Career Blog > A Complete Guide to Nursing Resume Writing
Lori Freitas Houghton

Lori Freitas Houghton


Updated : 03/02/2022


Is a stressful nursing job search zapping your enthusiasm? Our resume samples for nurses will help you build a winning resume so you can focus your energy on improving patients’ lives.

Table Of Contents


As a nurse, you’ve seen it all. There aren’t many other professions that have experienced such intimate, vulnerable, and sometimes unhinged moments with complete strangers. It takes a special combination of compassion and coolness to function the way you do. Now you’re looking for a job. You know why you’d be amazing at this job. But communicating that in a resume can be an intimidating task. How can you fit all that you are and have done in your life onto a page or two? (Or maybe, if you’re just starting out–how can you possibly fill a whole page?) A common pitfall is writing a resume like a summary document, capturing all the duties you’ve ever done in any job you’ve ever had. Instead, a resume should be focused: an abbreviated introduction into why an employer should hire you. Think more like a billboard for your key achievements than a long review of all your past job duties. Generic resume guides fail to recognize that certain industries have different rules and expectations for resumes. For example, most industries are traditional and conservative, but certain fields like to see some creativity and a bit of individual personality. Some industries can’t tolerate a dense resume, while others appreciate the details. Some fields are heavily quantitative and want lots of numerical evidence, while others value qualitative highlights. It all depends on the audience. That’s why ResumeHelp offers resume guides specific to your industry. In this nursing resume guide, we’ll take you through the process of constructing your resume and provide free resume examples for nurses that you can use and customize. We’ll show how to market your strengths to potential employers and how to communicate why you’re the best candidate for the job!

Ready? Let’s get started.

1. Understanding Your Audience

To market a product, the first goal is to understand who your customer is. In writing your resume, your first goal is to understand who your reader is. For the majority of organizations, your reader is initially nonhuman (an applicant tracking system), but eventually, the hiring manager. You need to craft your resume for both readers. understanding your audience Let’s start with the human: the hiring manager in your field. That hiring manager usually is juggling multiple responsibilities and doesn’t have a lot of time. Imagine what it’s like to sift through dozens or even hundreds of resumes for an opening. They may spend only seconds viewing your resume. You need to deliver a message that they can quickly digest, in the language of your field. Show your respect for their time by presenting a resume that’s clean, free from errors, and easy to quickly scan in an expected format. How are nursing resumes different? Effective nursing resumes follow most traditional resume guidelines, but the difference is that nursing is a technical job with a huge human component. Nursing hiring managers value resumes that demonstrate straightforward, detailed technical skills and experience, but also show evidence of success with patients. Nursing is a rare scientific field where it’s okay to show your passion for helping and healing people in your resume, along with your incredibly important technical credentials.

2. Getting Past an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

getting past an applicant tracking system (ATS) A hiring manager never even gets to see your resume if it doesn’t make it past the applicant tracking system, or ATS. An ATS is an automated resume-scanning software. Most large and medium-sized employers currently use an ATS in their application process. With hundreds or even thousands of applicants for a select few spots, an ATS is almost a necessity for employers to manage their workload. The right format and keywords are essential to getting your resume seen by an actual human. The ATS is programmed by employers to search for specific keywords in resumes and reduce the huge pool of potential applicants. To get your resume past an ATS, two things matter most: how you format your resume and what keywords you use.

3. Formatting Your Resume for Nurses

Use a sans serif font, like Calibri or Arial, according to a 2018 article in CIO magazine. Most ATS use Optimal Character Recognition (OCR) to analyze resumes. Some serif fonts–even common ones like Times New Roman–with their extra marks, may be rejected by a less effective ATS. Use simple round bullets. Special characters like arrows are usually unreadable. File format also matters. When you upload your resume, double check the file type requested. Usually a Microsoft Word document and a PDF file are standard acceptable formats, but sometimes the job listing will specify one or the other. Microsoft Word has the advantage that it’s easier for an ATS to read, but PDFs might be preferable for human eyes because you can ensure your formatting won’t be inadvertently changed. If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. It’s a guessing game. You don’t know if the potential employer even uses an ATS, but you want to prepare for it.

