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 (Nurse.com’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 Nurse.com, 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.