By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN
NURSING IS MUCH MORE THAN A JOB. It is a career. And as such, it needs tending to and nurturing. Like your garden, it needs occasional weeding and fertilizing to get the results you want. While some nurses just keep plowing along, taking each day as it comes, a smart nurse has a plan for his or her career, one that is a work in progress that is continually evaluated and revised. So, rather than letting the cards fall as they may, use the following career assessment tool to see where you stand and where you need to go from here. Then use the tips below to be sure your career is on track.
Take a piece of paper and answer the following questions —
Where would I like to be five years from now? Ten years from now?
Don’t just think about a particular specialty or specific job, but rather think about parameters such as: How much would you like to be earning? How much do you need to make to support yourself and your family and save for the future? Do you want to be working from home or in an office? Do you want to be self-employed or employed?
Do you want to be in the clinical or corporate setting?
Then look at your past experiences, credentials, current skill level, and professional activities. Which of these will serve you well in pursuing those plans and which need work? What things do you still need to do to start working toward your ideal? Write down the following building blocks to success and assess where you are with each one. Record your strong points as well as those areas that need improvement.
• Education — Will your current level of education support your future career plans?
• Computer skills — Do you have at least basic computer skills and do you have familiarity with social media?
• Managerial experience — Have you had, at least occasional, charge or supervisory experience, as well as exposure to budgets, scheduling, and policy development?
• Clinical or other work experience — Does your experience support your goals? For example, if teaching is in your future, have you acted as a preceptor to new hires, developed educational materials, or volunteered to teach at the American Red Cross?
• Certifications — Will certification enhance your career plans? If so, do you know what is required to be certified in your field and are you taking steps to achieve that?
• Professional affiliations — Do you belong to professional associations? If so, are you active and involved?
• Communication skills — Do you speak in a clear assertive manner? Are you looking for opportunities to speak to groups or to have something published?
• Professional support systems — Are you actively networking, staying visible in your profession, and staying in touch with professional colleagues?
Once you’ve done a preliminary career assessment, these six steps will help you to get your career on track.
Set long- and short-term goals. Everyone needs to have these. A long-term goal is one that you want to accomplish within the next five years and short-term goals are those things you need to do within the next year to work toward those goals. For example, if you’d like to be in school pursuing your master’s degree five years from now, even though you may not know in what specialty or focus, a short-term goal would be to go to the library to identify schools of higher education and possible majors and to contact them to get college catalogs. These goals have to be written and kept in a place where you’ll look at them often. Once you’ve attained them, set new goals.
Find a mentor. There is a lot of talk about mentors in nursing today; this is nothing new. A mentor is a more experienced person who can give you some objective feedback and sage advice. This is someone with whom you can discuss things, ask questions, and use as a sounding board. A mentor can save you some time and trouble in pursuit of your career goals and can help you decide where to go from here. Where do you find such a person? Sometimes at your place of employment, through professional associations, or through other networking opportunities. Attempt to establish some helping relationships and see which one fits.
Develop a success team. Because no one succeeds alone, you’ve got to stay well connected. You need to surround yourself with supportive, positive people. Draw from people you already know and always look for new contacts through networking. Seek out people who are motivated and who do things with their lives and careers. Keep in touch with them by phone, e-mail, or in person. Spending some time with people who are happy and satisfied with their careers will help to propel you forward.
Always learn something new. Unless you already have an advanced degree, school should be in your future. You may be thinking, “I have no desire to get into management,” or “I’m getting ready to retire in a few years,” or “I’m too old to go back to school.” Education enhances your life in ways you could never imagine. It’s something you do for yourself, as much as for your career. It boosts your self-esteem, provides a clearer vision of the future, gives you more options, expands your horizons, and keeps you young.
Accumulate experiences. Always look for an opportunity to do something new. Volunteer to do the schedule for a while. Join interdisciplinary committees. Participate in a public health screening program. Try your hand at developing a patient teaching tool. Get on a committee in your professional association, such as a political action committee or media committee to gain new experiences. You never know when you may be able to use these new skills. Benjamin Disraeli said, “The secret of success is to be ready for one’s opportunities when they come.”
Develop your strengths. Determine what you do well and look for opportunities to showcase and develop those abilities. If you are a good teacher, volunteer to speak at grand rounds or present an inservice or provide community education services. Don’t wait for the opportunities to come to you. Seek them out and make things happen. Don’t wait until that full-time education position comes along to get your experience. This way you’ll have some solid, relevant experience to bring to the table.
You don’t need to make a firm decision about your long-term goals to start moving forward. The future is happening now regardless of what you do. You can approach it as a leaf blowing in the wind, or you can take steps to be on track for the destination of your choice.
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