“Keep your design simple or the resume may be rejected because the software doesn’t know how to handle it.”

Sometimes people get creative with resume design and insert boxes of text along the left or right margins. This usually baffles ATS software and is ineffective. Keep your design simple or the resume may be rejected because the software doesn’t know how to handle it. You may have read online about three different resume formats: reverse chronological, functional, and hybrid. Below, we will explain each format. But the vast majority of hiring managers and ATS configurations expect one format: reverse chronological. That is the format we recommend.

Format 1: Reverse Chronological Resume Sample

What it is: It’s the most common kind of resume. On a reverse chronological resume, list your work experience based on how recently you worked at an employer. Your latest or current job comes first, and any other positions follow, from most recent to oldest.
  • It’s the most common resume format in the U.S., so most hiring managers and recruiters will be expecting to see a reverse chronological format. This is the format they trust.
  • Most applicant tracking systems are configured to expect this organization of content. Without this format, an ATS is more likely to reject your resume.
  • This format enables you to show your career progression easily, with your most recent positions getting the most attention. 
  • You can show your job commitment and years of experience in the field, as well as how you’ve broadened your expertise or taken on special roles. 
  • This format easily highlights weaknesses in your work history (and that’s why hiring managers like it. It saves them time).
  • If you’re fresh out of school, you don’t have much work experience to show. However, you still can use a reverse chronological resume format. You’ll showcase your recent graduation and employers will understand that you’re just starting out. (We’ll talk you through education later in this guide.)
  • If you have long stretches of unemployment or short tenure in one job to the next, this weakness is also easily exposed.

Nursing Chronological Resumes

Format 2: Functional Resume Sample

What it is: Functional resumes are organized by skills or pieces of experience, rather than dates and a linear progression.
  • Functional resumes were designed to deal with special circumstances–career changes, lack of experience, gaps of unemployment, short-tenured job hopping. They’re more flexible.
  • Perhaps this approach will work for a very small company (no ATS) with an inexperienced, open-minded hiring manager.
  • The problem is: nearly all recruiters and hiring managers fully understand that a functional resume is used to conceal unfavorable work histories. So they quickly reject them.
  • If the company uses an ATS, hiring managers will probably never see a functional resume as the ATS isn’t designed to scan this format.
  • Functional resumes tend to be a waste of time for both candidates and hiring managers.

Nursing Functional Resumes

Format 3: Hybrid Resume Example

What it is: A hybrid resume is a catch-all term for some combination of a functional and a chronological resume. Some use this term to describe a format that an ATS can scan (basically a reverse chronological resume with an opening section focused on skills); some use this term to describe a format that an ATS doesn’t scan well (basically a functional resume with some chronological component). Our advice is that a reverse chronological resume is the way to go; however, one opening section that highlights key skills or a professional summary can be very effective and ATS systems and hiring managers accept them. If that’s what a “hybrid format” means in this sense, hybrids are worth considering. More details below on that opening section.

Nursing Combination Resume

4. Using Keywords in Your Nursing Resume

To understand how an ATS works, imagine a system tracking specific words. The keywords are programmed in and each candidate’s resume is scanned for those words, with a match ratio or percentage listed at the end. A certain threshold is set (for example, all candidates that go to the next level must match 80% of keywords) or candidates are ranked by the # of matches and a certain number of candidates move on to the next level. So you can see why it’s so important to load your resume with the keywords employers are seeking!

“…many candidates have relevant experience, but they just haven’t listed that experience in the same words as the job listing. […] So make the terms match exactly where you can.”

