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5 Steps to Advance Your Career in Nursing

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions for registered nurses are expected to increase by 16% between 2014 and 2024. Whether you’re just starting your career in nursing or are an established professional, these five steps to advance your career can help you shift into the next stage.  

Specialize your Career in Nursing

You’ve chosen a fast-paced field, which can be both exciting and exhausting. More nurses are graduating from accelerated BSN or MSN programs, making it difficult to stand out from the crowd. Check out your current employer’s continuing education benefits to see if a higher or more specialized degree fits within your financial and personal obligations.

If a school commitment isn’t an option right now, don’t worry! You can still work toward a wide range of certificates and credentials instead of gaining an entire degree—some of which you may already be eligible for. See the requirements for a range of certifications at American Nurses Credentialing Center.

The American Nurses Association also offers educational tools to help you prepare for upcoming certificate exams. OnCourse Learning’s offers continuing education classes as well, many of which are free.   

You can also choose to obtain a non-medical degree. If you intend to go into management, it may be more beneficial to work toward an MBA instead of an MSN.

Be Willing to Move

If you’re unsure what type of nursing you want to specialize in, or if you’re looking to fill a certificate’s requirements, try working as a travel nurse for a few years. This will give you experience in a wide range of work locations and environments to help you decide what you want to pursue permanently.  

Things you need to know before becoming a travel nurse:

  • You may need special licenses depending on the location
  • Most travel nurses must have two years of prior nursing experience
  • Travel assignments can vary in length, from days to months

If this type of travel isn’t for you, find a workplace that offers new experiences, such as flexible schedules or shifts in other departments. This will allow you to discover different methods and techniques for patient care while still providing a stable base.

Set Career Goals

Comfortable jobs keep many of us from going through the tough changes necessary to keep a career moving forward. By setting and updating our work goals annually, we allow—and even ask for—the change to happen.

Some questions to ask yourself when setting these goals are:

  • Where do I want to be in ten years?
  • What education/skills do I need to accomplish this? How do I start this process?
  • What work/life balance will fit my needs?
  • What can I do in the next five years to meet these goals?

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Become a Member of a Professional Organization

Professional associations are more than just job boards. They offer networking, publishing, continuing education options, and more. While there are professional associations for specialty nurses, the American Nurses Association (ANA) and American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN) are most general and widely known. Individual states often also have professional associations, which can be worth checking out.

If you’re still a student, investigate the National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA) for networking and continuing education opportunities.

Find a Career Mentor

According to American Nurse Today, “Recent studies have shown that a new nurse’s confidence increases within the first six months of participation in a mentorship program… nurses and leaders can use mentoring to improve professionalism, confidence, and self-worth.”

Often, in an ambition-driven work place, it can be difficult to make friends without sacrificing your own goals. Maintaining a mentoring relationship with someone a few steps ahead of you in their nursing career is the most beneficial step you can take to advance and build confidence in your chosen path. Determine what you want to accomplish in the next five to ten years, and then reach out to staff at your workplace who have accomplished some of those goals already. And as difficult as it might be, don’t take it personally if someone rejects your offer.

Keep these five steps in mind while planning your goals to help advance your career in nursing.