Tips for Developing Top Performing Nursing Resumes

Hospitals, clinics, nursing care centers and other healthcare facilities receive and review thousands of nursing resumes each year. Unfortunately, the majority of resumes are plagued with mistakes and/or missing vital information that Nurse Managers need in order to make a hiring decision, and that Applicant Tracking Systems require in order to match suitable applicants with open nursing positions.

In the olden days, HR Managers, Doctor's, Nurse Managers and Nurse Supervisors were almost entirely responsible for hiring their own nurses. While these professionals still play an important role in the hiring process, a growing number of healthcare facilities – especially larger ones – now employ electronic Applicant Tracking Systems to help them sift through the pile applicants.

When an nursing position opens up, it's not uncommon for an employer to receive hundreds of resumes from qualified applicants. In order to narrow down the applicant pool, Applicant Tracking Systems may be used to rank resumes based on how qualified a candidate is for the position. Once the Applicant Tracking System ranks the resumes, HR staff will review and pass along the best resumes to hiring managers who will then make a final decision. If your resume is missing critical detail, or any detail at all, there's a likelihood it won't be awarded a high ranking by the Applicant Tracking System and make it in front of the hiring manager.

Often the biggest problem with nursing resumes is that they're too general. General resumes may be appropriate for professions like management, but not for nursing. Unfortunately, most nurses don't know what specifically to include in their resumes and most job descriptions posted by prospective employers don't include sufficient detail about the position to provide applicants any clue as to what detail they should include in their resume.

Below we'll provide you tips and recommendations on what to include in your nursing resume in order of importance. While some of our recommendations may seem obvious, we may mention a few things you haven't consider – or didn't think were that important.

Specific Details about Your Nursing Experience
Your education is an important element of your resume, especially if you're just getting out of college. Pointing out that you graduated top of your class from Johns Hopkins University will help get your foot in the door, but at the end of the day experience is what really counts – especially if you've been out of school for more than a couple years. Your work experience should make up the bulk of your resume. The key to presenting your experience in the best possible light is knowing how to balance work duties with accomplishments.

Conventional wisdom – as well as many resume "experts" – would suggest making your resume accomplishment driven. By focusing on your accomplishments you're able to demonstrate how your knowledge, skill and drive lead to tangible, quantifiable results that will contribute to the success of the employer's organization. Unfortunately, nurses who buy into this approach often focus so heavily on their accomplishments that they neglect to dedicate adequate attention to their duties.

As important as accomplishments are – and they are important – in many cases, the duties you've performed may be just as important. Employers want to hire nurses they know have the experience to function in various, yet specific, capacities. Focusing on accomplishments, at the expense of duties, may leave prospective employers and hiring managers wondering if the super star they're looking has the depth of experience to perform highly technical duties. We highly recommend including in your resume the details of the daily duties you performed as a nurse with your previous employers. At the same time you don't want to create a duty driven resume. When presenting your experience, the key is to strike a balance between accomplishments and duties.


When attempting to strike the perfect balance between accomplishments and duties, one strategy is to frame duties within the descriptions of your accomplishments. As you describe the results you were able to achieve, include the specific duties you performed in order to achieve those results. Your resume should answer the question, "How did performing specific duties lead to your accomplishments?"

When describing your accomplishments, be descriptive and use numbers, but most of all, make sure you use quantifiable performance metrics that are meaningful and make sense. Telling a prospective employer you helped increase patient satisfaction my 10% may catch a readers attention, but ultimately it won't be very convincing. On the other hand, telling a prospective employer you were responsible for increasing base HCAHPS scores by 15% leading to a 4% increase in a hospital's Total Performance Score (TPS) is extremely powerful – especially when you can back it up with numbers. And don't forget to include the duties you performed that lead to your accomplishment.

