3 Ways to Move Your Nursing Career Forward

Take classes, grow your professional network, get involved

A nurse in a classroom is raising her hand. She and everyone around her is wearing scrubs and look at notebooks or computers

Nancy has been working as a psychiatric nurse for 27 years. Lately, she has been feeling something unusual: She lies in bed before getting up for work each morning, dreading her upcoming shift.

It isn’t the patient care that she hopes to avoid. It is not even the team or support staff that she no longer enjoys. No, this is something different: She feels stuck. For a few months, Nancy has been bored. She goes to work, performs her tasks and then leaves for home. She has been doing her job for such a long time that there is nothing new or challenging about it. She finds herself stuck in a nursing career rut.

What can Nancy do? How can she reinvent herself as a nursing professional so that she feels excited to show up at work again?

Professional Plateaus and Career Stagnation

These feelings of boredom and career stagnation do not only happen to nurses who have been in the profession for decades. In fact, nurses may experience several professional plateaus at various points in time.

For example:

  • A new nurse who has been working on his or her unit for two years may start to feel bored if no longer challenged. If they have mastered the various clinical skills it takes to actually work in their particular area and do not find something new to learn, feelings of stagnation can soon set in.
  • A nurse who has been at their particular job for about seven years can start to feel that “need for change” itch. They may have taken on additional responsibilities such as precepting newer nurses or acting as charge nurse, but even those roles may become so routine that the nurse is no longer challenged.

Although feeling stuck can seem like a bad thing, it is actually great! Why is that? The profession of nursing is so diverse that it provides enormous opportunity. Career stagnation just means it’s time to explore new opportunities.

Here are three strategies for moving your Here are three strategies for moving your nursing career forward:

1. Decide to Learn Something New

Jose M. has been an ICU nurse for 15 years. He understands the machines, is able to orient new graduates and interacts impeccably well with the physician staff. From the outside looking in, Jose is a model ICU nurse. However, he realizes that it is time for more.

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Jose starts to investigate various nursing programs. He has his bachelor’s degree in nursing, but decides that continuing his education will help him gain the knowledge, skills and experience he needs to take the next step in his career.

Just because you have earned your nursing degree and are working as a professional nurse does not mean that your education is over. However, returning to school is a big decision. It can revitalize your career, but being a full-time student requires major commitments of time and money.

Earning another degree is not always an option. If that is the case for you, here are some other possibilities:

  • Consider getting a specialty certification.
  • Sign up for a weekend course or online training.
  • Take one or two classes part-time while deciding if additional fulltime education is right for you.
  • Learn something new outside the field of nursing.

Whichever option you choose, continuing to ask questions and be curious will help you discover new directions whenever you feel yourself getting bored.

2. Grow Your Professional Network.

Anabella K. has been working as a nurse at the same rural clinic for 13 years. Everyone in her community knows her and she gets along well with her professional colleagues. However, even though she absolutely loves her job, she often wonders what else is out there.

Lately, Anabella has been poking around online, joining some nursing communities on social media. Thanks to the Internet, she realizes that there is a big world outside of her small town.

The World Wide Web certainly has made the globe smaller. Nurses from around the planet connect on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Nurses Lounge. There are also blogs, podcasts and video channels that support the profession of nursing. (What an interesting time to be a nurse!)

Getting involved and growing your professional network can help you with your career development. It can also help you prepare for employment shakeups. Sure, we like to think that our jobs are stable and certain, but that is not always the case. In times of healthcare mergers and organizations taking over other entities, even nurses’ jobs are not guaranteed.

In today’s healthcare environment, it is critical that every nurse focuses on growing their network, which can be online, offline or both.

Nursing Education

Here are some ways that you can start to build your professional Rolodex today:

  • Set up a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn provides a professional nursing group online. Use a professional profile image and fill out all of the content areas, using keywords that relate to your nursing expertise. Add present and past coworkers you trust, begin to network in the LinkedIn communities or try writing a LinkedIn article
  • Attend networking events. Some of the best learning happens while networking with colleagues at live events. These could be both inside and outside of healthcare. Meet people in your community and introduce yourself as a nurse or join a specialty organization and attend a conference.
  • Start your own blog, podcast or YouTube channel. While this may sound daunting, there are nurses out there doing this right now. Most are more than happy to help you if you are interested in learning. By putting content out there in these online formats, you will not only reach more of your patient population, but will also have something that you can showcase in a future job interview if needed.

3. Get Involved Outside the Workplace

Bruce E. has been a nurse manager on a pediatric floor for decades. He has been there so long that even the nurses he originally managed are retiring and their children are coming in for nursing orientation! Bruce loves his job. He cannot imagine doing anything else. However, lately, he feels that he could be doing even more. He wonders, “Is there something else that I can get into that will help build the nursing legacy I leave behind?” Glad you asked, Bruce!

There is now a nonprofit organization called the Nurses on Board Coalition (NOBC). This group, which you can find online at NursesOnBoardsCoalition.org, has been created to strategically advocate for and support professional nurses serving as board members – and not only on healthcare-related boards!

There is a world of opportunity out there. If you have an interest in finance, communication, quality or process improvement, human resources, strategic planning, goal-setting, management and/or patient care services, then you may be a suitable candidate for board membership. All it takes is speaking up and letting boards know that you are interested in being involved. Board membership is an excellent way to advance your career and build your resume.

As a nurse, your skills play an integral role in the overall health of your community. You also have the expertise and experience to impact decisions made in schools, hospitals and other local organizations.

Becoming a board member allows you to play an active role in finding solutions to problems facing your community. It is a chance to give back to others what your nursing career has provided to you.

ELIZABETH SCALA RN, MSN/MBA is a keynote speaker and author of Stop Nurse Burnout and inspires nursing teams to reconnect with the passionate, fulfilling joy that once called them to their roles. Visit ElizabethScala.com. 

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