The newly minted professional Registered Nurse faces a vast landscape of career opportunities. Whether considering a career in nursing, starting a career, or leading/mentoring a professional nurse, it is important to understand how to optimize the career pathway.
As with all careers, one should recognize what is personally fulfilling, and set short and long term goals. A variety of factors should be considered: pay, autonomy, growth potential, and work/life balance just to name a few. Nurses have a variety of choices to maximize or minimize options to suit a particular need.
The major levers that can be pulled revolve around education, experience, and networking.
The professional nurse will have a fundamental education that focuses on patient care. It is also fair to expect that the nurse will have been exposed to several clinical environments: medical/surgical, intensive care, psychiatric, public health, etc.
Education can significantly impact a nursing career. Pathways in advanced practice, leadership, business, and others can provide dramatic course changes to the otherwise traditional nursing role. Advanced education is like a sledgehammer, impacting a great amount of change but not providing much detail on the day-to-day practice. Formal education has the potential for the greatest impact with a relatively short time investment. Make certain that this decision is well thought out, well researched, and consider consulting with others who have already pursued the course being considered.
Most professional nurses will not pursue advanced or alternative education. Education is not always required to find the nursing career that meets the needs of the individual.
Many nurses will be drawn to their “calling” almost immediately. They will identify the patient population and setting during their training and seek this particular practice. It is not unusual to find professional nurses with decades of experience in a given specialty or even on the same ward/unit.
Contrary to education in shaping a career, experience can be somewhat more easily controlled. In all settings, there are differing levels of complexity. Complexity can be found in patient assignments, leading a small team of ward based patient care assistants, or even being the “go-to” person for a specific nursing process. Choose to become a subject matter expert in one or more specific areas important to the immediate environment. Perhaps there is an especially intriguing and recurring patient care issue or technology/equipment that others find difficult or confusing to use. A nurse can be uniquely qualified to demonstrate advanced knowledge and showcase his or her talents to intervene, train, and influence care when becoming the expert resource.
It is important to note that committees make many contributions to institutional level decisions. Ambitious nurses who want to gain another level of experience can find it helpful to join and be active on committees. This is where real life experience and leadership can really make a difference. Working on a committee will confirm expertise and show value to the organization. Committee participation also provides opportunities for the next topic, Networking.
Many professional nurses underutilize this possibility. Working side-by-side with colleagues will give the feeling that there is a strong network. This is a beginning; relationships made in this manner will be strong and should be cultivated throughout the years. However, taking a professional network to the next level involves an active effort. There are plenty of books written on developing a professional network. Nurses will benefit from becoming more familiar with networking techniques. However, here are three easy tips to get started:
- Make a commitment to meet someone new once a week.
- Quickly identify and communicate what value can be offered to a new contact.
- Regularly follow up with a new contact to briefly discuss relevant topics in common with one another.
Online networking is a new phenomenon that has arisen over the last several years. Optimizing a presence in an online community has the potential to “super-charge” a network, exposing one to professionals across the world in no way otherwise possible. Rxeconsult is an example of a powerful online professional network. The more active one is in a community of these sorts, the more likely new connections will be made and career opportunities will reveal themselves. Online communities offer mentors, consultants, quick answers to questions, and a place to share experiences. A nurse looking to advance a network and learn about the latest challenges should definitely make an online professional network a priority.
The future of nursing careers is yet to be written, however it is easy to begin to see the pathways with a small amount of scrutiny. Traditional opportunities in direct patient care will be the core for most professional nurses now and in the future. However, alternative nursing careers in research, pharmaceuticals, informatics, etc. are becoming a fantastic option as employers continue to recognize the experience and talent in nurses. For a career that may span 40 years or more, it is important to think now about the journey.