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Career Management in Nursing

As nurses in rapidly evolving, complex work environments, it can be challenging to recognize when we are falling into professional ruts and need to step back and switch our attention from day-to-day tasks to ensuring that our career isn’t managing us, rather we are managing our careers. We are consistently navigating our field and supporting our professional roles, but career management is oftentimes a concept that feels unfamiliar to nurses and takes time and intention to develop. Career management in nursing is a lifelong process of investing resources and planning progress towards accomplishing professional goals and personal success. It involves bringing attention to accomplishments, encouraging recognition for contributions, and negotiating raises and promotions. Unless a nurse achieved a graduate degree, little formal education may have been included on this concept in nursing school, and the idea of managing one’s professional life may feel all too much like self-promotion. As a result, nurses may go under recognized for their skills and not receive the positive feedback and advancement opportunities that they deserve. Let’s explore some ways that we can assume a proactive role in managing our nursing careers.


First and most fundamentally, we need to start with asking ourselves where we want to go professionally. Our goals may change as we learn more about our interests and hone our skills, so this first step can be revisited as needed and adjusted as we grow. For now, it’s important to consider what aspects of nursing seem most interesting and align closest with our inherent and developed strengths. This way, we can begin to set personal goals and formulate plans to move us forward professionally. Having career goals and formulating objectives to meet these goals, can help us align ourselves with what we enjoy and excel in. Developing a mission statement, including who we are and what our focus is, may help. We believe that in order to be truly happy and in balance, personally and professionally, there needs to be congruence between what we value and our careers.


Now that we know where we’d like to go, we need to start laying the brickwork to get there. For some, creating an organized plan, including objectives that are specific and measurable, helps to create a vision. Career mapping can be incredibly supportive for proactive planning. When first starting out in our careers, long-range goals may take some time to understand, as our major focus is generally on securing a staff nurse job and familiarizing ourselves with the basics of the nursing profession. Once we feel established, we may look closer at our aspirations, skills, and interests, and explore ways to grow our careers and networks. Some of us may know our ultimate goals from the get-go and begin proactively planning, while others may find it unrealistic to forecast out that far. If our jobs become significantly less challenging or less exciting than they once were, then we may begin considering our long-range goals more seriously and explore furthering our education. Developing an informed understanding of possible career routes and academic options can help us best invest our time and resources. Whether working on short-range or long-range goals feels relevant may depend largely on our life circumstances, responsibilities, and values. Whatever gets us to a place of introspection and moves us closer to our goals, will be useful. Below are some questions to delve a bit deeper into what is meaningful.


Pause, Reflect, and Plan:

Do I look forward to going to work?

Is my current nursing position challenging?

Do I feel like I am making a significant impact on a regular basis?

What am I doing when I feel the most excited about my work?

Am I fulfilled with my daily role?

Does my professional schedule work well with my other life priorities?

Do I enjoy and respect my nursing colleagues?

Are there opportunities for advancement with my current employer?

Does my compensation support my lifestyle?

Overall, is my work rewarding?


As we continue creating the steps to meet our objectives and achieve our goals, we should allow for flexibility to adjust to changing climates, unexpected circumstances, and life’s fluctuations. Planning tools should work for us, not control us. If the answers to the questions above push us towards change, we can include that in our comprehensive career management plan. Perhaps this comes in the form of an impending job search, or maybe it means we take a closer look at what is working well and how we can maximize our goals within that.


At this point, it’s time to focus on communication and feedback. Since we now know what our intentions are and how we plan to see them through, we need to seek opportunities to share what we envision with others and request feedback. We can begin discussing our aspirations with our social and professional networks—family, friends, peers, supervisors, and others. This is key, as meeting professional goals requires commitment on the part of many. Nursing is a rapidly developing field, so managing our careers may be most successful if we keep in regular communication with those on our teams. We can share career goals with our supervisors by requesting meetings to discuss personal strengths, areas for planned improvement, and activities that will contribute to professional growth. As communication goes both ways, we may also learn a lot from our supervisors regarding new initiatives in the organization, departmental changes, and ways to get involved that align with our aspirations. Performance review conferences can also lend way to useful discussions. During these meetings, we can bring up specifics regarding how we have contributed to our growth since our last review, such as continuing education courses completed, seminars attended, and special assignments taken on in the organization.


As we shared earlier in this post, we really believe that achieving balance lies in our values syncing up with our experiences. This process wouldn’t be well-rounded if we failed to emphasize the importance of maintaining the many roles we fill in our daily lives. In order to best develop and manage our careers, we need to include the variety of roles we engage in and our important plans to keep those moving forward as well. In addition to being nurses, we are also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, community members, neighbors, and the list goes on. We can manage our careers from a center of sound principles, from a knowledge of our personal mission, and within a framework that encourages balance and self-fulfillment.



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