So how do you know what keywords employers are seeking? That is the tricky part. You try to make an educated guess. And obviously, you are limited by the range of your experience. If a nursing position wants experience with “immunization clinics,” for example, and you don’t have experience with immunization clinics, you can’t honestly put those keywords on your resume. You are limited by your relevant experience. However, many candidates have relevant experience, but they just haven’t listed that experience in the same words as the job listing. A candidate, for example, may list experience with “community vaccinations” and the ATS may not recognize this as a match for “immunization clinics.” So make the terms match exactly where you can. Job title keywords are the most basic scan that ATS and recruiters use to determine a resume that’s a good fit. If your job title doesn’t quite match what the job opening is, but they are similar roles, it is legitimate to list both job titles in your resume. As a basic example, the listing could be for an “RN.” You may have your most recent position listed as a “Registered Nurse.” If the ATS is programmed well, it should recognize the match. But just in case it’s poorly programmed, you might want to list your job title as “Registered Nurse (RN).” Spell out, as well as list, abbreviations like LVN, LPN and RN. Be sure to include keywords for the job position, as well. Use nursing keywords like license, certification, CPR, patient, clinical, records, monitor, etc. It really depends on the job listing. Look it over carefully and perhaps highlight potential keywords. Then use all the words you can legitimately put on your resume when describing your work experience or listing your skills. And here’s the tricky part: you want your resume to be picked up by ATS, but ultimately read by the hiring manager. So your resume needs to be ATS-friendly, but it also needs to read naturally and not sound like a random assembly of keywords and abbreviations. Try reading your resume out loud to identify any issues with readability. Or have a friend or colleague review it and point out any phrasing that doesn’t make sense.

5. Getting Ready for Nurse Resume Writing

getting ready for nurse resume writing If you’re writing your resume for the first time or it’s been a while since you last updated it, get all the information you’ll need in one place (often a digital or physical file). A little preparation will make the process so much easier:
  • Go through your calendar or financial records for accurate start and end dates on your previous jobs. You only need the month and year.
  • Get your educational details right. Those further along in their career will include minimal information, but recent graduates may benefit by adding other relevant details. Those might include pertinent courses, trainings, or projects, GPA, volunteer involvement in college, etc. As a nurse, you also should definitely include dates and brief details about licenses, certifications, and/or CE courses to demonstrate that you’re current and ready. (See the Education section below for more details.)
  • You don’t need to include references on your resume. In fact, you shouldn’t–most companies consider this an outdated practice. And you certainly don’t need to include a line such as: “References available upon request.” Employers already know this and if they want references, they will ask for them. You will want to decide what people you’ll use as references, though, so you’re ready if that comes up during the job application process.
Once you’ve collected the pertinent documents and files, you can verify the details as you put information into your resume. Ensure that all your details are correct and your resume will be easy to update, customize, and use for job openings as needed. Careers often stall simply because individuals don’t keep their resumes up-to-date and then they are reluctant to apply to new opportunities which would further their career.

6. Nurse Resume Writing: The Opening Section

the opening section It’s not absolutely necessary to start with an opening section to your resume before getting to your reverse chronology work experience, but an opening section is usually beneficial. And application tracking systems anticipate a resume having one. This opening section comes right after your contact information at the top of the resume. Here are some options for writing your opener:

1. A short, specific resume summary statement

In 1-3 sentences, explain the value you’d add to the nursing position you’re seeking. You don’t have much time to draw your reader in, so make sure your concise statement is only filled with the essentials.Your summary statement should describe you: your nursing specializations, skills, or interests. Here’s an example:

“Enthusiastic Registered Nurse with 3 years of experience in large, urban hospital environment.  Background providing patient care across Trauma – Emergency, Med-Surg, Pediatrics and Orthopedic departments. Talent in de-escalating conflict situations, providing a calm approach to soothe nerves and assure frightened patients.”

2. A professional summary

This is similar to a resume summary statement, but more detailed. It might be a full paragraph or 4-8 bullet points of career highlights. A professional summary is essential for those who have more than 10 years of experience. It can also serve nurses who have only 5-10 years in their field, but have gained diversity of experience. (They usually aren’t advisable for early-career individuals.) Detail the number of years you’ve specialized in a particular field or area, your special certifications, awards that are particularly relevant, major projects or achievements in your work, whether you’ve managed people, etc. If you can find a way to quantify something, do it:

“3 years in management role, overseeing a team of 12 full-time staff” is more impressive than “managerial experience.”

Another example is:

“Senior Charge Nurse with specialization in Critical Care for patients of cardiology, trauma and oncology treatment centers. Over 20 years of experience leading nursing staff supporting cardio-pulmonary transplants, life-threatening neurological conditions and intensive cancer treatments. Recognized consistently by administration for exemplary performance, high level of skill and patient relations.”

