on the hospital website.

Rural And Interstate Programs

  • Seeking a PPT in an alternate state may be an option if you fancy a change of scenery and are open to relocation and working in a new environment. A comprehensive list of Australian public and private hospitals that offer graduate nurses programs in other states around Australia can be found here.

  • Rural graduate nurse programs are a brilliant alternative to PPTs in metropolitan hospitals. Outside of accommodation for rural programs (sometimes free, and often subsidised), there are many benefits to completing a PPT with a rural and remote health service. In addition to from a close-knit community, many country social activities, and the experience of living and working in rural Australia, the professional experience gained can often give nurses the opportunity to exponentially grow clinical skills and experience by the very nature of the complexity of the type of nursing and patients in these rural areas. For example, rural nurses may gain experience in Remote Emergency Care, Maternity Emergency Care for Non Midwives and gain Clinical Competencies in Venepuncture, Cannulation, Triage, Team Leader roles and others, that colleagues in metropolitan areas may not have the opportunity to experience.

Mid Year Intakes

  • Seek out mid-year intake programs. There are often openings around April or May each year for programs that start the following year, and some of the very large hospital employers, such as St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, have up to 4 intakes a year.

Graduate Casual Pool

  • Some hospitals have created specific casual pools for graduates who have been unable to secure a PPT, in a bid to keep graduate nurses connected in the profession. 

  • One such hospital is St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. As an alternate pathway, the casual pool for graduates nurses allows grads to develop a network within an acute setting while gaining much-needed skills under supervision, which in turn may lead to a permanent role or later acceptance onto the formal PPT for that hospital. 

  • The best way to find out if your preferred hospital offers such a program, is to contact them directly because programs such as that run at St Vincent’s can change throughout the year depending on patient load and budget.

Graduate Aged Care And Mental Health Nursing Programs

  • Graduate Nursing Programs exist for both aged care and mental health, and offer an alternative option to graduates who miss out on mainstream acute programs. 

  • There are many other hospitals around Australia that offer such programs, and both the Aged Care and Mental Health routes can act as the pathway to a permanent job offer or acceptance at a later date onto the formal PPT for that hospital. 

Primary and Community Care Nursing Programs

Recently graduated RNs can enter general practice settings directly from university, with placements in local general practices with a structured education program, facilitated workplace learning, preceptorship and practice development, with potential for coordinated rotations.

General practice nursing is one of the fastest growing areas in healthcare. In Sydney, programs are offered through Primary and Community Care Services and APNA. Others states and city locations will be added as more information comes to light.

Consider Bridging Skills Gaps With Additional Study

  • Some nurses choose to undertake further study instead of embarking on a PPT immediately, enrolling in a Graduate Certificate or Diploma, for example.

  • Others opt for study in a complementary area, rather than health and the options are endless, for example workplace training and assessment, safety, human resources or even studies in management. One uPaged nurse we spoke to sought complementary training in massage therapy, while another completed a course in nutrition.

  • Whichever way study is obtained, it can add real value to a PPT nursing candidate and bolster a later PPT application.

Alternate Pathways?

  • The Australian Defence Force offers a career pathway for undergraduate nurses, with entry to their programs right from the first year of university, through to final year. Find out more here.

Agency Nursing - A Last Resort?

While gaining nursing experience on a graduate program is optimal, some newly-registered nurses will try to gain experience through a nursing agency. 

Reputable agencies, including uPaged, require you to be AHPRA-registered and have  at least a years’ acute hospital experience before you can register as an agency nurse to get work in hospitals. 

Agency nursing work in aged care facilities does not always require acute experience and may be an option or stop gap for some new graduates to consider while they continue to seek a position on, or reapply to, a PPT program.

But before you choose to tread the agency nursing path, a word of warning … 

First and foremost, it is critical that you work within the scope of your experience. 

