How to Get Your First Nursing Job After Graduation in Canada

The Prepped Team

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How to Get Your First Nursing Job as a New Graduate

Nurses keep Canada’s public health system running smoothly. A career in nursing is a rewarding one, associated with trust and an opportunity to make a real difference by caring for people at their most vulnerable. The nursing profession offers ample learning and growth opportunities and more importantly, a sense of purpose.

There’s no shortage of job opportunities in nursing, but the path to becoming a nurse in Canada is complicated. We’re here to help chart your course from student to licensed nurse. Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge to successfully land your first job as a nurse after you graduate.

Types of nurses in Canada

Nursing is a regulated occupation and you must be licensed in your province or territory before you can start working. Depending on your educational qualifications, you may qualify for one of three types of nursing licenses (the license names may vary by province):

  • Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs): Also known as Registered Practical Nurses, LPNs require at minimum an approved diploma in nursing.
  • Registered Nurses (RNs) and Registered Psychiatric Nurses: To qualify for an RN license, you must have at minimum a bachelor’s degree in nursing from a university or college that has been approved by the provincial council. 
  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs): Nurse Practitioners require at minimum a master’s degree in nursing or an advanced nursing credential, along with work experience as a Registered Nurse. In some provinces, you cannot get an NP license directly and must get an RN license first. 

As a nurse, the job responsibilities and level of autonomy you have will depend on which license you qualify for. For instance, Registered Nurses can complete physical examinations, monitor patients, and complete standard procedures, such as immunizations, defibrillation, etc. On the other hand, Nurse Practitioners specialize in primary health care, pediatrics, adult, or anesthesia and have the authority to order diagnostic tests, communicate diagnoses to patients, and prescribe certain medications.

How to become a nurse in Canada

If you’ve decided nursing is the career path for you, you’ll need to enrol in a relevant academic program and later, apply for a license. But how do you jumpstart your career after graduating? Here is a breakdown of what’s ahead for you:

Meet the educational requirements for becoming a nurse

The first step is to understand the education requirements for the different nursing licenses and decide which nursing category you’re interested in. If you’ve already decided which province or territory you want to practice in, it might be best to pursue an education program approved by the regional college of nursing. 

Next, apply for and complete the required education program for your nursing license. For a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) license, you require at least a two-year diploma in practical nursing. For a Registered Nurse (RN) license, a four-year baccalaureate (bachelor’s) program in nursing is typically required. If you want to qualify for a Nurse Practitioner (NP) license, you’ll need a master’s of science degree in nursing or a province-approved graduate diploma in nursing, along with a few years of clinical experience as an RN.

Most nursing programs include some supervised hands-on experience or simulation-based practical experience, in addition to theoretical learning. This practical experience not only prepares you for the job market but can also be listed on your resume.

Meet licensing requirements to become a nurse

To work as a nurse in Canada, you must hold and maintain a license from one of Canada’s provincial nursing regulators. Without a valid license, you cannot practice nursing or use the LPN, RN, or NP designations.

Each regulator has specific requirements for licensure and you must first decide which province/territory you want to practice in. Most regulators allow you to start the licensing process before you graduate from your nursing program. However, you must complete your education, submit your transcripts and other documents, and pass the applicable nursing registration exam and jurisprudence exam to qualify for a license. 

In some provinces, one regulator is responsible for all nursing categories, while in others LPNs, RNs, and NPs are separately regulated. Here’s a list of the provincial and territorial regulators for different nursing categories:

With your nursing license in hand, you can start looking for your first job as a nurse. Your nursing license will only apply to that province or territory, however, you can apply to get your license transferred to another province if you move. 

How to get a nursing license as a new graduate

So you’ve almost completed your nursing study program and are ready to apply for licensure. But how does the licensing process work? Although the certification requirements vary by province, here’s an overview of the steps required to complete the process.

Apply to your provincial college of nurses or regulator

If you’re applying for licensure in the province where you studied, your school will let the provincial regulator know when you’re about to graduate. Your provincial college of nurses will then contact you by email with instructions on how to create your online account.