3. An objective statement

An objective statement is usually a one-sentence statement of purpose which clarifies the type of position someone is seeking. Objectives are one place where it’s acceptable to switch from third person to first person (for example, using “me” or “my”). Objectives used to be much more common and have kind of gone out of fashion in the resume world. But here are a few limited situations where they could be helpful:
  • Early career situation – Objective statements can be helpful in explaining why there isn’t much experience on a resume; the applicant simply wants a chance at an entry-level position. For example: “Recent nursing school grad seeking entry-level pediatrics position that will allow me to contribute and grow my experience.”
  • Mid-career switch – Resumes may appear confusing when someone has switched career fields. Say, for example, you worked in sales for ten years before deciding that you wanted a more purposeful career and went back to school to get your nursing degree. The resume may initially look like a sales resume, but you’re applying for a nursing role. Objective statements can explain that quickly, so the hiring manager isn’t wondering: “Recent nursing graduate with a previous career in sales seeking opportunity to apply my skills and passion for the field of healthcare.”
  • Seeking promotion – Let’s say you’ve been a nurse, but you’ve recently gone back to school to become a nurse practitioner or a nursing manager. You’re applying for that new role, but your resume doesn’t reflect that new title yet. Objective statements can signal your intention to move up a level:
“Experienced nurse seeking upward career opportunity managing a team as Director of Nursing Services.”

7. Customizing Your Opening Section

Your approach to your resume opener should really depend on your career stage and circumstances. Whatever approach you take, make sure you include some of those ever-important keywords. For example, if one position you pursue is in a hospital setting and another is in a small medical practice and another is in a rehabilitation center, you’d want some customization to reflect that in your statement.
Don’ts understanding your audience Don’t follow the practice of simply listing keywords in your opening section. For example: Customer-focus * Attention-to-detail * Compassionate * Precise, etc. Those may be fine keywords and work well for an ATS, but they come across as fairly insincere to human eyes. If you are customer-focused, describe that in your opening statement. If you’re precise, give evidence of the awards you’ve received because of your precise record. Those are more effective approaches.
Do’s Customize the summary statement, tweaking it when needed for specific positions. This is particularly important for mid- to late-career professional summary statements. Review the job listing and look for keywords, specific responsibilities, highlighted skills, or other clues that tell you what’s most important for that particular job.
  • Use some of the words you pulled from the job listing in your summary statement, as appropriate.
  • Keep the roles and skills that are most relevant for the job; cut the roles or skills that aren’t.
  • Add in adjectives, nouns, or phrases that match the job listing exactly, if needed.
Review your summary statement one last time and try to find a few ways to make it more specific and more quantifiable. Here are some examples:
  • Nursing experience → Experienced in Emergency and ICU medicine
  • Time management skills → Implemented calendar system that saved approximately 50 hours per week
  • Valued team member → Most requested surgical nurse in the department
A complete opening statement in your summary might look like this:
  • Service-oriented Registered Nurse with over 8 years of experience in Emergency and PCU care. Core competencies include task prioritization, crisis management, and improvement of the patient care experience, as well as excellent communication and time management skills. Consistent record of handling tasks accurately and efficiently.

