You are here:--Don’t settle for a routine job — build an amazing career

Don’t settle for a routine job — build an amazing career

Blindly following her schedule, Samantha slogged to work every day. She enjoyed being a nurse and appreciated those special patient moments, but at the end of her routinely brutal 12-hour shifts, Samantha often thought, “Is this all there is?” For her, it was. She thought maybe if she switched jobs, things would be different. They wouldn’t be. She’d still have the same boring professional life.

Andrea worked in a different world. She had a full-time job as well, but at the end of her shift, she attended to classwork. She was enrolled in a BSN program, taking one or two courses at a time. After pecking away at degree requirements, her graduation was on the horizon. Andrea was a board member in her local American Nurses Association chapter, as well as an active member in her specialty organization. She routinely received emails from several online research and career sources.

Both were married with children, had attended associate degree programs and were enmeshed in demanding clinical areas. However, Andrea engaged with nursing beyond her everyday demands, setting her sights on long-term goals, while Samantha merely had a job. Andrea had something she could carry from job to job: a comprehensive career as a professional nurse.

The comprehensive nurse

As an employee and a professional, a nurse has two things: a job and a career. For almost every nurse long ago, they were the same because the job defined a nurse’s career. Now being a nurse can be so much more.

By building a career, you can become a satisfied consummate professional nurse. Just cultivate the following components, which you can take from job to job, and you’ll enjoy a supercharged career:

A career begins with setting long-term career goals. You should have an idea about what future jobs will promote your career and what you need to do to get them in terms of education, credentials and networks. I can’t say I had any career goals at all when I finished my diploma program, but analyzing my employment situation, recognizing my talents, and figuring out what I liked most about nursing led to formulating them. It’s never too late. Soon I was involved in career-wise moves beyond my job, and I’ve never looked back.

•  Be prepared to abandon your goals to take a risk, if the appropriate opportunity presents itself. Don’t be afraid to switch jobs. One of the best career moves I ever made was to take a salary cut and work for a growing, but little-known publication called “Nursing Spectrum” almost 25 years ago. I’m still with the same company, now OnCourse Learning (’s parent company), satisfied through many changes in roles and salaries later.

•  Connect daily with the world outside of your job through healthcare-vibrant web services, such as, Medscape, ANA (SmartBrief), univadis, Becker’s Hospital Review, Forbes and The Commonwealth Fund. Know what is happening in the broad world of healthcare, and make sure outside forces don’t blindside your career. For example, did you know that in the early 1970s, some well-intentioned but misinformed administrators wanted to replace RN state licenses with hospital-granted licenses that were not transferable from institution to institution? This could have been the end of the portability of professional nurses, who would have had to reapply to be a nurse every time they changed jobs.

•  Join and participate in at least two professional organizations, such as the American Nurses Association and your specialty organization. The best way to become rejuvenated and stay enthused is through active membership in organizations with like-minded people who are excited about their profession. And because active members are usually employed and know about jobs within their organizations, your participation becomes a membership into an active job network. My connections are my most precious asset, and organizations tend to recognize this as well. They serve as conduits to both career and future jobs, if you need one.

•  Pursue lifelong learning, both formally through degree programs and certifications and informally through continuing education, such as educational activities provided by OnCourse Learning. Sure, degrees can be expensive, but the return on your investment in higher degrees is spread out through your entire career. Remember this mantra: Never stop learning (even after you get your doctorate).

Jobs are important. They are an essential component of careers, putting food on the table and bankrolling those pricey degrees. However, fulfilled nurses need more than a job to fuel their professional lives. They need goals, risk-taking opportunities, awareness of the environment, professional organizations and their networks, and perpetual education. We all know nurses like Samantha and Andrea. Be Andrea.

Do you have barriers to achieving awesome Andrea status? Let me know about them in the Comments section below. And look for more on career topics in my future blogs.

By | 2021-05-07T15:53:30-04:00 December 16th, 2016|Categories: Nursing Careers and Jobs|Tags: , |20 Comments
Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN, is OnCourse Learning's executive vice president and chief clinical executive. He also is founder and CEO of the Forum for Shared Governance ( As an editor for, Hess penned editorials on career topics. As a presenter at professional conferences, Hess often addresses participants on how to find the right job and steps for building a successful career.


  1. Avatar
    Barbara Nock January 8, 2017 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    I am a single parent caring for 2 children : one 13 and other 10 yrs old.. Been a nurse for 20 yrs with an associates degree. Love bedside nursing. No incentive to pursue bsn degree-put myself in debt and not earn addt’l income with bsn doesn’t sit well with me. However, I am interested in forensic nursing and don’t know where to go from here…I am not that computer literate ; but an old classroom type of person. Can you offer any suggestions? Thank You.