While creating your account, make sure your personal information is accurate and your name and other details match the ones on your supporting documents. In case you’ve changed your name, submit a written name change request to the regulator.

Once your account is set up, create a new application, submit the required documents, and pay the application fees. The registration process typically takes between three and 18 months. 

If you completed your education in a different province, you must first get licensed in the province where you studied and then apply to get your license transferred to the province where you plan to practice.

Provide proof of nursing education

You must show that you’ve successfully completed an approved nursing education program for your license. Typically, your school must send your credentials and transcripts to the regulator directly. 

If you completed a study program that’s not approved by the provincial college of nurses, the regulator will assess whether your education meets the competency requirements and may ask you to complete additional assessment or education to qualify for the registration exam.

If you completed your nursing degree or diploma outside Canada, read Arrive’s article on how to move to Canada as a nurse for a detailed overview of the licensure process for internationally-educated nurses.

Show evidence of practice

License applicants must provide evidence of nursing practice relevant to their nursing category. Completion of a relevant education program within the three years preceding your licensure application counts as evidence of practice.

If you graduated from your study program more than three years ago, you must show proof of relevant work experience during that time. Since you can’t actually practice nursing without a license, volunteer experience or experience gained in clinical or non-clinical settings (such as nursing-related education, administration, policy or research roles) counts as evidence of practice. You can also find nursing-adjacent jobs that don’t require a license, such as a home and personal care aide, medical assistant, or medical records technician.

Complete your nursing registration examination

Your provincial college of nurses will inform you when you’re eligible to appear for a registration examination. Follow the given instructions to pay the examination fees and arrange a date to write the exam in person.

RN applicants must write the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination) while LPN applicants must take the REx-PN test (Regulatory Exam – Practical Nurse). For NP applicants, the approved exam will depend on the specialty you pick. If you don’t pass the exam on the first attempt, don’t worry, you can retake it a few times.

Usually, first-time test takers get an examination appointment within 30 days of their request. In some provinces, such as Ontario, candidates applying for an RN license may also qualify for a temporary nursing license while waiting for their registration exam results.

Pass the jurisprudence exam

The jurisprudence examination assesses your knowledge of the laws, regulations, by-laws, and practice standards for the nursing profession in your province or territory. In most provinces, the jurisprudence exam is an open-book online exam that you can take as many times as needed.

Demonstrate proficiency in English or French

You must also show proficiency in English or French to be eligible to practice nursing in Canada. Applicants who complete their nursing education program, along with its clinical component, in English or French in any Canadian jurisdiction usually don’t need to submit additional proof of language proficiency.

If you intend to practice nursing in Quebec and completed your education in English, you will need to submit documentation to prove your proficiency in French.

Prove you’re authorized to work in the province

Understandably, you must be authorized to work in Canada to be permitted to practice nursing. You can prove your eligibility by submitting a copy of your Canadian passport, birth certificate, permanent resident card, confirmation of permanent residence, work or study permit, or certificate of Indian status.

Submit declarations and supporting documents

You must truthfully complete declarations regarding past or current offences, inquiries, or proceedings regarding misconduct, incompetence, or fitness to practice nursing. You will need to disclose if you’ve previously been refused registration in another jurisdiction. You must also inform the provincial regulator if you suffer from any physical or mental condition or disorder that could impact your ability to practice nursing safely.

In addition, you will need to sign a declaration affirming that you have the knowledge and skill to practice your profession competently and that you’ll maintain professionalism, honesty, and integrity in your day-to-day practice.

Complete your registration and pay membership fees

After you pass the registration and jurisprudence exams and meet other eligibility criteria, the provincial college of nurses will approve your licensure. You must then pay the initial registration and first-year membership fee to receive your nursing license.

How long does it take to become a nurse in Canada?

The amount of time it takes to become a licensed nurse will depend on your qualifications, your performance on the registration exam, and the completeness of your licensing application.