8. Nurse Resume Writing: The Experience Section

The experience section is usually the second section in a resume, unless you’re a recent graduate. This section may be titled: Experience, Work Experience, or Professional Experience. It should be filled with specifics, it should be achievement- or evidence-oriented, and it should incorporate all relevant keywords in a natural way. Work experience should always be listed in reverse chronological order: start with your most recent job at the top and work your way backwards through your experience. The standard elements for each work experience entry are:
  • Job title
  • Place of employment
  • Dates of employment
  • Brief description of your accomplishments and responsibilities in the job, as well as skills gained and used in that piece of experience
Sometimes job title is listed first, sometimes the place of employment is listed first. Just be consistent in whichever approach you take. Listing the dates along the right-hand margin helps hiring managers and recruiters quickly scan dates so they can assess career level. Writing descriptions of your accomplishments, responsibilities, and skills gained is a difficult but essential part of writing your resume. Use bullet points, not paragraphs, and be concise, but specific. Use examples to show evidence of your effectiveness: Improved patient care by reducing waiting times for call response by 8 minutes on average. Think through any significant projects you were part of or oversaw, any major organizational changes or administrative shifts you supported, the number of staff you were responsible for, scheduling challenges, increased responsibilities, recognitions, and awards. It’s also a good idea to think through what made each job most satisfying for you and the areas in which you consistently exceeded expectations. Focus, as often as possible, on evidence of your effectiveness in your role, as opposed to simply describing job duties or responsibilities. Key guidelines for work descriptions:
  • Don’t use personal pronouns. Instead, as in the examples above, start with a verb (“Managed”) and leave off the understood pronouns (“I”).
  • For past jobs, use past tense verbs. For any position you currently hold, use present tense verbs.
  • Use bullet points, one for each sentence or phrase. You can end your sentence or phrase with a period or leave it off. Just be consistent–use one method or the other.
  • Avoid superlatives. Nursing isn’t a sales role and exaggerating does not fit the culture. But use adjectives and adverbs that show your level of performance. Be concise and stick to the facts.
  • Generally, use 2-4 bullet points per job. For jobs where you stayed many years and had several important components, you might use up to 6 or 7 bullets.
  • Quantify, quantify, quantify! Anytime you can tie in data, measurable results, or specific numbers, do so.
Once you’ve drafted the work experience bullet points for each job, don’t forget to scan the job ad and note the keywords and job requirements used. Then scan your work experience. Can you add or substitute a keyword from the job ad? Can you reorder a point to highlight one of the job requirements? Can you adjust your wording to match the tone and language of the job ad more closely? These changes will generally be small–you may not change every bullet point on your experience section–but they can make a big difference. First, you’ll have a better chance of getting past the ATS when you match the wording for the job. And second, you’ll show hiring managers that you’ve paid close attention to the open position and you’re well-suited for the job. nurse resume writing: the experience section What if you are early career and have little relevant experience or are just finishing your nursing degree? To emphasize your strengths, you can list the education section before the work experience section.

9. Nurse Resume Writing: The Education Section

Let’s define “early career” as roughly 3 years or less of experience in nursing at your desired level–for example, as an RN. If you’re early career, your resume may flow like this: Opening section, Education section, Work Experience section, and so forth. It’s smart to expand this Education section when you don’t have much relevant work experience. Add in all pertinent courses, trainings, or projects, as well as volunteer involvement in college, etc. Pad that section with evidence of your training and competence. Demonstrate a caring heart with evidence of great college volunteer experience. nurse resume writing: the education section For most job seekers, however, the Education section will come last on a resume and will be very brief. The most common way to list your education is with your degree or certification title first, followed by its acronym and then the institution name. You can include your GPA if it was particularly favorable (3.5 or over). Many people remove their GPA and even graduation date from their resume when it was a long time ago (10+ years).
✓ Standard Example
Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) University of Texas
✓ Recent Graduate with high GPA Example
Bachelor of Science – 2017 Nursing (BSN) University of Texas Summa Cum Laude, GPA 3.8

10. Getting Your Nursing Credentials In Order

For really brief credentials, some candidates list them in the opening section or in the personal information section at the top of the resume. More commonly, candidates list their other credentials as part of their Education section. If you have many certifications, awards, and honors, it may make sense to include a separate section for them, labeled Credentials or Licenses and Certifications and that section should follow your Education section. Any of those approaches work. getting your nursing credentials in order Credentials are extra important for nurses, so make sure you include them because they tend to be crucial in initial resume screens. Examples of credentials include your degrees (MSN, BSN, etc.), licensure credentials (RN, LPN/LVN), and state designations (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, Nurse Practitioner). Follow a standard method to order credentials, as detailed by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The standard ordering “ensures that everyone— including nurses, healthcare providers, consumers, third-party payers, and government officials— understands the significance and value of credentials,” according to the ANCC. Nursing licenses have numbers that need to be included. Employers often use those numbers for verification. The preferred order of listing credentials is:
  1. Highest earned degree
  2. Licensure
  3. State designations or requirements
  4. National certifications
  5. Awards and honors
  6. Other recognitions
Your degree comes first because it’s a “permanent” credential and the next two credentials are required for you to practice. The succeeding qualifications are often voluntary and less necessary. List credentials that are at the same level in reverse chronological order, just like your work experience: start with the most recent certification earned and work your way back to the oldest certification. Your education section is especially important as a nurse. To get past an ATS, it’s paramount that your education information is clear and accurate. Check the requirements a particular employer looks for in a nursing resume and, if possible, use the same keywords. For each certification you list, include the following:
  • The name of the credential or certification.
  • The company or organization that issued the certification.
  • If applicable, include the location where you earned the certification.
  • The date you completed the certification requirements.
  • If applicable, the date the certification expires.

