hungryeyes3When I was in nursing school and during my first year in the field, I thought that professional development simply consisted of becoming a nurse practitioner.  I assumed that was the only way to progress professionally as a nurse.  Oh, how wrong I was.  There are actually many different ways to further your career.  However, you can’t just be hungry for it… you have to know specifically what you’re hungry for. 

Find Your Passion

Going to graduate school is not the only option out there.  There are many professionally satisfying and interesting paths to take. Do you like nursing research?  Do you like mentoring new nurses?  Do you like leading your unit?  Do you like networking?  Do you enjoy sitting on committees as the voice for your unit?  Do you like working with leadership?  Do you want more autonomy as a clinician?

Having a good idea about what you enjoy is the first step of deciding which path to take for professional development.  You don’t want to commit a large amount of time and money to obtain a degree that you weren’t really passionate about in the first place. Instead of thinking about what goal you’d like to achieve, think about what makes you passionate and excited about nursing.  After you’ve defined your passion, then think about the various ways to cultivate it.  Like the vast array of various delicacies and cuisines to choose from to satisfy our hunger, there are many different options for nursing development to satisfy our professional hunger.  There is no one right way; everyone’s path to his or her ideal career looks different.  This is one reason why nursing is such an amazing field to get into; it’s so dynamic.  Let’s discuss some of the options available…

Bedside Options

If you are a nurse working at the bedside and want a taste of professional development without the financial or time commitment of graduate school, try out precepting new nurses, training to be a charge nurse, or mentoring new nurses on your unit.  If you really dive into these roles, they can be incredibly rewarding.  The preceptor is like the coach, the mentor is the encourager/supporter, and the charge nurse is the leader. Each role contains its own set of responsibilities and has a bit of a learning curve on how to not only be proficient, but exceptional.  It takes time to be a great preceptor, mentor, or charge nurse, but it feels pretty awesome to be that go-to person for an entire unit in those different capacities. 

Clinical Ladders and Committees

Many facilities have different ways to encourage professional development for their nursing staff.  Some have specific clinical ladder programs.  These typically are comprised of various levels and requirements to receive different designations based on its structure.  Various professional development activities will carry a different amount of weight or importance (for example, being in graduate school, precepting, obtaining a specialty certification, and so forth).

Many facilities also have various committees in which bedside nurses take part to offer their input.  Shared governance, nursing peer review, Magnet® Champions, best practice teams, and policy/procedure committees are a few examples.  You can talk to your manager about your interests and they may have suggestions about what they think would be a good fit. 

Continuing Your Education

As I said before, I used to think that becoming a nurse practitioner was all there was as far as graduate school is concerned for a nurse.  While you can choose that route, there are many other options.  You can obtain an Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a focus in education, you can study to become a nurse midwife, have a focus in geriatrics, informatics, become a clinical nurse specialist, or in nursing administration, just to name a few.  There are also two doctorate-level options for nurses, both a PhD in Nursing (which is more research-based) and a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (which is more practice-based).

Professional Organizations and Specialty Certifications

There are quite a few professional organizations in nursing that you can join.  The American Nurses Association is the largest, and applicable to all registered nurses.  However, there are more that are specific to various areas of the field.  Most have local chapters that you can get involved in and network.  Many also have various publications and journals that discuss issues relevant to specific patient populations.  Some of the larger professional organizations also have annual conferences as well.  There are a ton of ways to get to know your colleagues and specialty more through professional organizations.

Many nursing specialties have an optional certification exam.  There is one for medical-surgical nurses, progressive care nurses, critical care nurses, neonatal intensive care nurses… you name it, they probably have it! Becoming certified includes working within a certain specialty and then sitting for the exam.  Certification exams are extremely challenging, but once you pass you are then able to add additional credentials behind your name.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many diverse ways to grow professionally.  While it’s essential to first recognize your hunger for something more challenging and fulfilling, you must then figure out specifically what you’re hungry for.  This will enable you to not only have goals, but goals in which you are passionate about, which is the key to professional development and job satisfaction.

Bon appètit!

Summary

Instead of thinking about what nursing career goal you’d like to achieve, think about what makes you passionate and excited about nursing.  After you’ve defined your passion, then think about the various ways to cultivate it.

About the Author: Kati Kleber, BSN RN CCRN has been a nurse since 2010. She has experience in cardiac step-down as well as neurosciences intensive care. She is the author of three publications, and is an avid blogger, podcaster and speaker on various nursing topics, and is the nurse behind FreshRN.com. She is also a course instructor at NRSNG.com. Her passion is to help grow new nurses as they transition from graduate nurse to bedside nurse.