Including the time it takes to complete your study program, it can take two to three years to get an LPN license and four to five years to become a Registered Nurse (RN). If you plan to become a Nurse Practitioner, the education component alone will take six years, and in addition, you may require two or three years of work experience as an RN.

How to write a resume for your first nursing job

Your resume will likely be the most important document for your job search. Along with your cover letter, your resume helps employers determine if you’re a good fit for the role and if they should interview you. Here are some expert tips to help you craft an impressive resume to land your first nursing job.

Choose the right resume format

Start with a resume format suited to your skills, experience, and career level. Since you’re looking for an entry-level nursing job, a functional resume format will be ideal because it draws attention to your strengths and transferable skills and de-emphasizes your lack of professional work experience.

Research the role and employer

Carefully review the job description and research the employer before crafting your resume. What does the role entail? What skills and qualifications is the employer looking for? Which keywords in the job description align with your own experience and skills? If your personal values closely align with the corporate values or vision, including them in your resume might make sense. Networking with other healthcare and nursing professionals is a great way to gather valuable information about in-demand certifications and job-specific skills. Not only will these insights help you write an impressive resume, they’ll also come in handy during job interviews.

Highlight transferable skills on your resume

As a recent graduate who has never had a full-time nursing job before, it’s important that you don’t discount your transferable skills. You may have acquired transferable skills during your studies, practicum or supervised work period, and through volunteer or part-time work. Valuable skills for nursing jobs include the ability to communicate well and with empathy, attention to detail, delegating responsibilities, teamwork, motivational skills, managing crisis situations effectively and calmly, and multitasking.

List your nursing credentials and certifications 

Your nursing degree or diploma and provincial license should be prominently mentioned on your resume. You can also position yourself as an ideal candidate by acquiring additional certifications that healthcare employers value. 

Showcase nursing experience on your resume

Even though the resume for your first job emphasizes your education over your work history, employers still want to know you have some relevant experience—through supervised clinical practicums, part-time work, volunteer experience, or internships—to indicate your work ethic, responsibility, ability to prioritize tasks, and willingness to learn. 

Keep your work experience descriptions brief and capture only what’s relevant to the job you’re applying for. Wherever possible, highlight your achievements or accomplishments instead of merely jotting down what you did in each role, and list your relevant transferable skills.

Craft an ATS-friendly nursing resume

No matter how impressive your resume is, you won’t likely get an interview if it can’t pass the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) many employers use. How do you make sure your resume reaches a recruiter? Where relevant, include exact-match keywords to tailor your resume and cover letter to the job description. To check whether your resume is ATS friendly, use the Prepped Resume Scanner to see how closely your resume matches the job description.

Include a well-written cover letter

The value of a powerful cover letter cannot be overstated. Your cover letter is your opportunity to demonstrate your passion for nursing and your suitability to caring for patients. Employers want to know why you want to work in the healthcare field and why, specifically, for them (for instance, shared values). Make sure your cover letter expands on some of your achievements and emphasizes skills and qualifications that make you an ideal candidate for the job.

How to get your first nursing job after graduation

Applying for your first nursing job can be overwhelming, especially when you’ve just graduated and don’t have any experience. Where do you look for jobs? And more importantly, how do you convince employers that you’re qualified to attend to patients in a clinical setting? Here are some tips to help you land your first job as a licensed nurse:

Gather part-time or volunteer work experience

Sure, you can’t work as an LPN, RN, or NP before you get your license, but there are other ways to gather work experience that counts. To begin with, be sure to include any supervised work placement or simulation-based experience you completed as part of your nursing education program. It’s also a good idea to look for part-time jobs or volunteer opportunities that align with your nursing program. For instance, volunteering at an assisted living facility or working part-time as a personal support worker, medical records technician, administrative assistant or receptionist at a medical clinic, or nurse aide can provide hands-on experience that also looks good on your resume.

Even if your previous jobs weren’t in a related field, you may have cultivated transferable skills that are useful for a nursing job. For example, if you volunteered for a crisis support organization, you may have developed useful skills such as empathy and crisis management.

