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How to find your forte as a nurse

Often I hear, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

No, I don’t hear it from young children, but rather from experienced nurses who are trying to figure out where their nursing career fits in healthcare.

Are you like those nurses, searching for your niche in the profession? Start with a journey of exploration and discovery about yourself and the healthcare system.

Many nurses think of their niche as being a particular job or specialty. In reality, it’s a specific place at a particular time that feels right. Whether you decide you were born to be a writer or deliver direct patient care, where and how you do so are likely to change during the course of your nursing career.

This is especially true because we’re all living and working longer than ever before. Not only that, healthcare and nursing are in the process of completely reinventing themselves with new and emerging specialties, opportunities and trends.

So finding your forte is more of a general direction rather than an actual place. It’s a process that will continue to develop as long as you keep moving forward in your nursing career.

Here’s how you can start.

Take stock, then take action

Do a self-assessment. Ask yourself what you’re particularly good at and where your strengths lie. Couple that with what you enjoy doing, which isn’t necessarily the same thing.

Then think about the type of environment you’d like to work in and the future direction of healthcare. Consider any areas of your life that need improvement, such as computer, communication or self-marketing skills.

Write all of this down, along with your dreams, ideas and thoughts about the future. Then start taking steps to develop the things you enjoy doing and work on the things that need improvement.

Start moving forward

You don’t have to know what your final destination is to start your journey. Unless you already have an advanced degree, start making plans to go back to school.

Don’t agonize over what major to pursue — just start reviewing catalogs to see what’s interesting and exciting and conducive to your lifestyle (distance learning versus classroom learning, for example).

If you have clear ideas about a business or an idea you want to pursue, start talking about it with trusted colleagues and friends. Discussing things helps make them real.

You’ll also get valuable feedback from others. You never know where a spark, idea, information or opportunity might come from that will change your nursing career.

Set realistic expectations

Many nurses seem to think they intuitively should know what specialty to choose. While some do, that isn’t the case for all nurses.

Some nurses — even new graduates — think they should find their specialty within a certain time frame. Not so. Finding your niche is something that often takes time, even years. And with new opportunities presenting themselves all the time in nursing, something may develop that you haven’t heard of yet or previously considered.

I tried on many hats, in and out of nursing, before I found my path as an RN. I worked in so many different jobs that my friends and family members would say, “Can’t you hold a job?” or “Don’t you know what you want to do?”

For the record, I’m not talking about job hopping every six months: I stayed at most positions for a few years before moving on. I was on a journey to try as many things as I could until I found the right fit.

At every job, I learned more about myself, the world around me and the opportunities out there. I always wanted to see what was waiting around the next corner.

Take time to meditate

I don’t necessarily mean the transcendental type. Rather, take some time to sit quietly and listen to your inner voice. Let the universe speak to you.

Often the answer to “What do I really want to do?” is just below the surface. We don’t always allow it to come out because we’re afraid of our own destiny.

I’m amazed at how often nurses tell me they don’t know what they want to do. After I ask a few questions about their background and interests, I have a few specific suggestions and usually they’ll say, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

What gets in the way?

There are several factors that can delay finding your niche. Among these could be a salary issue, a preconceived notion of what others expect or simply how we envision ourselves.

Let your natural tendencies take hold. Stop struggling and resisting. Follow your dream. Do what you love, and the money will come. Remember that most, if not all, obstacles to success exist only in our own minds.

Make decisions

Get off the fence and get moving. Precious time is wasted while you obsess about which degree you should get or whether or not to take a job. As a result, you squander time in a state of indecision, which is nothing more than inactivity. It’s just another excuse to stay put in your nursing career.

On the other hand, don’t act rashly. Try the following actions:

  • Take time to collect pertinent information.
  • Make a pros-and-cons list.
  • Discuss the situation with a trusted friend.
  • Write in your journal.

