Nurse Keith: Leveraging Previous Experience in Your Nursing Career

Nurse Keith: Leveraging Previous Experience in Your Nursing Career

When a new nurse enters the nursing profession with a previous work history and career, those prior professional experiences can be leveraged in significant ways. Almost any experience can be painted with a positive brush, and many careers meld nicely with a new professional identity as a nurse.

Where have you been?

Few nurses enter the profession in a vacuum; those of us who become nurses in our 30s, 40s, or beyond have likely been around the block a few times; in fact, nursing can sometimes be a third or fourth career track over the course of many decades. For those who entered nursing school directly from high school, there may also be relevant and applicable prior experience.

When you become a nurse, it’s not like your previous life no longer matters; if you were a teacher, a childcare provider, a pastoral counselor, or a bookstore manager, those experiences have directly impacted your work ethic and skill set. Can you articulate why and how those earlier experiences apply to the knowledge and skills required of a nurse?

Leverage those strengths

From retail sales to accounting, there are tasks, skills, and knowledge that can be related to nursing in the context of a resume, a cover letter, or a job interview.

A new nurse previously serving as a social worker can convincingly leverage her previous career. Social work can entail the assessment of clients’ psychosocial well-being, family structure, culture, and access to services. A social worker may interact with diverse populations, and often functions as a member of a multidisciplinary team, or collaborates with an array of service providers and professionals, all of which are directly transferable to nursing.

For those who have been employed in retail, food service, childcare, and other industries, experience in customer service can be leveraged within the context of a nursing career, especially if the nurse can clearly articulate how specific skills inform and influence his or her nursing practice or approach to patients and their families.

If a nurse has a prior history in management, supervision, training, or education, these paths all have parallels to the ways in which nurses must manage and supervise direct reports, and engage in the teaching and education of patients and other staff members.

Your diverse experiences count

Becoming a nurse does not erase where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and how you’ve moved in the world. While nursing enjoys its own nomenclature, cultural identity, and general zeitgeist, every nurse is the sum of who he or she was prior to earning their license to practice.

Don’t discount the careers and experiences preceding your work as a nurse. You are the sum of your pre-nursing life; use your personal and professional history as a springboard into the future.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist for With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at

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