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 11, 2017 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      Barbara — If you are interested in forensic nursing, I would get in touch with forensic nurses. I’m a big believer in networking and one place to go is the International Association of Forensic Nurses at If you’re computer literate enough to be communicating with me on a blog, I’ll bet you’ll have no trouble navigating their website, which might open up a whole new world for you and a new kind of bedside.

      Please let me know how you make out.



  2. Avatar
    Ellen Dermody MSN RN OCN NC-BC January 8, 2017 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Dear Robert, I enjoyed reading your article and felt compelled to reply for many reasons. I completely agree it is very important to set goals and have direction in your nursing career. Just as important furthering ones education as you suggested via degree programs, certifications and continuing education programs. Nevertheless, taking that risk to pursue something that may seem a better, or something you maybe passionate about can come with a huge price. Leaving a safe secure job even if not fulfilling with excellent wages, a good pension plan could certainly cause a great deal of fear and anxiety for many reasons. One may have to think about their age, can they afford the wage cut? Thoughts about children and their education, job security, perception of movement from organizations etc. Nevertheless, one thing I promised myself early in my career, I would never wish my time away in my job especially if unhappy. I became more aware of this while working in oncology and then in hospice. Countless times I heard patients say, “I was waiting to retire then got sick”. In addition, searching for a job today is very different even with experience and the correct qualifications. One has to be very knowledgeable regarding the “buzzwords” to even get noticed. Then, the majority of the time it is a 20 something year old calling asking orchestrated questions, and for the most part don’t even know what your experience mean, and that’s before you even move on the next stage in the process. Also, the latest is the “on-demand voice interview”. Have you ever sat looking into your computer waiting for a monotone voice asking you questions? No offence, you took that risk 25 years ago, maybe you have moved within this stable company many times. Again, times have changed. The reality today when building ones career, and thinking of moving. Nurses need solid contacts that they know will help, networking, and membership of organizations prevalent to their specialty. However, change can be a good thing, and can take one out of their comfort zone. Thus, when you take those steps and change a few times, there is less fear, confidence grows, and belief you have abilities to do so much more. Nurses sometimes forget to look at their strengths but rather focus on their weakness, unfortunately those interviewing may also tend to take the same strategy. My advice, go with your gut, if you do move on and it doesn’t work out as planned, then learn from that experience. Don’t put your energy where you went wrong, but rather how you can move forward. Set small realistic goals. Don’t have to worry so much how you may get to them, utilize your resources, and most importantly believe in yourself!
    Ellen Dermody MSN RN OCN NC-BC
    Integrative Nurse Coach

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 10, 2017 at 7:21 pm - Reply

      Ellen, thanks for your response. Maybe I should have you write this blog in light of your poignant reply. Yes, it was a different environment when I took my risks, but nonetheless, risks loom in front of us, whether at the beginning or toward the end of our career.

      I look forward to your insights as I move on to other topics in the coming months.



  3. Avatar
    Genice January 8, 2017 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    Hello Robert! While I know monetary rewards are not the only options that an employer has to show appreciation, it definitely comes in handy. What advice would give to a graduate-prepared nurse with 20 years of experience in industry who recently took a huge pay cut in exchange for flexibility and leadership opportunities?

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 10, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      Genice – If you’re asking about how to make up the difference in a pay cut you took for a better job opportunity, I can answer from experience. I waited out the new job until raises and bonuses overcame the deficit. Meanwhile, I looked for other opportunities to shore up the income gap. These options didn’t always work, but I was certainly a happier professional, meanwhile.

      I applaud your move if you took the better opportunity, even if it cut your income.



  4. Avatar
    Yolanda January 8, 2017 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    This is so me right now, changing jobs to learn new opportunities but after about a month Im like ok. That’s when it hits you your ready for the next level. Yes! I felt like you were talking to me.

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 11, 2017 at 3:11 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the feedback, Yolanda. I hope to be talking right to you in the future.



  5. Avatar
    Teresa Gale January 9, 2017 at 9:52 am - Reply

    I found your article very informative; spot-on for my current career delima.
    I’ve been a nurse (associate’s degree) since 1993, starting my career in the operating room, and that is where I stayed. As the years rolled by I rolled on, albeit, gaining a little less pep in my step during the last few years & with this same company. As I began researching a much needed change in the field, I discovered I had limited my scope of practice, skills & knowledge to the extent that required more than a “job” change. I would need to go beyond obtaining CEUs. Then, to add insult to real injuries, an auto accident followed by injuries sustained from a patient upon returning to work, took me out of the OR, two years ago. Although I quickly accepted a great opportunity as Charge Nurse in a correctional facility, this progress of learning new skills was cut short due to another auto accident! That was THE straw for me. My barriers? Limited skills, knowledge and now, modern experience. A lot has changed; I need to re-emerge, re-evaluate my areas of interest, strengths & not so strong nursing abilities. Your suggested resources will be helpful. I also believe specific career counseling will help break these barriers as well. Thank you for your support!

