Chart Your Career Course
How to find your passion and follow it through
I’ve been fortunate in my professional nursing career, going from staff nurse to chief nurse for a global healthcare information solutions business. Over the years, many people have asked how I managed it. The simple answer is that I looked for opportunities and went after them. I hope that some of the lessons I’ve learned may be applied to your own nursing career.
FINDING YOUR PASSION: If you don’t have an “a-ha moment,” create one
The first and foremost lesson of my career journey has been, “Do what you love, and the rest will follow — find your passion and go after it.” I had the good fortune to find mine early on. When I first graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, I took a job as a medical/surgical nurse on the night shift at a local hospital. It was there that I discovered a passion for caring for critical patients.
One night, I was asked to assist in the ICU. When I first entered the unit, I encountered a 45-year-old male with myocardial infarction who had just experienced a cardiac arrest. The care team combined their collective skills to bring him back. By morning, he was stabilized and doing well. It was, in a word, impressive.
Seeing a patient brought back from the brink of death that quickly — and stabilized enough to say “thank you” less than 12 hours later — had a profound impact on me. I wanted to learn the skills that would let me provide such care in critical situations.
It’s possible that you will find your inspiration during one of your regular shifts, as I did. If not, you may need to go looking for it.
Talk to other nurses in different specialties about their work and see if anything clicks. Ask to shadow someone who works in that specialty to get a taste of what it’s really like and see if it speaks to you. Even if a particular area turns out not to be for you, the experience of trying different things can be extremely beneficial.
TAKING YOUR FIRST STEPS: Read journals, shadow nurses, join organizations
Finding your passion is an important step on your journey, but it is only the first one. To turn your interest into a viable career direction, you must be ready to actively pursue what you want.When I watched the critical care team stabilize that heart attack patient, I knew that critical care was going to be part of my future. I also knew that I had a lot to learn, especially after witnessing how much of the ICU nurses’ expertise seemed like second nature. They didn’t have to waste time wondering what to do; they just knew.
After that night, I took it upon myself to read every critical care journal and book I could find. A few months later, I applied for and accepted a fulltime night shift position in the ICU at that same hospital. Even then, I remained determined to improve my skills and standing. I took a critical care course, joined the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) and continued to devour every resource I could get my hands on.
If you’ve found the specialty you want to pursue, make sure you’re willing to do this kind of groundwork, both before and after you apply for positions in that field. Take classes, talk to colleagues in the same specialty and learn what qualifications and credentials they recommend. Investigate what professional organizations, certifications and journals exist in that field. Create a reading list for yourself and add new books and articles even as you cross things off of it.
When you start applying for positions, seek out institutions that can provide you with an adequate orientation program. Nursing internships and residencies are especially helpful for nurses transitioning to a new specialty. Even if the orientation program is less formal than a residency, having a strong preceptor can make the difference between sinking and swimming in a new role.
SELLING YOURSELF: Tips for interviewing to get the job you want
Once you’re ready to apply for positions in your chosen field, you face an additional challenge: selling yourself, both in your curriculum vitae (CV) and in interviews. This can be tough for nurses at any stage of their careers.