What’s the Difference Between Nurses Who Get Promoted & Nurses Who Don’t?

What Is the Difference Between Nurses Who Get Promoted?

I hear it often: “I’m showing up, working hard, taking care of my patients, and documenting well – but every time I apply for a promotion I’m passed over.” Over time, the passed-over nurse starts to feel as if the organization doesn’t value her contributions. This leads to burnout and disengagement, making a promotion even more unlikely.

As a leader in the healthcare industry, my first question is, “Have you asked the hiring manager why you weren’t selected?” Then I cross my fingers and hope the hiring manager is a brave leader who willingly shares feedback with candidates who have the potential to grow in the organization. When they are, the feedback almost always fits into one of these categories.

You’re Meeting Expectations

Showing up, working hard, taking care of patients, and documenting well is the expectation. Your manager expects you to be a great nurse. To exceed expectations, you have to do more than that. Are you presenting innovative, feasible solutions to improve patient safety and care? Are you volunteering for committees and mentoring new nurses without being asked? Are you investing in your own personal and professional development? Nurses who consistently exceed expectations are more likely to be promoted than nurses who meet expectations and claim to exceed them.

You Cost Too Much

You complain about your coworkers, your patients, your leader, or your organization and cite those parties when something doesn’t go as planned. Perhaps you call it venting because it sounds more acceptable than complaining, but venting costs organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, results in disengagement across the board, and rarely or never leads to innovative solutions or change. Nurses who get promoted use their time to better understand differing viewpoints, brainstorm solutions to interpersonal and process problems, and then do the hard work required to bring those solutions to life.

Nursing Skills Are Vastly Different From Leadership Skills

Nurses are tasked with managing all day every day: you manage the patient’s condition, manage staffing levels, and manage the workflow on your shift. Management skills are critical to excellence in nursing. But leaders who focus too much on management and not enough on leadership quickly become micromanagers, leading to reduced productivity, disengagement among their team members, and strained relationships with their peers.

So how can nurses demonstrate their leadership skills while still managing all of the vital tasks assigned to them? It requires a daily focus on empowering delegation; a focus on unit and organizational strategy; mentorship of other nurses; effective conflict resolution skills; a high level of personal accountability; and investment in one’s own learning and growth. Because that’s a whole lot, focus on your energy each moment. Each day. Commit to making a difference in one of these ways every single day and you’ll stand out in a crowd pretty quickly.

Your Heart Isn’t in the Right Place

When asked, “Why did you apply for this role?” many candidates respond, “Better hours,” or, “Better pay.”

Leadership is hard. The hours aren’t better; most leaders are on call 24/7 and spend 50 or more hours a week at work. The leaders who excel are those who pursue leadership because their heart is in it. Here are some of the responses to the question, “Why did you apply?” from candidates who’ve been selected for promotion:

  • Leadership has been my goal since primary school.
  • When I became a preceptor, I quickly learned that mentoring and growing others is the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.
  • I want to have an impact on the organization, our patients, and my team, and I see so much opportunity to grow my contributions in this role.
  • I thrive on change and challenge!

Think about this important question before your interview and practice your authentic response in advance.

If you’ve been passed up for promotion and aren’t getting the feedback you need to grow, chances are, you fit somewhere in the list above. Read the list and ask yourself, “Does this feedback apply to me?” Invest in your own growth by making a plan to improve in the areas that hit home, and then get back on that horse and apply again next time an opportunity arises.

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