Working as a nurse in this day and age can mean a variety of different things. There are some nurses who work in more traditional roles as members of supporting healthcare staff catering to the needs of patients directly, while others opt to specialize in specific areas of medicine like neonatal or pediatrics. Still, others might choose to go on in their careers and work as nurse educators, administrators, researchers, or nurse practitioners. The options available to nurses in terms of career paths are varied and diverse.
In order to reach a particular level in one’s career or to work in certain areas of medicine, though, a nurse will most likely need to obtain a certain level of education. That being said, an advanced degree is not necessarily the only thing that you will need if you hope to take your career in nursing as far as it can go.
While there are plenty of opportunities these days for nurses to work within the upper echelons of healthcare, it is expected that nurses who reach the top are equipped with the knowledge, experience, and expertise that it takes to make positive contributes to the wider world of healthcare. With the goal of achieving better patient outcomes across the board in mind, there are certain steps that you can take that will assist you in your objective to advance your career in nursing.
1. Pursue Higher Education
While it might not be the only thing that you will need in order to advance your nursing career, higher education is certainly near the top of the list of requirements. This is because various advanced degrees in nursing are literally designed to prepare nurses for leadership roles. With courses on critical thinking, communication, and leadership, degrees like the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree are geared towards shaping nurses into true leaders in healthcare.
The particular degree option that you decide to pursue will depend heavily on the path that you want your career to take. Although often compared to one another in terms of skills that one acquires throughout the education process, MSN and DNP degrees are quite different.
With an MSN degree, a nurse can fill a variety of roles within the world of medicine. They can work as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or even as nurse practitioners. Such roles tend to be more appealing to nurses as they fall on the higher end of the salary scale. In fact, nurse anesthetists earn the highest salaries within the field of nursing.
As a doctoral degree program, on the other hand, a DNP is the most intensive degree option available to nurses today. When a nurse holds a DNP, they are considered to have achieved the highest level of education that a nurse can pursue. Even more career options are available to those with a DNP, and often offer higher salaries as well. Many DNPs even work as nurse practitioners independent of physician supervision.
Naturally, the level of education that you choose to obtain will depend on your personal circumstances and career aspirations. When you weigh a DNP vs MSN degree, you should take into account the amount of time that it takes to each, the cost associated with top degree programs, and the career options that will become available to you with one or the other.
For instance, even though you can work as a nurse practitioner with an MSN degree, some states require nurse practitioners who wish to work independently of a supervising physician to hold a DNP degree. Some nurses even choose to earn both types of graduate degrees throughout the course of their careers.
2. Take Advantage of Networking Opportunities
One of the truly amazing things about the field of medicine, in general, is the fact that professionals can easily interact and connect with peers in order to work together for better patient outcomes. Even if networking isn’t exactly up your alley, taking advantage of the opportunities to network with other nurses and healthcare professionals is going to help you in your efforts to advance your career.
The best thing that you can do in this area is to join professional organizations. There are so many professional organizations for nurses to choose from that you will surely be able to find one that aligns with your career aspirations. There are even some that offer opportunities for career advancement specifically.
If you specialize in a particular area of medicine, consider joining an organization specifically for nurses in your specialty. For instance, if you work in critical care, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) would be a great organization to join. There are also more general organizations, like the American Nurses Association, that are open to all nurses regardless of speciality.
When you join a professional organization of this nature, you obtain access to information and current news on developments in the field. You also gain access to continued learning opportunities, some that you will need to take part in throughout your career in order to maintain your nursing license. Furthermore, you can take part in networking events and communicate with other nurses in your field. Such connections might just prove to be incredibly helpful as you take steps to advance your nursing career.
3. Acquire a Mentor
As you enter into the world of nursing for the first time or start work at a new job with additional responsibilities, you might feel a bit lost on how to conduct yourself or on the best way to perform your job. Entering the world of healthcare in any capacity, even after graduating from a top nursing school program, can be intimidating. One thing that can go a long way to helping you navigate new waters is a mentor.
Mentorships can be incredibly helpful for new nurses, specifically those who have high career aspirations. Learning from another nurse’s experience and being able to bounce ideas and concerns off of someone who has been where you are goes such a long way to helping you advance your career.
There are some hospital systems that have mentorship programs in place already, so if your place of employment offers such a program, then you should look to enroll as soon as possible. You don’t necessarily need to have a formal program in place in order to find a mentor, though. You can find someone at your place of work or who you know on a professional level who has been where you are and is currently where you hope to make it in your own career.
You should look for someone who has the qualities of a good mentor and the willingness to offer you guidance and support. Many people might find it awkward or intimidating to ask someone to be their mentor. However, if you are able to find someone who already demonstrates the qualities that you hope to develop in yourself, then chances are that they will be more than happy to take you on as a mentee.
4. Never Stop Learning
If you were to interview any number of highly successful individuals from a variety of industries to find out how they got where they are today, you would likely find that most, if not all of them feel that one of the main keys to success is to never stop learning. When it comes to a career in healthcare, this concept is even more crucial.
The fact of the matter is that healthcare and medicine never cease developing and advancing. For this reason, one who hopes to be successful with a career in medicine must never stop updating themselves on those developments and advancements. This is one of the reasons that healthcare professionals are almost all required to participate in continuing education courses so as to properly maintain a license to practice.
Aside from the developing nature of medicine, though, there are other pivotal reasons for you to continue learning throughout your career. Firstly, there is no such thing as a person who knows everything. No matter how confident you are as a nurse, there are still going to be things that fall outside of your knowledge base.
Other reasons for adopting the practice of continual learning pertain to the fact that not every aspect of your job as a nurse is going to strictly deal with medicine. Rather, a nurse must be able to communicate with peers, patients, and employers effectively and efficiently. A nurse must have the ability to quickly take control of a situation as it unfolds and offer the best care even in pressure-filled situations. These skills are multi-faceted and difficult to develop simply based on the fact that they have to do with people. The ability to learn and understand people from a variety of backgrounds and in varying situations will be a constant learning experience for you as a nurse and one that you should always be ready to learn more about.