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Each Stage of a Nursing Career Offers Opportunities

Monday March 8, 2010
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Whether you’re newly hired or almost retired, now is the time to take charge of your career. Being proactive can go a long way toward developing a satisfying career for life, according to experts.

I have my BSN and passed the NCLEX, but how do I get my career started?

Honing clinical skills is a top priority for new grads in their first two years as RNs. But they also should “immerse themselves in the community of nursing,” suggests Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, Nursing Spectrum’s “Dear Donna” career advice columnist. “It’s not too early.”

An easy way to do that is to participate in your local chapter of a professional nursing association as well as your specialty association, says the president of Cardillo and Associates in Sea Girt, N.J. “You get the community, the support. You can get advice. It helps you to stay current with trends and issues. Join immediately, as many associations have reduced dues for new graduate nurses.”

Do you have any tips for moving forward in a tough job market?

Midcareer RNs with up to 15 years at the bedside have their own challenges. “One of the big dangers of being experienced is that you become complacent. You feel comfortable in your role. You can almost do it on automatic pilot,” Cardillo says. “A comfort zone is a danger zone.”

Keep your career fresh, alive, interesting and moving forward by looking for new opportunities and new experiences. “If you’re not learning, you’re stagnating,” she says. Pursue specialty certifications and further your formal education.

On the job, look for ways to learn something new or showcase your special talents. For example, volunteer for a new project. Start a newsletter. Present an in-service. Become a preceptor. Do community education. Looking for new challenges keeps your career interesting, she says, and keeps you interested in your career.

I’m three months into a management position I hate. What should I do?

“Taking charge [of your career] means constantly staying aware of what’s going on,” says Beth A. Brooks, RN, PhD, FACHE, executive director of the Illinois Organization of Nurse Leaders.

You have to stay on top of what’s latest and greatest and think outside the 4 walls of your organization.

Part of that involves reading professional journals, belonging to professional organizations and volunteering for committees. Another part involves self-assessment. What do you need to do to be a better manager? Brooks suggests using a self-assessment tool like the one available to members of the American Organization of Nurse Executives (aone.org/aone/certification/examprepmain.html) to identify your strengths as well as areas where you need improvement.

Being a good clinician doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good manager, Cardillo cautions. “You have to learn the art and science of management,” she says. Read about management, take courses, model yourself after a good manager and find a mentor. “A lot of managers fall short because they’ve never learned how to manage,” she says.

My nursing position caused me to have panic attacks and feel burned out. What can I do?

Looking ahead is key even for nurses with more than 15 years on the job. Katie Kessler, RN, MSN, director of professional partnerships at the Michigan State University College of Nursing, suggests you ask yourself what kind of nursing you’d like to be doing in the future. “In what way do you think you could make the best contribution? And what kind of preparation is that going to take?”

The sheer physicality of acute care nursing compels many seasoned nurses to transition to other treatment venues, she notes. But moving into a new field can be daunting, even with years of experience in another area.

That’s why the college, with the support of a Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future grant and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation developed the Nursing for Life program (nursing.msu.edu/nursingforlife.aspx), an educational program consisting of online theory modules and precepted clinicals in community-based settings that are targeted to grow during the next 20 to 30 years: ambulatory care, home care, long-term care and hospice/palliative care. (A new grant is supporting the development of new modules in case management and quality/safety management.)

“Nurses used to be able to transition from one area to another pretty easily, but because areas have become so specialized with the skill sets that they need, it’s more difficult to make those transitions,” Kessler says.

Don’t be afraid to look for educational programs to ease that transition. Changing fields doesn’t necessarily require getting another degree, but getting more education certainly can help you get up to speed in your new area of interest, Kessler says.

After 40 years of nursing, what’s next?

Nurses near retirement should reflect on what they want the legacy of their life’s work to be, says Betty Smith Williams, RN, DrPH, FAAN, president emerita of the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nursing Associations. “The more you know yourself and the more you analyze what your career was about, the better off you’ll be.”

Part-time work, volunteer work or academic work could be part of your future, says Williams, who retired from academia 15 years ago after about 40 years in nursing but is active in the profession through NCEMNA.

Williams suggests you also consider writing or telling others about your nursing experiences. “To me, there is a dearth of information about the who and the what — especially the what — nursing contributes to our society.” Although mainstream stories highlight the good intentions of nurses, “we don’t tell the story well enough that we have people of high intellect by the droves in our profession.”

Consider putting your nursing acumen to use outside traditional nursing venues such as volunteering to be on the board of a civic or non-profit organization, Brooks suggests. “They very much welcome the experience, the insight, of a registered nurse.”

Anne Federwisch is a contributing writer for Nursing Spectrum.


To comment, e-mail editorNTL@gannetthg.com.
Growth Opportunities

Employment of RNs is expected to grow by 22% from 2008 to 2018. Broken down by setting, the areas of growth are:

Offices of physicians, 48%
Home healthcare services, 33%
Nursing care facilities, 25%
Employment services, 24%
Hospitals, public and private, 17%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics