4 steps to take charge
of your career
Nurses can use these tips to build the nursing careers they want
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EDITOR'S NOTE: 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 Nurse.com, Hess has penned several 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.
Nurses’ lives reflect a kaleidoscope of goals. As professionals, they have career goals and as employees, they have job goals. Some of those goals are congruent, while others conflict.
If you don’t come up with your own goals, others will find them for you. The most satisfied nurses follow a deliberately planned progression of objectives organized around a realistic, long-term, career goal of which they are in charge. Here are four easy steps to becoming one of those nurses.
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All of us had an idea of what it was to be a nurse before becoming one. Maybe you are living that dream. Or do you find that whatever job or role you’re in seems like a way station to something else? If so, you need to find out what your dream job is because it’s your long-term career goal.

According to a 2013 National Workforce Survey of Registered Nurses, only 56% of American nurses worked in hospitals. The number of choices in settings and specialties has exploded. With another nursing shortage looming, opportunities nurse leaders hadn’t envisioned are forming. So scan the environment and dream up a way to settle on a realistic goal that excites you.
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By Robert G. Hess, Jr.
PhD, RN, FAAN
Step 1: Define your dream
Step 2: Target the skills needed to succeed
What education, credentials, jobs and skills do you need? While achieving prerequisites may seem difficult, it’s actually never been easier. Opportunities for acquiring online degrees and certifications are more flexible than in the past, and you can participate at your own pace.
Additionally, the nursing shortage will open up jobs to candidates who might not have qualified when it was a recruiter’s market. As in past shortages, organizations will be forced to train some applicants who may not have made the cut when there was an oversupply.
Step 3: Plan your career progression
Skills, expertise and experiences only come by working the right jobs in the right order. Many ultimate jobs can only be realized after getting experience at previous jobs.
Figure out what those jobs are in the correct order, and you’ll be set on the career trajectory that will launch you into your ultimate job. You may have to demonstrate the appropriate progression to the people who are hiring for your dream job.
As you continue through your career, assess your progress toward your ultimate career job. Is it still what you want? Is it still appropriate? If you answer yes to both questions, evaluate if you’re collecting the necessary qualifications. If the answer is no, you have some thinking to do.
Take a long, hard look at what you’re doing and what you want to be doing. Don’t be afraid to change course any time during your career. Make sure you’re in a position that satisfies you, and you’ll contribute greatly to our profession and your own life.
Step 4: Chart and re-evaluate your goals
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