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Career Management Is a State of Mind

Friday June 1, 2012
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Are you one of those people who think that career management is something you do only when you’re looking for a new job? If you are, you’ll be missing the boat as nurses “in the know” get a handle on managing their careers.

Career management is actually a state of mind. It’s not something you implement when making a change; rather, it’s an ongoing process of professional and personal development designed to enhance your current and future career opportunities. You can be certain of one thing today: Your job will change, whether you like it or not. So be ready. That is, whether you’re happily employed, out of work, looking to make a change, or simply considering future career opportunities, career management is where it’s at. Remember, the best time to look for your next job is while you’re employed.

Career management is your road map to success. It’s a systematic, ongoing process of setting goals, developing professional relationships, getting a grip on the big picture, moving forward, and exploring options. So, how do you actively manage your career in a new healthcare market? Here are a few basics:

Attend Career Fairs

Career fairs offer excellent opportunities to network with your peers, find out what’s happening in your specialty at other facilities, attend continuing education classes, and meet with representatives from educational institutions who offer information about higher learning and specialty training.

Network Actively

Networking is about getting out and meeting new people and reconnecting with those you already know. Networking can be done not only at career fairs, but at nursing and healthcare conventions, professional association meetings, social events — virtually everywhere. Networking keeps you in touch with your profession. It’s the nurses who stay isolated who feel “trapped.”

Set Specific Career Goals

Just as you have a plan of care for the patients you treat, you should also have a plan for your career. Having written goals for your career, including your education, will actually motivate you to get moving. They will also give you a clear path to follow, rather than your floundering around wondering what you should do next.

It’s not enough to simply think about where you want to be “five years from now.” You should envision your ideal circumstances — in terms of type of work, work environment, salary, and position (management, staff, self-employed and so on) — and make concrete plans to work toward that. Your goals need to be written, have time frames, and present a challenge to you. For example, if you’re thinking about going back to school, set a written goal that you will be enrolled in a baccalaureate or master’s program within the next year.

If you don’t know where you want to be in five years — or even next year for that matter — get out and start talking to people. Discuss possible options with your friends and family, and start gathering information on salaries, job opportunities, and work responsibilities.

Investigate Career Options

Exploring career options — both traditional and nontraditional — is something every nurse should be doing all the time. Just knowing that you have options is the best antidote for anxiety about the future. It’s also exciting to learn what members of our profession are doing. Staying informed will also prevent “burnout,” which results when individuals feel that they have no choices. Attend seminars and workshops, explore the nurse.com website for career options and alternatives and talk to nurses who are working in areas different from yours.

Professional Development

Career management involves actively working on professional development, including management, communication, and business skills. Clinical skills aren’t enough for career growth and advancement. Today’s nurse has to be a master communicator, negotiator, manager, financier, and innovator. These skills do not come naturally to anyone; they are learned and practiced. Give yourself a competitive edge by taking courses, reading, and observing experienced people. Seek out assignments where you can hone some of these skills.

Develop Future Vision

Stay ahead of the game by keeping an eye on the future. Keep abreast of predicted changes in healthcare and nursing by getting active in professional associations. Read healthcare news magazines. Listen to what healthcare economists are predicting for the future of your profession. Find out where nursing jobs will be in the next five years. You can’t plan for your future if you don’t know what it holds.


Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/Asktheexperts/Deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://Events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.