When trying to determine which accomplishments to include on your resume, we have two suggestios. First, understand how your current employer measures individual peformance. Second, find out how the prespective employer measures individual performance. One of the best ways to better understand how your current employer measures individual performance is to review your employee evaluations. Employee evaluations are conducted by most healthcare organizations and will contain valuable qualitative and quantitative information about your performance as a nurse that you can use to develop compelling accomplishments for your resume. Discovering how a potential employer measures individual performance can be a little bit trickier, but it can be done. We recommend talking with nurses who currently work with the prospective employer to get this information.

While we recommend incorporating your duties into descriptions of your accomplishments, it's still okay, often necessary, to list specific duties on your resume separate from your accomplishments.


Duties are an important, yet sensitive, component of an effective nursing resume. Use them wisely and you can develop a powerful resume. Use them unwisely, or over use them, and your resume is destined for the trash bin. As a nurse you may have hundreds of duties and responsibilities. You can't list them all on your resume – and you don't want to. The key to developing a powerful resume is knowing which duties to include and how to best to present them.

Many of the duties that healthcare employers need performed are highly technical in nature. General statements, such as "provided hands-on patient care" or "monitored patients' conditions", do more damage to your chances of getting hired than they do good. Don't waste space on your resume, or the reader's time, by listing general duties that are a given, or that don't focus on the needs of your potential employer.

The first step to selecting duties from your past experience as a nurse to include on your resume is to learn what skills, knowledge, and expertise your prospective employer is looking for and values. Start by reviewing the job posting and description in detail. Sometimes the job description itself will provide hints as to what skills a position requires, or it may list out all the duties for the position. If it does, identify the duties that you've performed and skills you've acquired that line up with those listed for the position for which you're applying, and integrate them into your resume.

Unfortunately, more often than not, job postings do not include sufficient detail or insight into the specific duties required for the position. If this is the case, then you'll need to figure out which specific duties, responsibilities and skills the employer is looking for in another way. A good way to accomplish this is to speak with someone who is currently working for your prospective employer. Insider information is invaluable when it comes to developing a nursing resume that gets results. Don't be shy. Don't be timid. Find out who works for your prospective employer, in the department you're applying to, and invite them out to lunch. Let them know you're apply for a position and would like to learn more about their organization.

We also recommend that you consider all the protocols, procedures and processes that are standard for the type of nursing services you perform as they relate to position for which you're applying. Once you've been able to ascertain what the prospective employer is looking for, make sure to focus your resume on those duties and accomplishments that aline with the needs of the employer.

Again, duties can be incorporated into a resume by framing them within your accomplishments. However, sometimes it's necessary to list them out. You may also consider including the most relevant duties in your resume's summary statement.

Unit Type
Many nurses mistakenly believe that nursing units at one healthcare facility are pretty much the same as those at others. This couldn't be farther from the truth. While the science behind nursing is pretty universal, organization level procedures, processes and unit structures are not. When listing your unit type on your resume, be specific and descriptive. Putting "5 East" on your resume as your unit type means nothing to a potential employer. However, putting "Acute Care Med/Surg Specialty Unit" or "Intensive Care Unit" conveys a message. Make sure to include the type of unit you worked in (ie., ICU, ER, MS, etc) at your previous place of employment.

On your resume, you should also describe in detail your caseload. How many nurses worked in your unit? What type of nurses worked in your unit (ie., LPNs, CNAs, MAs, etc)? What was the nurse to patient ratio in your unit? What type of work did your unit perform? Don't assume that just because you listed your unit type as "ICU" that a prospective employer will know all that you were involved in. Again, unit types are often organization specific – and duties within units may vary from one healthcare facility to the next. What type of patients did you see? Where any of your patients trauma patients? If so, how many? Did your unit manage overflow from other units? If so, what other types of patients did you see? These are all question that your resume should answer.

Facility Type
It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, we'll so is facility type. Knowing what type of healthcare facilities you've worked in tells a potential employer an aweful lot about the type of experience you've had as a nurse. You should include on your resume the type and designation for every healthcare facility you've worked in as a nurse. Acute psychiatric? End Stage Renal Dialysis? General Acute Care? Intermediate Care? Skill Nursing? Etc. If by chance you've worked in a Trauma Hospital, you'll also want to include the exact trauma designation. Remember, in nursing, details do matter. When prospective employers are seeking to fill a position, they're typically seeking candidates with specific skills and experience.

