New Credentials, New Role

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

You may think you put the hard work of becoming an advanced practice nurse (APN) behind you when you placed those new credentials after your name. But the real work – finding the job you want – has only begun.

Congratulations! You’ve elevated your degree, your certifications, and your level of practice. But credentials alone will not get you where you want to go. Along with your advanced practice status, you should elevate your image, your expectations, your social skills, and your career management expertise. Additionally, you should develop an expanded view of your new role in healthcare.

How can you make the most of your advanced practice status? Consider these seven strategies:

1. Create a professional image

Realize credentials alone won’t carry you. You must develop a professional image to match the professional person you are. You’ve got to look the part of an APN as much as be one.

What does an APN look like? Someone who dresses well, is impeccably groomed, makes good eye contact and carries himself or herself with grace and style. Perception is reality. You must inspire confidence in others through your appearance and your actions, including your social skills and your knowledge of workplace etiquette. That includes using a full, firm handshake in all business, clinical, and social situations. And remember, you can act confident even if you don’t feel confident.

2. Develop a job-finding strategy

Don’t solely rely on posted openings to find a job. Many times these positions are filled through good old-fashioned networking, aka “word of mouth.” Networking for a job goes beyond cold calling prospective employers to see whether there are any openings. Effective job hunting requires a systematic and concentrated effort to touch base with people you know and make new contacts on a regular basis. It involves getting on the telephone and calling everyone you know in and out of healthcare. Update them on your new credentials, and let them know what you’re seeking. Ask for advice, when appropriate, and referrals. Then follow up and stay in touch to keep them posted on your progress. Networking is a powerful tool that’s undervalued and underused by most nurses.

You also need to commit to finding formal networking arenas on a regular basis, things such as career fairs, conventions and professional association meetings. But don’t stop there. Learn to introduce yourself to others at social events and in everyday settings. You never know whom you’ll meet where and what their connections might be. And every APN needs to have business cards made. It’s your professional calling card. Be sure to carry those cards with you at all times.

Dive into social media. Set up accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter and build your virtual network. Social media has become a predominant way to network and post job openings.

3. Build a support system of peers

Become actively involved in professional associations, use the Internet, and regularly get out to conferences and other events your peers gather. Networking is not something to do in your spare time. It’s vital to your success and needs to be incorporated into your routine. Nurturing and expanding your network is key, not only to find and get a position, but also to foster continued success once you get there.

You’ll need your network for on-the-job advice, support and guidance. No one succeeds alone. Be sure to stay in regular touch with your contacts by sending an e-mail, mailing an occasional handwritten note, making a phone call, getting out and staying visible. Networking is a two-way street. Support others as they support you. It is vital that you belong to an advanced practice association, specialty associations and the American Nurses Association.

4. Start speaking and writing

Expand your sphere of influence by writing articles and doing some public speaking. Articles can be written for other nurses and healthcare professionals and for the general public. Work toward getting something published in a professional association newsletter, a nursing publication, a general interest or healthy lifestyle magazine, a local newspaper or online. Offer to speak at community events, professional association meetings or conferences. Public speaking gives you visibility, enhances your credibility and builds your confidence.

5. Learn to promote yourself

Even though the role of the APN has become more widely known and accepted over the last few decades, many people, including some physicians, other nurses, and administrators, are not completely clear on what you do, and more importantly, what you can do for them. Be prepared to explain exactly what you can do to improve and enhance an already successful practice, the added value you will bring to any healthcare setting and the improved patient outcomes and satisfaction that are likely to follow. This is not bragging or boasting; it’s simply the fine art of self-promotion. You’re not just promoting yourself when doing this; you’re promoting all APNs.

Learn to explain what you do to the general public in language they can understand. One resourceful APN wrote a one-page explanation of what nurse practitioners are and how they work within the healthcare system. She distributes copies of the sheet to patients, to the public at community events and to anyone else who might benefit from the information. She has developed quite a following.

6. Consider new ways to work

While traditional employment may seem easier than collaborative practice, contract work or private practice, the latter may give you more flexibility, more money and more autonomy, not to mention more opportunities. Just because you’re not used to working that way doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. You’ll learn as you go. Talk to experienced APNs, and look to your professional associations for some tips on contracts and other related workplace issues. Learn about the “business” of being an APN. Read books, and attend seminars to sharpen your interviewing and negotiating skills, because these will be needed in your new role.

The exciting news is opportunities for APNs are continuously expanding. Everyone including the federal government and local communities is grasping the vital cost-effective and high quality care role APNs play in healthcare’s present and future.

7. Create a new vision of yourself

Even though they have new initials after their names and expanded responsibilities, many APNs still are staff nurses at heart. They haven’t fully taken ownership of their new level of practice. You must think it before you can be it. You must see yourself in a new light and reflect on your new relationship with physicians, other nurses and the public. Aim high with your expectations and goals. Associate with other successful APNs through local networks and seek mentors for support, inspiration and encouragement.

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