Nurses are lifelong learners, always working to keep up with the ever-changing field of health care while uplifting new nurses who follow in their footsteps. That’s why Anna Kastelic ’18 jumped at the chance to return to Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) for a talk with current PROUD students. On September 24, Kastelic shared her experience with PROUD, NCLEX advice, a sneak peek at her resume, and insider knowledge from her first year on the nursing floor.

PROUD (Pre-entry and Retention Opportunities for Undergraduate Diversity) is a federally funded grant program that aims to increase recruitment, enrollment, retention, and graduation of nursing students from disadvantaged backgrounds through the use of proven methods that strengthen academic success at Mennonite College of Nursing. One of the many opportunities PROUD offers is a series of talks with MCN alumni such as Kastelic, inviting them to share their experiences out in the field and mentor current students.

“PROUD provided me with a lot of opportunities in school to prepare me professionally,” said Kastelic. “It helped me build my resume, and it offered much-needed financial assistance for things like NCLEX test preparation. It was like an immense weight was lifted off of me.”

Photo of Anna Kastelic

Anna Kastelic speaks with PROUD students on September 24

At MCN, Kastelic was a member of the Sigma Theta Tau National Honor Society as well as the Transcultural program, which gave her the opportunity to hone her nursing skills in Russia. “I love to travel,” she said. “I love taking advantage of every opportunity to get exposure to different populations and experiences.”

That chance came again after Kastelic submitted an abstract with a research partner, Mikayla Cooksey, as part of an independent study for the Honors Program. Their abstract was accepted, and they presented their systematic literature review at the Sigma Theta Tau  International Nursing Research Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Currently, Kastelic is an RN with a respiratory focus, working on a medical-surgical floor. She recently accepted an offer for a new position at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. To learn more about what advice Kastelic had for current PROUD students, including her experience with PROUD, NCLEX, her resume, and insider knowledge from her first year on the nursing floor, check out the Q&A below.

Q: What has it been like to transition from being in the clinical setting with your instructor and peers to being on the floor on your own?

A: It is a bit of a scary transition. Don’t go straight into thinking you know everything, because you don’t. Nursing is all about learning. And there are a lot of resources for you. Take advantage of them! Nursing school can prepare you knowledge-wise and experience-wise, but when you’re on the floor, it’s different.

Q: What’s the toughest thing you’ve learned as a new nurse?

A: I can’t stress this enough: chart at the bedside! You will forget or overlook things if you try to back-chart it, and you’ll be interrupted a lot at the nurses’ station. It’s also more time efficient to chart at the bedside. Plus, in the room, you are able to spend more time with the patient, which helps them to feel supported and cared for.

Q: What is the workload like?

A: Some days go by easy, and some days don’t. You have to learn to prioritize. I have anywhere from 3-6 patients. You have to communicate with your coworkers and use your resources. If you need help, ask for help.

Q: Do you have a mentor?

A: My orientation as a new nurse was twelve weeks. I was paired with a preceptor and went straight to nightshift, so I’ve never worked days. I really liked her and she helped me a lot. But during the residency program, you’ll work with different preceptors. Generally, you’ll start with day shifts and go on to nights. I think the most important thing my preceptor shared with me was:

“You have to take care of yourself. That means eating well, exercising, and keeping healthy sleep habits. You can’t be the best nurse you can be unless you look after yourself.”

I’ve learned the hard way when transitioning to working full time. I missed so many meals because I was working so much, and I wasn’t taking my breaks like I was supposed to. I’ve started trying to meal prep. You have to be conscious of how you’re doing with yourself.

Q: Have you ever felt that “burnout” feeling?

A: Only once. We had this fluke night where we had nine admissions in one night. It was chaos.

In those moments, when it gets hard, you have to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Know that you have other people to support you, teammates who have your patients’ best interest in mind. Sometimes I have a hard time leaving work at work, but you have to create a barrier for your own mental health too.

Q: What do you do if you notice someone else did something incorrectly on the chart?

A: You can just talk to the nurse. One purpose of charting is to facilitate communication. So, you can definitely talk to the other nurse about the mistake. Communication is so important.

If you come across an issue where you or someone else made an error, or if you know something was given incorrectly, the worst thing you can do is try to push it under the rug. This is a patient’s life we’re talking about. We’re all human and mistakes can happen, so don’t be too prideful to report it. Each hospital has a reporting system that tracks unexpected events and a clinical review panel works to make appropriate adjustments to policy in order to prevent errors from happening in the future. The most important thing is to communicate with your team and prioritize the health of the patient.

Q: Have you had any leadership opportunities since being hired?

A: Yes! The magnet representatives came to make us re-accredited. To prepare for their arrival, I was chosen to present to Unity Point Employees about Magnet at a fair as the Magnet Ambassador from my unit. For the presentation, I made a poster about the different tiers.

At a magnet-accredited facility, the nurses have a voice and get to have a say about what goes on. It really feels like the nurses have more influence about what happens in the hospital.

I am also on unit council, where we discuss changes that can be made in order to improve our work experience.

Q: When do you recommend that nursing students begin applying for jobs?

A: Start applying as early as you can. I would recommend that you start senior year, before the fall semester ends. I waited a bit later and the jobs really filled up. Some are posted later, but if you want a shot at getting the position you want, get an early start.

Q: Did you apply for an RN position, a residency position, or a student nursing position?

A: It depends on what’s the right fit for you. So for me, because I had my leadership clinical on the floor I currently work on, I was a direct hire. But a lot of different hospitals offer residencies, and they help with continuing education opportunities as well, which are the classes you’re mandated to take in order to prepare your transition.

Q: Why did you go for a medical-surgical role when you’re interested in critical care?

A: I don’t recommend jumping straight into working on a difficult unit. If I had gone into the emergency department or intensive care unit, I wouldn’t have had the critical thinking skills necessary to thrive there, and that transition would have been very difficult. Not only are you learning how to be a nurse, but you’re also learning to be a critical care nurse. I have learned so much as a medical-surgical nurse, and I’ve been exposed to so many different patient populations. Now that I’ve worked for over a year and gotten my feet wet and sharpened my skills, I’m starting to apply to ICU jobs.

Q: What made you stand out when applying to jobs?

A: Being from MCN definitely made me stand out. Beyond that, I’d say my extracurricular involvement, volunteer work, and related work history helped.

I recommend getting a job as a CNA before becoming a nurse. After Adult I clinical, you can become a CNA and work for a year, or take on an internship, especially on a floor you really want to work on.

Q: How many places did you apply to?

A: I only applied to Methodist because I knew I wanted to transition to working there full time after my clinical experience. I wanted to stay near my home in Peoria, too, and just enjoy learning how to be a nurse. But now, I’m ready for the next opportunity, and I’m interviewing at Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt, and University of Iowa.

Q: I’m worried about the NCLEX. How did you prepare for it?

A: Do some sort of NCLEX prep. Don’t overthink it. Take each question one at a time. And really, you can’t know everything. What you get on the exam is only a small snippet of all of the knowledge you’ve worked on. For example, I was frustrated that I didn’t have a single medication question; I was a certified pharmacy technician! But I know other people who had several. It’s just the luck of the draw.

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