Then move forward. Often, we don’t make decisions about our future because we’re afraid we’ll make the wrong one and have to live with the consequences. Remember, there are no wrong decisions, only bigger lessons to learn. It’s important to try things, experience life and see what you’re capable of doing.

Take calculated risks

No one ever said the pursuit of true happiness would be easy. Often the path to your heart’s desire requires taking risks. Stepping out of your comfort zone, making decisions and feeling uncertain are all things none of us relish. But they go with the territory.

If you don’t feel anxious, then you’re not challenging yourself. The bigger the goal, the bigger the fear.

But once you’ve accomplished something, overcome a fear or mastered a new skill, you’ll be gratified, exhilarated and further along in your journey.

Have I finally found my niche in nursing? For now, yes. But there still are a lot of corners for me to turn. I’m still a traveler. Who knows where the road will lead me.

Success is a journey, not a destination. Start the journey, and the right path eventually will reveal itself to you.


Take these courses related to your nursing career:

Interviewing for Career Advancement
(1 contact hr)
Whether you’re a staff nurse, a manager, or an advanced practice nurse, interviewing is an important opportunity to market yourself for career advancement. Whether you’re interviewing for a new position, starting a new career, or seeking a promotion, the key to a successful interview is careful and thorough preparation. If two candidates have almost equal qualifications, it may not be the most qualified, but the best-prepared candidate who gets the offer. The better prepared you are, the more likely you’ll be chosen over the competition. This continuing education program will enhance nurses’ ability to prepare for and participate in job interviews.

Starting Your Career as an Advanced Practice RN
(1 contact hr)
The current healthcare environment offers new opportunities and a growing demand for advanced practice registered nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing describes four types of nurses who are considered APRNs: certified nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists. The scope of practice for APRNs varies from state to state. This module will provide initial guidance to an RN who is interested in returning to school to attain an advanced degree and transition to become an APRN.

Networking for Career Advancement
(1 contact hr)
Networking is one of the most important career-building tools available to any professional, including nurses. So whether a nurse is hunting for a job, seeking a promotion, running for office, starting a business, seeking consultative work, pursuing higher education, entering public service or writing for publication, networking is an effective sales and marketing strategy for building a positive power base to attain long- and short-term nursing career goals. This educational activity will provide guidance on networking for career advancement.

By | 2019-09-30T08:50:27-04:00 November 28th, 2011|Categories: Nursing careers and jobs|2 Comments

About the Author:

Donna Cardillo
Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, is president of DonnaCardillo.com. Known as The Inspiration Nurse, she is a keynote speaker, retreat and seminar leader, 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." She brings more than 25 years of clinical, management and business experience to her role as career guru.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar
    K A E December 13, 2017 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    I am 55. I have about ten years left of nursing after getting my degree at 48. I did not feel old when I graduated. I don’t now. The problem? I am currently in a skilled nursing facility, they are cutting staff, the staff is being asked to do more, and last night was very dangerous. The consequences? No teamwork. I can do many things at once like 5, but, not 50. Finding this job was tough. It took 6 months. How does a nurse navigate the internet and replace a job when the climate is so impersonal these days? I am wondering if I made a big mistake as it was a lifetime goal to become a nurse. (A nurse friend of mine told me to skip nursing and go into real estate. Maybe that was wise advice.)

    • Avatar
      Kris January 9, 2018 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      Dear KAE, Wow, I I was 48 when I got my degree and I am in my 50’s now. I have also struggled with being asked to double/quadruple/duple/multitask as I call it. I have worked SNF/ALF/Rehab/Hospital and Home Health. Yes I fit all that into my later life career. The one think I have found is that in all of nursing and many other jobs management will put impossible demands on employees. I have adopted the attitude that I will do the very best that I can do. I will do each task with diligence and care and I will prioritize based on my training. Hope that helps. Also to answer about looking for work try looking up the health industries in your area and checking their website career sections and putting the word out to friends. Most of my jobs I have found out about from other nurses.

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