You will also really have to stand out and show that you are capable of being employed, possibly even more so than for a normal job. Why? Because as an agency nurse, you will likely be sent to multiple facilities, to many different wards and be expected to perform well in every one of them. This makes it a first nursing job option and it is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced. 

You will be thrown in the deep end a lot and many wards may be unsympathetic to you being fresh out of university – they expect you to be able to cope with whatever crops up. The most important thing to remember if you pursue agency nursing work is to be honest – don’t say you can do things that are outside of the scope of your experience or skills. Doing so could risk your registration and your patients health.

As soon as you arrive on an agency shift, make sure you let the team leader know that you’re a new grad and be prepared to answer their questions such as ‘how long since you graduated?’, or ‘have you worked here or in a similar ward before?’. Answer them honestly and identify where you can get help for the day.

Treat each shift like a prac day - prepare before you get there, research in advance and constantly ask about things you don’t know. 

Can I Get Hospitals Shifts With uPaged As A Graduate Nurse?

We’re always looking for motivated, qualified and experienced registered nurses to join us. To meet our criteria to work with uPaged, you must:

  • be AHPRA registered, and

  • you must have at least 1 year post-graduate experience* that has been gained in an Australian hospital, and,

  • that experience must be in the area in which you seek work now, and,

  • it must not be more than 3 years since you worked in an Australian hospital. 

*Please note that post-graduate experience is just that - it’s experience that you have gained since completing your undergraduate degree. What this means is that any clinical experience gained while you’ve been doing prac as a nursing student does not count as post-grad clinical experience.

So, if you’re not quite there yet with your clinical experience, we’d love to keep you in the loop about future opportunities, so if you are a new or soon-to-be graduate and would like to keep in touch with us - register here now so we can keep in touch for when you’re eligible to onboard with us.

Looking Ahead

The encouraging thing about finding your first nursing job is that the healthcare industry in Australia, in general, is robust. Skilled, educated and experienced nurses are in demand, and that demand is increasing. If you approach your job search strategically, you’ll be making your first-job rounds in no time. 

What To Do In The Meantime?

Don’t give up! Persistence, luck, and diligence are the best friend of every job seeker, irrespective of profession.

Don’t rely solely on job posting websites - many jobs never even get to that stage. One great source of job leads may come from your own network of friends and family. You might also tap into your former uni/college connections and alumni office to inquire about career leads. To give yourself the best chance to find that first nursing job you should actively put yourself out there. 

Build Up Your Network

While the idea of networking might make many shudder, it’s still a valuable tactic for building connections - in the real world  and the virtual - and its best approached in a structured way.

A great place to start is on LinkedIn. Build up a professional LinkedIn profile, connect with like-minded industry professionals, your university alumni, nurses you’ve met through prac, and  participate in groups that are linked to nursing in Australia - contribute advice where you can, and seek it when needed.

Nurses also hang out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, so get social, and build up your connections base, and make sure you ask about forthcoming opportunities and the experience of your peers in securing places on PPTs - there is a wealth of information out there.

Professional development opportunities abound through AHPRA and NMBA, as do nursing events linked to specific specialisation and hospitals and these can be a great way to tap into industry know-how while building on your industry know-who.

Be Prepared

Never underestimate the power of a great resume, or the panic that sets in when you’re asked to send one to someone at short notice! 

Make sure yours is focused not just on what you did (the action you took) during prac and your roles to date, but also provide evidence of the outcomes of the work you have done (the results), and in the context of the situation you were working in and the challenges you encountered on the job at the time. Make sure yours is kept up-to-date so you have it at hand in case a role appears at short notice.

For great free tips on how to structure your resume, pop on over to CV Saviour, (founded by a nurse!)

How To Get Clinical Experience In Australia If You Completed Nursing Training Overseas, and Aren’t Eligible for a Graduate Program.