11. Writing a Cover Letter for a Nursing Resume

Do hiring managers read cover letters? Well, some do–they value them highly and read them carefully. And some don’t–they pay no attention to what a cover letter says. Because you never know if this particular hiring manager will value your letter, you need to act like any hiring manager would value your cover letter. Craft it carefully. Cover letters are less rigid in format than resumes, though it’s advisable to use a traditional business letter format. One universal rule, however, is that cover letters should always be brief. The longer they are, the less likely they will ever be read! There are several different acceptable approaches, but the general purpose of a cover letter is to:
  1. Demonstrate your specific interest in a company or role.
  2. Highlight 2-3 particular skills or areas of expertise.
  3. When needed, give you an opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances that make your resume look unusual.
First, do your research on the hospitals or other organizations that you’re pursuing. Find an aspect that genuinely appeals to you:

“I like the consultative model you use with patient birth plans in your Labor and Delivery department.”

Drop “To Whom This May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam” from your cover letter if you can and address your pitch to whomever is actually in charge. Then, highlight 2-3 specific skills or areas of expertise that you want to emphasize. This may be customized by position or it may not. Just choose two, or no more than three, and expand on those areas. Share examples or specifics, even a story if it’s appropriate. This is a way to personalize your resume for the reader. “When I was a teenager, the hospice nurses that cared for my grandmother were heroes to me. And that’s when I decided I wanted to make that same difference in people’s lives as they go through difficult times.” Is the hospital looking for someone who can deal tactfully with patients? Write about the time you eased the minds of a patient and their family after a diagnosis didn’t go the way they expected. Does the medical practice specify they want the candidate to have the ability to remain cool under pressure? Give them an example that shows evidence that you’ve proven yourself calm and methodical when all hell was breaking loose. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, revisit your work experience section. Read those bullet points and think about how you handled your responsibilities every day. Cover letters should be between half a page and one page. Don’t exceed this or you’ve lost your reader. Use standard business letter formatting. Around three to four single-spaced brief paragraphs is a good length. Order is not necessarily key here; whatever flows best can work. But here’s a sample approach:
  • In the first paragraph, introduce yourself with a one phrase summary of your experience; state that you are seeking the position and reference the job ID#, if applicable. That helps ensure the resume gets to the right place. Explain what attracts you to this role at their organization.

    “I would be an excellent fit for an organization as forward-thinking as Community Hospital.”

  • In the second (and maybe third) paragraph, expand on a couple of strengths you want to emphasize and give some specifics to give your candidacy some vibrance.
  • If you have extenuating circumstances, such as a mid-life career change or several years out of the workforce, explain the circumstances very briefly and confidently. One example:

“After ten years in a field that never really inspired me, I discovered my passion for improving patients’ lives and am graduating this spring with my RN degree.”

Just briefly address the issue. Another example:

“I loved nursing, but needed to drop out of the workforce for twelve years due to family needs. I have looked forward to returning to nursing and have now updated all necessary credentials.”

Don’t spend too long addressing potential concerns in your work history or you may attract more attention than is necessary. In the final paragraph, close by mentioning how you’re a good match, including some of the information you gained from research.

“I’d love to be part of the award-winning Enabling Care program and learn from Dr. Smith and her team.”

About the Author

Lori Freitas Houghton

Lori Freitas Houghton


In her 15+ years in human resources, Lori Freitas Houghton has worked on both sides of the hiring equation. She’s experienced as a recruiter and partner with hiring managers. She is also a proven career coach with a high success rate at helping job candidates create breakthrough resumes that gain them interviews. With a BA in English and a Master of Organizational Behavior (MBA) degree, Lori also has considerable experience writing and editing HR content.

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