Highlight nursing-related skills and competencies

For most nursing jobs, a nursing credential is the bare minimum requirement. If you want to stand out among equally-qualified applicants, you’ll need additional skills and certifications that employers look for. For instance, certifications in basic life support, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and first-aid can be completed before you get your RN/LPN license and are often sought-after in hospitals. In addition, soft skills such as patience, time management, compassion, and adaptability are crucial for nurses and should be included in your resume.

Expand your network of healthcare professionals

Networking is key to opening up employment opportunities and there are many ways to connect with other nurses and healthcare professionals. As a member of your province’s college of nurses, you’re part of a large community of qualified, experienced nurses who are often willing to help new graduates find their first job. Attend networking events and conferences organized by your provincial regulator and other organizations to expand your network and gain more visibility.

You can also leverage LinkedIn to build connections with alumni of your nursing school—message them to request a coffee chat. Your expanding network can provide you with guidance and job referrals and introduce you to hiring decision-makers in hospitals and other healthcare centres. Building a professional network can provide additional benefits such as peer-to-peer learning and mentorship as you forge your career path.

Ask for references

Employers are more likely to hire employees who have someone credible to vouch for them. When looking for your first nursing job, ask your former professors or managers from previous part-time or volunteer jobs for a reference. A well-written reference can speak volumes about your work ethic, commitment to hard work, and other technical and soft skills that are valued in professional nurses.

Look for job openings and apply

Once your application is ready, it’s time to actively look for full-time nursing jobs. Nurses are in demand in most parts of Canada and, as long as your job application is well-drafted, you should easily be able to find a suitable job.

Many hospitals and healthcare centres post open positions on their websites and allow candidates to apply directly. You should also keep a close eye on various online career portals, such as LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, Glassdoor, and Workopolis for new job postings for nurses. Alternatively, you can sign up for job alerts to receive opportunities by email. Major cities, like Toronto, also organize nurse recruitment drives for their public health department several times a year. 

What does the hiring process for nurses look like?

Your resume has been shortlisted and now you’re wondering what the interview process will entail. How many steps can you expect? And how long will it take to get a job offer?

Most employers use Applicant Track Systems (ATS) to screen resumes and cover letters that best fit the job description. If shortlisted, you’ll be invited for a screening interview. Often, employers hiring for multiple open roles may organize walk-in recruitment drives for nurses and conduct on-the-spot screening interviews. While these may be perceived as casual conversations, the recruiters will take note of your qualifications, whether you’ve researched the employer, and why you want to work there. 

If your screening interview goes well, be prepared for multiple interview rounds over the course of several weeks before landing a job offer. These may include one or more panel interviews and a culture fit interview. Your future employer will also confirm your qualifications and background through the provincial regulator before making an offer.

Common interview questions for nursing jobs

Interviews are often the most stressful part of the job search process because you can’t always predict what questions will be asked. Most interviews will have at least a few general questions, behavioural questions, and culture fit questions in addition to technical questions applicable to the nursing profession. Here are some questions you may encounter while interviewing for entry-level nursing jobs:

  • Why did you become a nurse?
  • Give us an example of a time you managed a stressful situation.
  • Imagine a scenario where your shift has ended but your shift replacement hasn’t arrived. What would you do?
  • How would you handle a patient who refuses to cooperate?
  • Imagine a situation where you notice a discrepancy on a patient’s chart. What would you do?
  • What are the essential skills nurses should possess?
  • How would you manage workplace conflict?
  • A patient asks a question about their condition/treatment that you don’t have an answer to. How would you respond?

Preparing for commonly asked questions in advance will give you the confidence to ace your interviews and get your first job as a nurse. You can also record yourself and practice answering these common interview questions with Prepped AI Interviewer.

Be Prepped to enter the job market

At Prepped, our objective is to help you land your first job in your occupation. Our tools will help you craft an ATS-friendly resume and refine your interview skills, so you are well prepared to start your career when you graduate. Sign up for Prepped to get access to tools and resources that’ll help you navigate your job search with ease and confidence.