Keywords can boost your nursing resume

A keyword-optimized nurse resume can transform job search results from ho-hum to hired.

Keywords can boost your nursing resume

Learn how to decipher which keywords to use on your resume.

If you’ve applied for nursing jobs in the last several decades, you likely ran across experts advising you to include keywords in your resume.

The shift from manual resume processing to the widespread use of computerized applicant tracking systems (ATS) and job boards changed how nursing resumes are screened and managed. Sure, automated systems save recruiters an enormous amount of time, but where does that leave applicants whose resumes aren’t ATS-ready? Most likely in the dust. As keywords are one of the most important factors in optimizing resumes for ATS, we’ll look at what they are and how you can incorporate them in your nursing resumes. (You can check out Monster's nursing site for more valuable information.)

What are resume keywords?

Keywords are words or phrases hiring managers enter into ATS software when conducting an applicant search. Skills, degrees, certifications, licenses, knowledge areas, and abilities are potential keywords. Keywords could also be employer names, schools, programs, and professional associations.

Although technology is evolving and artificial intelligence is being introduced that makes exact keyword matches unnecessary, not all systems are there yet. There’s still a higher likelihood that a keyword-rich resume will rise to the top of the pile—and vice versa.

That’s why Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, member of the Emergency Nurses Association, and founder of New Thing Nurse career-advisory firm, is emphatic when she says, “Keywords are a must on a nurse resume.”

Keywords for human and computer readers

“Nurses need to be better versed in how to write their documents to please both software and human reviewers,” says Wells. This means making sure your resume resonates not only with individual readers such as nursing managers, HR pros, and recruiters, but also formatting it so that it can be easily read by ATS software.

Wells says that including important keywords can help your resume score highly with both of these audiences, and she recommends partnering with an expert if you’re unfamiliar with ATS or unsure about nursing keywords.

How to source keywords

“It can be helpful to print the job posting you’re applying for and highlight all the skills, requirements, and other keywords you find. Then include the ones that reflect your competencies on your resume,” says Amanda Guarniere, MSN, NP-C, and founder of, a resume-writing and career-advisory firm specializing in services for nurses.

Other keyword sources include websites of health care organizations you’re applying to, performance reviews, letters of recommendation, and nursing school course descriptions. In addition, you can get helpful keyword suggestions from colleagues in your network—particularly those with nurse hiring experience.

Acronym usage

In health care, acronyms are used as shorthand for their longer, spelled out counterparts. RN, LPN, HIPAA, JCAHO, OB/GYN, and ACLS are just a handful of examples.

Cathy Lanzalaco, a certified professional resume writer and former RN, points out that keyword search terms for any given nursing position could be either acronyms or the phrases they stand for—and sometimes both. When working with clients of Inspire Careers, a resume-writing and executive coaching firm, she recommends using the full phrase on first reference in the resume, followed by the abbreviated acronym in parentheses. Once the abbreviation has been spelled out, use the acronym if it’s repeated elsewhere in the resume.

“Spell out acronyms in the beginning to help readers who may be less familiar with medical terminology, such as HR professionals” says Lanzalaco.

Where to incorporate keywords

Keywords should be included in your resume headline and qualifications summary, but also incorporated throughout your resume—particularly in the experience section.

Some nurses throw a cornucopia of keywords into a skills section and call it a day. This might have worked in the past, but recent ATS versions not only scan for keywords, but also look for context. If a crucial keyword only appears once in your resume, or if it’s not supported by related experience and corresponding dates when you used this skill, your resume may rank lower as a result.

But avoid stuffing your resume with keywords, says Guarniere. Instead, nursing professionals should strive for balance. “Include keywords that are relevant to both your experience and the job posting,” Guarniere says, advising nurses to be strategic and selective in their keyword choices.

Get your resume looked at

Resume keywords are a crucial part of writing a winning job application, but they're only part of the puzzle. Could you use some help crafting a polished and professional resume? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. It's a quick and easy way you can help ensure you're putting your best foot forward in the job search process.