Maximizing Your Career as a Nurse: There Are No Limits

Maximizing Your Career as a Nurse: There Are No Limits

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. We work in settings across the continuum and with people across the lifespan. Our roles call on us to do things most people would never consider, but we do it because it is our ‘job’. I never looked at nursing as a job; instead, I view nursing as a profession I studied for and continue to learn from every day. Nursing has opened many doors for me that I never would imagine myself walking through. My nursing career has been interesting, exciting, and allowed me to move into areas of nursing that helped me grow, stretched my abilities, and gave me satisfaction and pride in the work I was doing. I also made good money that has helped me live a full life and prepare for retirement. I have never regretted being a nurse….and I hope this article will inspire or re-inspire you to maximize your nursing career as there are no limits!

In this article, I wanted to provide 10 tips that every nurse can use to take full advantage of their profession. I want nurses to know there are opportunities for them to make their careers exciting, give them purpose, and make a good living while having a balanced work-life balance. Whether you are a new nurse or have been working for some time and feel like you are just doing ‘your job’ – I hope this article will invigorate your career.

1. Start Your Own Career Ladder

A career ladder is a progression, or development path, for an individual to use as they move forward in a career. I suggest you make your own career ladder to document what you want to do and develop a plan to get you there. As a new graduate, take the time to learn. Those first few years out of school will be your training ground and help you know where you want to go in your career. As an experienced nurse, having a career plan will help you learn when to move on and even when it is time to pivot into a new area of practice. Think of your career ladder as a business plan for your career.

2. Choose Your Jobs Wisely

Those early years in your career will reinforce your education and teach you the realities of working as a nurse. When looking for your first job, look for organizations that have mentoring programs/formal orientation programs. Your education will continue throughout your career. Your first few jobs will give you the time to learn how to implement the knowledge you learned in nursing school. If you find your job is not a good fit for you, look around, talk to your colleagues, join the local chapter of the American Nurses Association so you can network with others to learn about the best places to work as a new graduate/young nurse. Don’t be afraid to move if the job you have is not a good fit for you.

3. Take Advantage of Professional Learning

If you are a diploma or an associate degree nurse, make plans to continue your professional education by going back to school and get your bachelor’s in nursing. Today, the entry-level for nursing is a bachelors’ degree. Having your BSN will allow you to progress in the profession. Not having your BSN can limit the places you can go. If you graduated with a BSN, you are in a good position. Give yourself time to learn the basics, as doing so will allow you to feel confident. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take full advantage of your orientation and if you don’t feel ready for an assignment, talk to your preceptor or the head nurse. Let them know you want their help/supervision. The early years of your career are your basic training. Know that you will make mistakes. Own up to them and learn from them. We all are all human and will make mistakes. Learning from them is what counts.

4. Keep Your Eyes Open for Ways to Get Involved

Consider volunteering or ask to be put on a committee within your organization. Today a lot of work is focused on quality improvement, process improvement, patient satisfaction, patient and family education, and staff development. Being involved in a quality or process improvement project allows you to see the big picture and how your organization is improving services for patients/families and the staff who work in the organization. Your input as a nurse is valued – so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

5. Listen to Yourself

Do you like your job? Is it fulfilling? Do you like your co-workers, your leadership? You know yourself the best. Give yourself time to adjust to your role. It usually takes a good six months to a year to learn a new organization and feel comfortable. Give yourself time to adjust – but keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities.

6. Investigate New Opportunities

As you mature in your career, you will begin to see new areas of practice you might want to explore. Do you want to move up in your organization leadership? Do you want to go to a specialty area? Do you want to move beyond the bedside into the business, legal or technology side of healthcare? Keep in mind that your nurse training has prepared you for many roles, so don’t feel you are locked into one area. If you are working in a small community hospital, a long-term care facility, or working in-home care, think about moving to a large acute care medical center or a national rehabilitation program. Keep in mind, if you have been working for a year or more, you now have the experience you did not have when you were looking for your first job. You have experience now, and that can be used to your benefit. Don’t be afraid to make a move. That is one of the perks of nursing – exploring areas of practice is recommended and not looked down on as many do in other areas of the workforce. There is something for everyone; it just takes time to find your niche.

7. Think About Going Back to School

Gaining a master’s degree or your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) after you have worked for a time broadens your view of the healthcare industry and your place in it. Most advanced degree program allows you to go part-time so you can fit it into your schedule. Many organizations pay tuition reimbursement. There are also several tuition reimbursements programs. Do your homework and choose the program that is right for you.

8. Get Involved in Your Professional Organization

As a nurse, being part of your professional organization is important. Being an active member is essential. Being an active member allows YOU to fill in the gaps that you see missing or take up a project that you are passionate about. Being involved in your professional organization enables you to be a leader and meet other leaders who you can learn from and share your knowledge.

9. Get Published

Nurses traditionally shy away from writing but sharing your thoughts and experiences is part of your professional development. Also, it is a way to share the work you are doing so others can learn. Several professional journals will publish your work. Most have editors on staff that will edit your article and make you shine. In addition to writing for a professional journal, think about writing in consumer magazines, your local newspaper to help educate consumers. Nurses are natural educators, and sharing your information is essential in helping to address health literacy we know is a growing focus.

10. Get Certified

Certification is one way for nurses to validate their expertise and to advance your career. The American Nurses Association offers several certifications through their certification arm, The American Nurses Credentialing Center. Most have criteria you must meet to sit for the certification examination, so do some exploring and see which one fits you best.

In closing, I hope you will implement some of these tips to keep yourself motivated and engaged in nursing. Set goals for yourself and a plan to reach those goals. In addition, be open to new opportunities. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. You will be surprised what is waiting for you!

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