What if you have overseas nursing work experience, have completed a conversion course / APHRA assessment program so you can work in Australia, but you cannot secure the clinical experience you need so you can get agency or on-demand casual nursing work in a hospital? Firstly, take heed of the points above about building a network, and read on!

Unfortunately giving on-demand work and casual nursing shifts to nurses who have less than 12 months clinical hospital experience is outside of the scope of the service that uPaged offers, but we are very aware of the dilemma this causes for overseas-qualified and sometimes very experienced nurses.

Please be aware that the 12-months minimum of clinical hospital experience in an Australian hospital is mandatory for every on-demand nurse whether with uPaged or a traditional nursing agency. On-demand nursing in hospitals is very much a speciality like any other in nursing, and if anything, it requires a higher standard than some other specialities because of the requirements to hit the ground running in an unfamiliar workplace and ward, often working unsupervised, and making high-level decisions in critical nursing situations.

There is some hope, however, this option does require hard work and persistence.

Waiting for a position to be advertised is not the only approach to take, and there is nothing stopping you from contacting a public or private hospital directly, outside of their normal recruiting periods.

This isn’t an option for the faint-hearted!

Phone or call into the hospital you wish to work at, speak to HR, ask to speak to the Director of Nursing, ask nurses you see on the premises for advice, and ask again, phone them, follow up - be persistent and keep following up - we cannot stress this enough.

Just asking once is NOT going to make the impact you need. Persistence is important, as is making sure you have a solid case for why they would employ you.

Key to this approach is identifying the areas in which you wish to gain clinical experience, and developing a strong case in your presentation to them for the HR Department or DON to evaluate your candidacy.

Ensure your resume and cover letter sell your skills, your experience, why they should employ, and your passion for what you want to do career-wise (obviously, this should match the values and mission of the hospital you are approaching).

In the Australian job market generally, 80% of jobs are in what is considered to be the ‘hidden job market’. What this means is that these jobs are not advertised - they are typically those jobs that a friend may tell you about because they heard was opening up at an organisation they know of. The reality of employment is that employers are more likely to employ people who are referred to them through someone they already know and trust, so building up your network, and letting the people you know (regularly) that you are available for nursing jobs, is critical for this to work.

Internships or volunteering work may be available in your local hospital so phone them up and ask. Ask to speak to HR department and ask their advice based on your situation.

As noted above, key to this approach is identifying the areas in which you wish to gain clinical experience, and developing a strong case for the HR Department or DON to evaluate your candidacy. Ensure your resume and cover letter sell your skills, your experience, your passion for your chosen specialisations, and their hospital. It’s not unheard of for interns to make the short-list for hire when hospitals start recruiting, because they know the ins and outs of the facility already.

Casual pool may be an option for a hospital, particularly if you have some hospital experience overseas and can add value to them. You could suggest that you shadow someone else on a shift, volunteer on a shift etc, until you gain the experience you need, and the hospital has gained the confidence they need in you, to place you in a more permanent position.

Don’t forget to cast your net wide with this approach - consider rural hospitals, small private hospitals, busy large hospitals who may need a large volunteer or casual pools, and leverage your network wherever you can.

Don’t be picky about the wards you ask for internships, volunteering or shadowing to work in. Another consideration is to find out what wards on the hospitals you are targeting are the least favoured or have the highest staff turnover. These wards may provide opportunities to get work in the hospital of choice, and enable you to transition elsewhere in that hospital after a period of time.

Clinical experience has to start somewhere, and it may be that you cannot get the experience you want immediately. but by planning a pathway to where you want to be, you will get their quicker.

If you are relying on advertised positions only as your job search strategy, you will only be seeing 20% of the jobs that are available.

What Next

The job outlook for registered nurses is very positive, according to the Australian Government Job Outlook Guide.

Once you’ve got that first year under your belt, uPaged is here to help you to find the very best nursing role to suit your timetable, lifestyle, specialty and career path.

Check Out Our Database of Graduate Nurse Transition to Professional Practice Programs here.