Apr 18 2023 by Lisa Bonsall, MSN, RN, CRNP, CCRN-K
I can’t think of a single nurse that hasn’t had at least one unanticipated twist or turn in their career journey! We are constantly learning and being exposed to different patient populations, experiences, and technologies. It makes sense that opportunities arise regularly for us to shift our career trajectory and explore new options.
However, it is also not uncommon for a point to come in our careers when we feel stagnant or yearn for something different. Here’s some advice for when you are looking to advance your nursing career.
1. Network and connect.
Attend conferences and take advantage of the chance to grow your network; connect with both attendees and the presenters too! Introduce yourself, ask questions, and exchange contact information if you are interested in keeping touch to learn more about this person, their role, and potential opportunities. If you have a business card, be sure to share it! Also, both local and larger scale conferences, virtual or in person, offer many opportunities to network.
You can also connect with others online through social media. LinkedIn is a great platform to develop professional connections and explore career opportunities. Use caution, of course, because misinformation and disinformation can be present anywhere. Take steps to protect yourself and be sure to always remain professional.
Do you have a mentor? Someone to guide and advise you, while supporting you and being an advocate and ally, is truly a gift. You may want to ask a trusted colleague or role model who has achieved a level of expertise to which you aspire to become your mentor. This is a relationship that requires nurturing and active participation by both the mentor and the mentee; it is well-worth it.
2. Join a committee or board.
In 2014, the Nurses on Boards Coalition (NOBC) first convened with a goal of achieving 10,000 board seats filled by nurses by the year 2020. This milestone was achieved, and the NOBC continues to inspire with the guiding principle that “building healthier communities in America requires the involvement of more nurses on corporate, health-related, and other boards, panels, and commissions.”
Nurses have a unique perspective and need to be at the table where decisions are being made. We make up the largest segment of health care providers in the United States and are with patients, providing care, education, and support, 24 hours each day. Consider joining a working group, committee, board, council, or government to ensure the voice of nurses is heard. Here is a series of blog posts and podcasts with experts who have great advice from finding the right group to being an actively involved board member.
3. Get certified.
Nurses who are certified demonstrate a personal responsibility to their education, and in turn, patient care and outcomes, and specialty certification sends a message of commitment to a current or potential employer. The personal benefits include feeling a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, plus validation of knowledge that can improve your confidence. For some, certification may also impact your salary and career advancement.
To learn more about certification, explore our Guide to Certification. This handy table of specialty certification boards and contact information along with the associated credential and requirements is a good place to start your journey!
4. Go back to school.
Deciding to go back to school can be a difficult decision. Whether you are looking at RN-to-BSN programs, or considering an advanced nursing degree, there are many factors to consider, including timing, money, availability, and program options. When you are ready to take this next step, know that not only will you benefit yourself professionally, but you also will be elevating the nursing community.
5. Pursue new opportunities.
Finally, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take risks. Seek out learning opportunities, whether it’s caring for a complex patient or a learning a new technology. As nurses, we must be lifelong learners; healthcare is an everchanging field and staying on stop of the latest evidence is essential.
Consider taking on new roles if you haven’t already – become a preceptor to a student, new nurse, or new-to-your-unit nurse; accept the charge nurse role; join or lead a working group or committee (see #2); and take advantage of opportunities to advance on the clinical ladder, if that is an option. You can start small by talking with or shadowing someone in a different role.
What other advice do you have for nurses looking to advance their careers?