What do you do if you don’t get a nursing graduate program?

Meet Kate. She reflects on her experiences missing out on a graduate program and over 20 applications and gives some sturdy tricks to help you prevent being in the same situation!

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I felt hopeless, that I would never be hired, that I’m a failure, I’ll have to work in retail forever. That my hard work at Uni had been a waste.

Kate Edgcumbe


I’m Kate Edgcumbe, 32 years old and have been a Registered Nurse for 6 years. I applied for both paramedicine and nursing. I was disappointed I didn’t get into paramedicine and I actually didn’t intend on doing nursing. I did work experience at my local hospital when I was 15, so was given a small insight into nursing from that experience.

Turns out I really love nursing, there’s something about seeing patients improve enough to go home, or if they can’t go home making their transition to aged or palliative care dignified. My experience over the last 6 years includes Acute Medical/Surgical/Stroke, Delirium/dementia in the acute setting, Palliative, Drug & Alcohol detox, Emergency in a small MPS, Transitional Care Program & Aged Care.

What did it look like when applying for graduate jobs?

When I had finished studying, I was applying for local grad year both mainstream and mental health, and also applying to grad programs or 2nd round offers in other regions within Victoria.

I applied in places I was familiar with, that offered different rotations to get a taste of different areas. I also applied for jobs in Aged Care, sub-acute wards, dialysis unit, and community nursing.

How many applications overall did you put in?

I can’t recall exactly how many applications I put in, but it would’ve easily been 20.

How many times did you get rejected?

In total, I had 5 or 6 interviews before obtaining my first job.

I felt hopeless, that I would never be hired, that I’m a failure, I’ll have to work in retail forever. That my hard work at Uni had been a waste.

I asked what prevented them from hiring me. Most of the time it was because of a lack of experience. (Looking for someone with at least 12 months of experience).

What did you then do?

I had to try and keep positive, my parents were amazing throughout, encouraging me to keep applying for anything I could because getting an interview is the most difficult part. I also had very supportive friends, I made sure to keep social and celebrate any milestone in my journey, no matter how small.

Interview tips?

My biggest interview tip would be to come become prepared. Research the facility you are applying for. What are their core values, how many beds are there, what wards do they have (med/surg, E.D, ICU, renal, respiratory, etc) and research what ward are you applying for.

They always ask scenario questions, just remember DRSABC for everything and you can’t get it wrong. Also, problem identification/patient deterioration, knowing the basic treatment for and escalation process for certain things.

E.g patient with hypoglycaemia (DRSABC, appropriate treatment vs what treatment is available, depending on patient presentation. Are they alert enough to take PO, do you need to escalate to nurse IC/SCR/MET call/ code?) Include what you can do at the bedside to gather more information (ecg,vitals,etc) to do a good ISBAR.

Another interview tip would be if you can’t remember the question, ask them if they can please repeat it or the 2nd part of the question because you want to make sure you address everything.

Ask questions at the end. If you are successful, how many supernumerary days are provided, what shift times, what support is available as a graduate nurse (educators, study days), patient ratios (may be different public vs private) and how long does it take for the processing of onboarding paperwork?

Tips for cover letters

Why they should consider you for the position? Use this to address the key selection criteria. Use your experience as a student (if applying where you had placements) to your understanding of the work environment at the facility. Address the key selection criteria in a short paragraph/few sentences. Use examples from your feedback on your placements and even your current job if you don’t directly have nursing experience.

Tips for resume

Definitely include skills you have gained from placement and from your current job that are transferable, put in your education (university/ degree/years of study), relevant qualifications (ahpra, first aid) and any CPD you have done that is relevant to the area you are applying.

Keep it 1-2 pages, Simple is best, too much detail and the important things get lost.

Oh and don’t forget to keep your references updated and inform them of any applications you get an interview for, so they can anticipate a call.

What do you think was the key for you to get a job in the end?

For me, the key to successfully obtaining my first job was, who I knew, being prepared for the interview, well thought out answers and have good references.

I was told about the job by an RN who graduated the year before me.  She was leaving (for a Permanent Part Time position) and they were going to be advertising the casual position, she gave me the name of the facility manager.

I called them the first chance I could, explained who I was, the name of the RN who informed me about the upcoming available position and that I was interested. From there I was encouraged to apply for the position once advertised which was only a week or two later. Successfully obtained an interview and after my reference checks, I was offered the position.

My advice for those struggling to obtain a position is to ask why you were unsuccessful and if they had any advice to assist. This gives you invaluable information, it could be something like not being prepared, lack of confidence or lack of experience.

I was unsuccessful for one position because the facility felt they just wouldn’t have enough support in place for me as a new grad (so they hired someone with experience).

Unfortunately, if it is a lack of experience that’s not something you can fix. You could possibly ask if you can volunteer, look into local not-for-profit organisations, aged care, and disability services and gain some experience that way.

Keep up your CPD, and do as many courses as you can both online and face-to-face, this keeps your knowledge fresh and shows you are enthusiastic about learning.

Don’t be afraid to call if you have applied, check they received your application and that you look forward to hearing from them. Puts your name in the spotlight (that’s the person who called to check we received everything).

What support did you get in this position you initially got?

The support I got in my very first position was fantastic. Being a small hospital, I had a wonderful facility manager, an on-site educator and was given the opportunity to do charge shifts with immediate support from the facility manager/NUM.

The other RNs were very senior and more than willing to help, as well as the very experienced EENs. There was also educators from the district who came out and engaged with me during my time there.

What are you doing now?

3 jobs later and I’m now in a busy acute medical/surgical ward which is also the hospital’s dedicated stroke ward. I absolutely love my ward, there’s always a lot going on with the patients and they can deteriorate rapidly. I have a fantastic NUM and my colleagues are an amazing team to work with.

Where I work has a little bit of everything due to being a rural hospital….From strokes to newly diagnosed diabetes, AF, anaemia, planned alcohol/drug detox, delirium and dementia, and palliative…just to name a few.

As a senior RN, I’m a clinical preceptor to new graduates/students both RN and EEN, I help orientate new staff, do charge shifts and am working towards CNS.

Any final tips, thoughts, words of wisdom?

My final thoughts to anyone out there panicking because they didn’t get a grad year:

6 years later, nobody cares that you didn’t do a grad year. People don’t know unless I tell them and it hasn’t made a difference to the opportunities that I have in front of me.

If you are persistent, something will come to you at the right time. You will get a job and you will thrive.

Take care of yourself, take every opportunity you get!