Reader Q&A: Can I Get Work Samples by Writing for My Own Hospital?

Apr 20, 2021

In last week’s Office Hours (group coaching) session for nurses taking the Complete Guide to Content Marketing course, a participant asked a question that I thought might be of interest to a wider audience.

She said, “Can I get my first work samples by writing for my own hospital’s marketing department, even if writing isn’t a part of my job description?” 

As always, the answer to this isn’t straightforward. Many factors can influence whether this is possible or not. Let’s examine some of those.

1. If you’re nursing in a union shop, check the rules first

Unions aren’t big in New Mexico, so I was never a member of one as a nurse. But I do know that unions tend to have strict rules surrounding job duties, to protect their workers from being asked or forced to perform tasks outside their area of employment. For example, a union might prohibit an RN from performing housekeeping-related tasks, because those tasks fall outside an RN’s job description.

So, if you’re a union nurse, I recommend you check with your union before approaching a hospital’s marketing department about doing some writing for them. You may not be allowed to do that under the collective bargaining agreement.

2. Ask the Human Resources Department

If you’re currently nursing at a hospital and you go to the marketing department and say, “Hey, can I help you produce newsletters?” you may find that HR intervenes and says, “Wait, what now?” That’s because, again, job description rules might prohibit you from doing that – even on a volunteer basis. You may not be allowed to “volunteer” to perform tasks someone else would normally be paid for. It creates a tricky legal issue for human resources – because what if you turned around later and sued them for lost wages or something? Generally speaking, as far as I’m aware, paid employees can’t ever work “off the clock.”

In general – whether in writing or in life – I recommend always, always consulting the source to get the absolute truth of the matter. In this case, the “source” would be your HR department. Never rely on other people’s opinions or experiences to guide you in a situation like this. Hearsay is worth precisely nothing.

3. Volunteer for a Committee

Now, one surefire way you could get some writing clips with your current employer without running afoul of any union rules or HR law is to volunteer to serve on a committee. Every hospital I ever worked for had numerous committees that planned events for volunteers, families, staff, and so on. You definitely could volunteer to serve on a committee with the express intent of writing all the materials. Then you’d have some beautiful, professionally produced clips to show prospective clients.

4. What about writing nursing department-related materials like policy documents? 

It’s likely you would be allowed (welcomed, even!) to write documents and other information for your own department, but I would caution you that those types of work samples may not hold much benefit. For example, yes, in your capacity as a nurse you could write procedure documents or even patient discharge instruction handouts, but those are difficult to parlay into paid writing assignments for deliverables like blog posts, web pages, or white papers. If a client is thinking of hiring you for a content writing gig, then they generally want to see content writing examples. Handing them a vacation scheduling policy you wrote won’t hold much water with them.

5. One excellent way to get clips: Write for allnurses.com

Full disclosure: I enjoy an affiliate-type relationship with allnurses.com. That said, it’s not why I recommend you write for them to get clips.

I happen to know that nurses who join the allnurses.com Nurse Innovators Program and contribute articles receive top-notch editorial feedback. That can help you improve your writing and understand better how to structure articles for the web. In return, you can point prospective clients to your professionally published articles as proof of your writing abilities.

Sounds like a win-win, to me.

Do you have questions about how to get your first writing samples? Post them in the comments!

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