The Get-Ahead Game Plan: Career Advice For Nurses
Kati Kleber, BSN, RN, CCRN breaks down how to make sense of choosing your next steps in nursing.
When we care for others day after day, it’s easy to forget what we want for our own lives and careers. But part of healthy living involves nurturing mind, body, and spirit. Since nurses often work more than 40 hours per week, it’s important that we receive fulfillment from our position and feel like we’re growing professionally.
Kati Kleber, BSN, RN, CCRN, and the voice behind the popular blog for new graduate nurses FreshRN shared her advice for figuring out how to move forward in your nursing career.
Know what you love
“A lot of people graduate nursing school with no idea what area they want to go into. It’s overwhelming because there are so many different options,” says Kleber. Her advice: Start with something you think you’d enjoy and then build from there.” As you work in the field, you’ll get an idea of what you like and don’t like and can customize your role.
Make a change, if necessary
If you feel like the unit you’re in or the type of care you provide, isn’t right for you, try something new. The process for moving from one department to another differs according to facility. Some organizations require you to stay in one position for a minimum of 18 months, while others are more flexible.
Before requesting a transfer to a new department, there are some things you’ll want to do:
1.Speak to your supervisor: “Be upfront and honest about your desires and needs. Most managers will help you with that transition. They don’t want someone on the team whose heart isn’t in their position,” says Kleber.
2.Talk to nurses in the field you’re targeting: Ask them to bluntly tell you what they like about caring for that population and, more importantly, what they don’t like. “The more specific you can be with your questions, the better,” says Kleber. “You can’t just hop from unit to unit, so you need to be diligent.”
Don’t worry whether or not the nurse likes his or her manager. Managers and roles change. Instead, focus on the type of care and the patient population. Kleber suggests starting with the following questions:
- What’s the hardest aspect of working with this patient population?
- What’s the most difficult situation you’ve had to deal with?
- Do you have autonomy?
- How do you work with the physicians and medical teams?
Consider your lifestyle
Take your stage of life into consideration. “Part of assessing what you want to do, is also assessing what you can do,” Kleber says. If you need to be available during certain hours to take care of young children or switch off with your spouse, that’s an important factor to consider. Some people can’t work night shifts because they are on extended release medications that would prevent them from functioning at their best at those times. Think about your current and future situation before pursuing a position that may not be the right fit.
Continue your education
There are many advanced degrees nurses can pursue to further their careers. “Many nurses mistakenly think that becoming a nurse practitioner is the next logical step, but there are tons of different education avenues available,” says Kleber. Her book, What’s Next? The Smart Nurse’s Guide to Your Dream Job, delves deeply into the topic of continuing education.
In general, the four ways to continue your nursing education, include:
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a way to further your education if you’re already an RN that received an associate degree in nursing (ADN). A BSN is a higher academic credential that may allow you to pursue more options within the nursing profession. Many RN to BSN programs can be completed in less than 12 months.
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the advanced-level postgraduate degree for registered nurses. If you want to manage or educate other nurses, this degree (which takes two years to complete) is a requirement. The standard list of MSN specializations associated with the degree are:
- Nursing education
- Care coordination
- Diabetes nursing
- Nursing informatics
- Public health
- Nursing leadership and administration
- Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a four- to six-year program that focuses on the clinical practice side of nursing. This advanced degree can help you obtain a role as a nurse manager, director of nursing, or chief nursing officer (CNO).
- Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) generally takes the same amount of time as a DNP, however this degree focuses on the research side of the profession. After a nurse has a PhD, he or she may be eligible for positions in research, health policy, or academia.
Another avenue that nurses may explore is starting up a business. “Nurses have a unique set of knowledge and skills that can be easily applied to different areas through entrepreneurship,” says Kleber. She knows nurses who have started their own homecare agencies, nurses who consult with nursing students to help them create a plan to navigate nursing school, and nurse coaches who help other nurses practice self-care and wellness. Other nurse business owners blog, write books, and speak publicly. There’s even a National Nurses in Business Association.
Find a mentor
No matter what you want to do within the nursing profession, it’s important to find a mentor. In fact, research suggests that hospitals with mentorship programs for nurses have a lower turnover rate than those without them. “The first year of being a nurse is really challenging, so having a mentor is crucial,” says Kleber. She advises finding an advisor within your same department so you can get advice on clinical patient issues, as well as tips on how to manage the lifestyle and hospital setting.
Kleber suggests reaching out to a nurse you admire and asking him or her to be your mentor. “The more intentional and clear you are about your expectations and needs, the more likely they are to be met,” she adds. So, let the nurse know if you want to meet for coffee once per month or if you plan to text him or her weekly with an update on how things are going.
What about burnout?
Burnout is a serious issue that affects nurses and sometimes results in them leaving the profession altogether. If you’re losing touch with why you became a nurse, it may be time to get help for dealing with burnout. Kleber knows nurses who have quit impulsively and then were unable to get a reference and severed the relationship with their employer. “That's like dealing with a code when you could have called the doctor six hours ago and prevented it. You want to do what you can proactively,” says Kleber.
Wherever your nursing career takes you, it’s important to remember why you joined this community in the first place. Remembering your reasons may help guide your next career decisions. A 2011 study of new nurses suggested that nurses get fulfillment from the impact they have on others’ lives. No matter what avenue of nursing you pursue, as a nurse you’re sure to have an impact.
Thinking about making moves in your nursing career or have you already? Share your experiences with us in our discussion or post in our private Facebook group. Tag us with #healthynurse.
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