Number of Beds
It may seem like a given, but you'd be surprised how many nurses neglect to include the number of beds on their resume. Including the total number of beds at the facilities where you worked, and the unit you worked in, is a key indicator to hiring managers of the type of experience you've had. In fact, some hiring managers won't even consider a resume if it doesn't include this information. Hiring managers and Unit-managers want to know that you have the experience to handle the working in their facility and unit.

Experienced with Computers
We live in a technology driven age and society – and the healthcare industry is no different. In fact, most healthcare facilities are now going paperless. Everything from resume tracking to patient charting is going electronic. Knowing how to administer an IV is essential, but having experience with Electronic Health Record (EHR) or Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is what may just get you your next job.

Some of the most important technologies and products to know and list on your nursing resume include:

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR)
  • Electronic Medical Record (EMR) Packages
  • Epic Software
  • Meditech

If you're familiar with ICD 10 and ICD 9, and they fall withing the scope of your field of nursing practice, then make sure to include these on your resume as well.

Nursing is one of the few professions that is required both day and night. While doctors are often on call, nurses are required to be present to address the immediate and ongoing needs of their patients 24/7. It's the norm for nurses to work 8-12 hour shifts 3 to 4 days a week. On your resume make sure to include your availability. Are you willing and able to work long shifts? Are you available to work both day and night time shifts?

Even if they position you're applying for listed a specific shift, it's still a good idea to list your availability on your resume. You never know, even if you're not hired for the position you applied for, there may be another opening you'll qualify for based on your availability.

Licensing and Certification Information
Including licensing information on your resume won't necessarily get you a job, but it could loose you a job if it's not there. We recommend you include the following license information on your resume.

  • Type of Nursing License (RN, NP, LVN, LPN, CRNA, etc.)
  • Name on license if different than name on resume
  • Licensing state and body
  • License expiration date
  • License number
  • Nurses Licensure Compact if you're licensed through the compact

If you're concerned about including your licensing information on your resume as a matter of privacy, put your concerns to bed. All of your licensing information is available in the public record to anyone who wants to look it up. Putting it on your resume simply saves recruiters the time, effort and annoyance of looking it up. Providing your licensing information and license number just makes the recruiter's job easier.

We also recommend including any relevant credentials or certifications you've earned on your resume. Include the certification name type (ACRN, CPN, AOCN, NP, CRNA, etc.), the organizations who awarded the certification, the certification expiration date, or the date the certifications was earned if there isn't a certification date.

Education Details
Including your education on your nursing resume is a no brainer, but sometimes over zealous job seekers neglect to put sufficient detail for a recruiter or Unit-manager to make a final hiring decision. Not including the degrees you've earned, or leaving off pertinent details of your education, could get your resume tossed. Your resume should include the following education information.

  • Degree(s) earned
  • Name of school
  • Beginning and ending dates
  • City and state

We also recommend including any recent and relevant continuing education courses you've completed and/or professional certifications you've obtained. If you know how to speak a language other than English, this is also worth adding to the education section of your resume. A growing number of healthcare employers are seeking nurses who are bilingual, or have proficiency in other languages. In fact, certain positions require the ability to speak a foreign language.

Special Awards and Recognitions
If you've received honors, awards or recognitions that are relevant to your position or occupation as a nurse, you should include these on your resume. Honors may include special academic accomplishments, work related recognitions and accomplishments, volunteer service and even offices you've held within nursing associations.

Professional Associations
Employers want to know if you belong to any professional healthcare or nursing associations. When including associations on your resume, make sure to include the following:

  • Name of association
  • How long you've been a member of the association
  • Any positions or offices held
  • A brief explanation of why you joined the association

Seem like a lot to include in your resume? It is, but nursing is a unique industry, with unique needs. The better you're able to align your skills and experience with those the employer is looking for, the higher the likelihood of obtaining the position you desire.

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