By Megan M. Krischke, contributor
September 16, 2011 - Where will your nursing career take you in the next five years? What about the next 10 or 20? If you’d like to have a little more control over your career path, it pays to heed the advice of successful nurses who have gone before you.
NurseZone recently spoke with four distinguished leaders in the field who shared their wisdom and advice for taking your career to the next level:
Karen G. Schepp, Ph.D., RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, interim chair for the department of psychosocial and community health at the University of Washington School of Nursing, sees her specialty certification in child and adolescent psychiatric mental health nursing, clinical nurse specialist, as providing a unique set of credentials that have helped advance her career.
Mark Ambler, BSN, MBA, RN, senior systems consultant for clinical applications at The Ohio State University Medical Center, attributes his success to excellent mentors and their encouragement to earn an advanced degree.
Carol J. Weber, RN, Ph.D., dean of Loretto Heights School of Nursing at Regis University in Denver, emphasizes that nurses need to be life-long learners. “An openness to learning new knowledge and skills gave me the confidence to take on many different nursing roles over the years,” she remarked.
Pam Fuller, Ed.D, MSN, BSN, RN, dean of the University of Phoenix School of Nursing, including multiple campuses across the United States, reflected on her personal success: “Several years ago, a nurse believed I had the skills to enter the realm of nursing education. Her support and guidance led me to a hospital staff development position, which in turn launched my whole academic career.”
Here are these experts’ top tips for advancing your own nursing career:
1. Invest in your education.
“Education is extremely important in advancing one’s career. With each degree in nursing or certificate in a specialized nursing program one has more options for new opportunities. With more opportunities, it is more likely that one will find a position that is a perfect fit,” offered Schepp.
She also encourages nurses who need to simultaneously work and go to school to take advantage of the stepladder approach to nursing education, which can allow working as a LPN while pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing, and then to work as a RN while completing a bachelor’s degree.
Carol J. Weber, RN, Ph.D., suggests nurses looking to advance their education use online resources to find the program that fits their personal, professional and educational needs.
Ambler and Weber both emphasized the increasing importance of advanced degrees, citing that most positions in advanced practice, leadership, teaching and research require master’s and doctoral degrees.
Additionally, Ambler suggested that nurses looking to advance in management focus more on obtaining certifications pertaining to management, such as those offered by the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) and the American College of Healthcare Executives, rather than clinical certifications.
Dr. Pam Fuller, Ed.D, MSN, BSN, RN, encourages students to discuss their projects and research with potential employers.
Fuller added that the University of Phoenix offers unique dual degrees: a MSN/MBA which provides the master’s level nurse with a background in business fundamentals and a MSN/MHA which provides a background in health administration.
“A more educated nurse is a safer nurse. Education requires a commitment. It is a personal journey that takes time and energy, but it also provides rewards, both professionally and personally,” she reflected.
2. Build and utilize your networks.
“Learn to network within your health care organization and outside it. By meeting new people, you exchange ideas and gain information about new approaches to solve common problems. Take something you care about as a nurse and focus on networking with others who share this same interest,” advised Weber.
Fuller recommends taking opportunities to join professional networks such as Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, the American Nurses Association and your state’s nursing association.
“Professional social networking is also becoming increasingly crucial in our society,” said Fuller. “As the world has changed, global networking and community networking is becoming more central to how we do business. It’s the wave of how people are connecting across disciplines.”
While networking is clearly important for career advancement, it should also be seen as a source of learning and new ideas.
“A network of colleagues can be supportive and informative,” stated Schepp. “One can build a network by attending conferences or workshops with others who have similar interests, reading journal articles and blogging with each other, holding reading groups, or participating in webinars with colleagues.”
3. Establish a mentoring relationship.
Mark Ambler, BSN, MBA, RN, says nurse managers are looking to offer increased responsibilities nurses with strong interpersonal and clinical skills.
“It takes time to develop a mentor-mentee relationship and it cannot be forced. However, a nurse can take some steps to become a mentee by first identifying someone whom they feel comfortable with and whom they consider a role model,” advised Weber. “Asking the mentor for career advice, suggestions and guidance is a good way to initiate the relationship.”
Ambler expressed that he would be impressed if a nurse asked for mentoring—so don’t be afraid to state interest in receiving wisdom, advice and coaching from a successful professional.
“I’m in the school of thought that you shouldn’t be mentored by someone with whom you work directly, especially not the person you report to,” he remarked. “I see great value in seeking a mentor outside of health care because they can offer fresh perspectives on managing people and resources.”
There are some formal mentoring programs run by organizations such as AONE, but there are a number of ways to seek out mentorship like asking a professional you admire for assistance on a project or for words of wisdom. Schepp also suggests joining research groups, journal clubs and volunteering on special projects as avenues to meet people who can mentor you.
4. Always pursue professionalism.
Schepp lists the key components of nursing professionalism as being honest, maintaining confidentiality about patients, offering respect for the individual, cultivating strong interpersonal skills in dealing with people, keeping a positive attitude, maintaining competency and keeping up to date in one’s work.
Fuller sees ethics as the cornerstone to nurse professionalism, “Nurses at every level and every position need to understand ethics and the role of ethics in their practice. As nurses, we influence the decisions and health of our patients. Ethics needs to be at the forefront of those decisions.”
It is important for nurses to present themselves as professionals both on the job and off.
“It is common practice for employers to look at a candidate’s Facebook page or personal website. The pictures and content in these pages give another perspective of the candidate than the one obtained from an interview,” explained Weber. “Having been on numerous search committees, I have seen first-hand a candidate removed from consideration after a committee member viewed their personal website.”
5. Continue personal and professional development.
Karen G. Schepp, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, suggest that nurses work to develop self-awareness and their ability to handle stress.
Developing yourself as a person will also have a positive impact on your career. Schepp recommends focusing on communication skills such as conflict management, active listening and clear, effective writing, as well as honing skills in problem solving.
“I urge nurses to see themselves as leaders and to personally cultivate and promote their leadership skills and abilities,” Weber said. “Begin cultivating your leadership within your own health care setting. As you become comfortable as a leader, look for other opportunities both within and outside your organization.”
Further words of wisdom
“Some over-arching advice I would offer is to find what you like to do in your career and do the best job possible and seek out work environments that are positive and growth promoting,” Schepp concluded.
“Keep your eye out for nursing positions that fall outside what you are doing now,” Weber added. “Job advertisements and articles about nurses in other settings will open your thinking about career opportunities. Since 50 percent of nursing positions are outside the hospital, and since health care reform will result in new and as yet unknown job opportunities for nurses, expanding your perspective may lead to an exciting job possibility in the near future.”
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