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 10, 2017 at 7:32 pm - Reply

      Teresa – If you need a cheerleader, that would be me!

      Good luck with your new career progression. You sound pretty adaptable though, and don’t need luck.



  6. Avatar
    Karen Martin January 16, 2017 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    I have been a RN for over 30 years and have worked in various fields of nursing. Currently, I do CDI, auditing and utilization review. I have gotten way too far from the bedside! I recently took a RN refresher course, got my S.T.A.B.L.E. certification, my NRP certification and taken a class for RNs on breastfeeding. I would like to become a postpartum nurse but no one will hire me without that specific experience. I would like to know if you have any ideas for me to be able to be hired into this type of position.

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 22, 2017 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      Karen — I checked in with a friend and colleague of mine who, as a new grad, got a position right into Labor & Delivery. And this is what she replied to my query about your situation:

      “One of my clinical instructors got my resume into the right hands. Networking is so important so I’d definitely recommend that. Also she could join AWHONN which is the professional organization for obstetric and neonatal RNs. They offer conferences both on the local and national level that provide education and networking. She could also volunteer somewhere, perhaps at something like La Leche League, to get some hands on experience with breastfeeding moms.”

      I think that’s a good lead for you. I always advocate active networking, that is, get out there, get to know people, and sparkle in front of the right people, so that when an appropriate job opportunity arises, you’ll be the person the hiring folks think of. Please stay in touch because I want to know how your search progresses.

      Good luck, Karen. Persevere.


  7. Avatar
    Gladdy Castillo January 22, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    Hi I need help In choosing what part of advance nursing career I should choose. I have 2 bachelors degree, first in computer information system and I had my BSN in 2014. Currently I am working as a floor nurse and also teaching CNA classes. I love to teach and have been teaching since 2010 but I also like to work in computers. I am debating of choosing between nurse educator or nurse informatics. For nurse educator the salary is not that great compared to nurse informatics but it has a lot of job openings compared to nurse informatics. Pls help in assisting me how to choose the right path. Thank you

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 28, 2017 at 2:38 pm - Reply
      • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
        Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 28, 2017 at 3:17 pm - Reply

        Gladdy — I have this advice: Look into training for and finding a job in informatics where you can teach. There is a heavy education component to implementation of new informatics systems. One place to start is to take’s focused continuing education on informatics, enrollment opening March 6 at Although it is titled a certification review, it is also an excellent introduction to the field with live interaction and a cohort group of students. You can start your networking there and continue it the the American Nursing Informatics Association at So why settle for one role, when you can have both. Please let me know how this works out for you.

        Chiao, Dr Bob

  8. Avatar
    Grace B. January 23, 2017 at 3:18 am - Reply

    Hi! I graduated in Dec. 2015 w/ my ADN, became an RN in Mar. 2016, and had my BSN in May 2016. As far as I’m concerned, I like being a nurse. However, bedside nursing doesn’t seem to work for me. After graduating in May 2016, I worked in the hospital that lasted almost two months. Then, I took a break for a month and gave myself another chance. I got hired in a long-term care in rehab unit. I lasted 3 wks. As of now, I work in a multi-provider family practice as an RN. I find it hard to accept that I’m not able to practice what I studied for, direct patient care. I’m in mid 40s and I want to keep working in the healthcare field. I like to be an advocate for patients, and I like educating pts. Pls give some ideas on how I can use my nursing profession other than bedside nursing. Thank you very much.

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 28, 2017 at 3:10 pm - Reply
    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN January 30, 2017 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Grace — Forty-something percent of nurses work OUTSIDE of the hospital, many not in direct patient care. So when you say that you were educated for patient care, maybe so, maybe not. We’re just doing other things.

      If you like doing patient education, maybe you should explore becoming a patient educator for a physician/NP group or a hospital. Discharge planning could also be an option. Look for seminars on career alternatives for nurses, but your graduate degree could be in healthcare education. Network through the health Care Education Association at

      Finally, if you like education, the future for nurses educating future nurses is wide open. Please consider this because we need you.


      Dr. Bob

  9. Avatar
    Teela Lener-Shaw April 14, 2017 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    Hello Robert Hess,

    My name is Teela Lener, I attended your seminar on Career Fitness last week in Dallas Texas and spoke with you afterward. Your lecture was fantastic and I really enjoyed it; I learned a lot and have big plans for fixing/updating my resume and cover letter this summer once my semester of school is over thanks to your advice. I tried to send you an email in regards to obtaining your power point presentation, but the email address I wrote down seems to be incorrect. Thank you for your wonderful words of advice and I hope I get the opportunity to look over your power point and meet you again some day!

    • Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN
      Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN April 17, 2017 at 12:22 pm - Reply

      It was a privilege speaking once again at the annual conference of the National Student Nurses Association. My email is [email protected] and, of course, I’ll send you the presentation.

      Good luck with your career.

      Dr. Bob

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