Whether you’ve recently qualified as a nurse or you’ve been working in hospitals and clinics for years, getting ahead in your career can feel a baffling and opaque process. Your shifts are hard and your work is diligent – but you’re not entirely sure if you’re doing all you can to advance your career and achieve more and more seniority. This guide’s about giving some clarity to nurses in the process of making the next steps in their careers, offering tips and tricks you can instigate to impress your seniors and learn more on the job.
Even if you’ve just emerged from university as a qualified nurse, there’s always more that you can technically learn in order to be considered as more knowledgeable and qualified. The majority of this type of education is academic, which is to say that you’ll be burying your head in books, attending lectures, and studying diagrams in order to gain a deeper and fuller understanding of what it takes to be a great nurse.
There are several types, of course, you might choose, depending on which specialism you’re most interested in. Some nurses are interested in management and organization and will be drawn to courses that help you become a great leaders and planners. Others love the practical aspect of the job, and so seek more and more medical and treatment knowledge. The choice here is yours – but education is always a route to advance your career as a nurse.
Look to Superiors
Your superiors are important. They’re important in the sense that it’s they who will have some say over your career – recommending you for promotion and offering feedback up the hierarchy about your progress. Yet more important still is your superiors’ experience, which is something incredibly valuable that you can tap into whenever you’re struggling with a specific case or task.
This experience is also something that you can imitate, if you watch closely. You’re looking to see how your superiors act around patients and doctors, how they handle the paperwork, and which corners they might cut in order to do a better job on the ward. Make a conscious effort to observe and imitate your most inspiring superiors in order to take strides towards nourishing your own experience.
As a nurse, there’s no substitute for time on the ward. While you may have spent many months in academic training, learning medical information, your clinical experience will help you improve across the board as a nurse, including:
- Learning the best bedside manner for different types of patients
- Administering treatments with more accuracy and speed
- Understanding the workings of a hospital or medical center
- Improving your communication with the friends and family of patients
All of these attributes can only make you a more impressive nurse. Some take months to develop, and people tend to learn at different rates. The advice here is to concentrate on using your clinical time wisely. Your clinical experiences from an accelerated BSN program will be the very backbone of your career, for instance, helping you become a more confident and experienced nurse.
Another way to tap into the experience of your superiors is to request frequent feedback. It’s amazing how few people, in all career paths, tend to ask their managers, superiors or supervisors about how they’re doing. In turn, it’s rare for managers or supervisors to offer frequent feedback. That’s especially the case in nursing, where you’re likely to have very busy colleagues who have scant time to sit you down and give you a thorough appraisal.
Feedback needn’t be about thorough appraisals though. It can just as easily be a case of asking a supervising nurse how they think you handled a recent task. You might mention over lunch that you’re struggling with something, asking if anyone has advice to help you overcome it. Be bold with your requests for feedback and you’ll find yourself onboarding more and more useful information that’ll help you get ahead in your career.
It’s rarely the case that the best performers arrive in more senior positions based on their performance alone. Promotions and opportunities don’t just land in your lap – they’re something you have to seek out and proactively request. It’s in this sense that you should always have your antenna attuned to opportunities in your clinic or hospital or in other local medical centers. The more you pay attention to potential career-advancing opportunities, the more likely you are to apply for and achieve promotions.
In the simplest terms, you can find opportunities in your own hospital when you see that there’s a vacancy for a more senior position. You can put yourself forward to assume more responsibilities, and point to your excellent record to prove you’re ready for the next step. You can also approach senior staff at any time if you feel you may be due a promotion or pay rise. Go-getters tend to achieve more in life – so make sure you’re one of them.
Another way to achieve a promotion is to move jobs to a new place. As you’ll be well aware, nurses are required all over the world, giving you the opportunity to work in different countries or states that you might otherwise not have the opportunity to stay in. Beyond that variety, it’s also the case that your learning and experience tend to accelerate when you put yourself in new roles and surround yourself with new people.
As such, it may be wise for you to consider an early-career move away from your home hospital and to somewhere that might challenge you anew. You can always return to your home hospital later in life, carrying with you all the experiences you’ve picked up in different jobs throughout the world.
Books and Lectures
You don’t need to go back to school, college or university in order to keep picking up academic information. You can also learn off your own bat, by taking some time each week to read medical books and to tune into live or recorded lectures hosted on the likes of YouTube. It’s here that your private study can actually be hugely consequential for your future career – helping to set you apart from your contemporaries.
To find the best medical books and lectures, it’s worth doing some research online. You’re not only looking for fantastic academic information, but the kind of information that will help you progress towards your career aims, making the most of the opportunities that you’re presented with later in your career. Buy books, keep reading, and make notes on what you’ve learnt and you’ll find yourself accelerating your career development.
Nursing is a testing career. It’s a job that requires high levels of determination and empathy, and an emotional fortitude in the most intense and difficult moments. You’ll already have had days after which you collapse on the couch, exhausted – though you’ll have others after which you feel elated. Still, if you can find ways to impress your managers by accepting an overtime shift or two, that certainly won’t harm your prospects in terms of promotions.
Be careful with overtime, though. You should be careful not to burn the candle at both ends, ending up burned out and unable to work for a period of time. That’s no good for your career or your patients. Do make yourself available, though, to help your colleagues and seniors when they want cover of their shifts – and go the extra mile when you can to spend a little more time with patients after your shift has officially ended.
As a nurse, you’ll be operating in a team of nurses. You’ll be interacting with doctors and patients too, as well as a litany of other hospital staff. Hospitals are stressful environments at times, which is precisely why being a team player is so important. If you happen to brighten everyone’s day, help them when they’re down, and look out for your colleagues, that will certainly get noticed by the powers that be. Your interaction at work is a big part of what’ll make you a great nurse.
So this means thinking about how you can better influence the team around you. Could you bring in cakes on tough days to help pick up team morale? Perhaps you could go the extra mile to look out for any colleagues who seem to be struggling a little – making time to ask them how they are and if there’s anything you can do to help. This kind of team playing will make you far more popular and loved in your role, while helping to contribute to a happy and healthy ward which is, ultimately, why you got into the job in the first place.
Nursing is a tough profession with hugely rewarding moments running alongside heart-wrenching and exhausting ones. Given how busy you are most of the time, it can be difficult to focus on advancing your career. That’s why we’ve offered a handful of tips and tricks in this article – to help you map out your rise to the position you’d like to one day achieve. Set those goals and bear this advice in mind to advance your nursing career into the future.