nurse career advancement

Nurses may rank low on the pecking order of healthcare professionals, but the potential for career advancement can be very high. Nursing is a multifaceted industry that is also witnessing a broadening horizon, with many new branches and practices springing up by the day.

As a nurse, you will spend most of your time working on the front lines of healthcare. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to bring relief and happiness to people’s lives. However, at some point, you might crave a new challenge. You might grow increasingly fascinated with a certain specialty, or with working in a particular environment. This might be a lifelong commitment that takes you down a unique path, and therefore requires careful considerations and planning.

In this guide, we will help you figure out the best path for career progression as a nurse. We’ll help you assess your options and the requirements for succeeding in each. If you are feeling overwhelmed, our comprehensive career advancement checklist can help you quickly devise and execute a well-rounded plan.

What are your best options for advancing your nursing career?

Career advancement can mean many things for a nurse, including more responsibilities, new skills, and higher earnings. Here are some of the most popular ways to get ahead in your career as a nurse today.

Clinical research

If you have been working as a bedside nurse, caring for patients in hospital wards, switching to clinical research could be an interesting path of advancement. This puts you at the frontiers of treatment development. Rather than facilitating the use of proven treatments, you will be exploring new treatment options and improvements through clinical trials.

Your new job description might include ensuring adherence to proper clinical and safety procedures, gathering clinical data, and caring for participants in clinical trials.

Care coordination

You might also want to consider taking on a more managerial role like a care coordinator. In this role, you oversee compliance with safety and treatment procedures for complex treatment plans. Your job is to ensure that everyone, from patients to the medical team, complies with clinical and safety standards.  Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are imperative here.

Completing an advanced degree

Going back to classes is another viable career advancement option. An online degree program like Rockhurst MSN-AGACNP equips you to become an acute care nurse practitioner for adults and older adults. The course workload is 100% online, with opportunities for clinical placement at the end of the course. 

You will learn everything you need to operate as a senior nurse, including:

  • Ethical, social, and economic issues.
  • Advanced acute care topics, such as advanced pathophysiology.
  • Assessing, diagnosing, and facilitating treatment and care plans for patients with chronic illnesses. 

You will also be put through the rigors of clinical research, learning how to design studies and analyze data.

Taking on a specialization

Like advanced programs, specialized certifications can also open the door to new opportunities for career advancement. You will be put through the rigors of a new specialization, and after completing the program, issued a certification that qualifies you for more advanced nursing roles.

Here are some of the most sought-after specializations:

  • In-home care: Where you help patients receive medical attention at home. 
  • Assisted living nursing: Specializing in treatment and care plans for residents of assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
  • Physician’s office nursing: Working at a private practice to facilitate patient care and treatment procedures under the supervision of a private health practitioner.
  • Surgical nursing: Prepping operating rooms and patients for surgery as well as participating in the surgery and post-surgery.
  • Insurance nursing: Working with insurance companies to assess and monitor the health status of insurance holders.

Nursing education

Another senior nursing role worth considering is mentoring and coaching aspiring nurses. Nursing education requires an advanced degree in a specialty.

As a nursing educator, you must have both theoretical knowledge and real-life experience in nursing.

With a nursing education, you can fill many supervisory roles, including as a professor for nursing students in accredited universities, and senior supervisory roles at teaching hospitals. 

Finding new job opportunities

Low job satisfaction is one of the major reasons why people desire career advancement. Finding a new job could turn out to be a great steppingstone.

If you feel like you haven’t grown much or are deprived of opportunities for professional growth at your current workplace, a way out might be to look for a new employer that’s more supportive. 

What to consider when choosing a path to progression

You are probably spoiled for choices. The problem is how to determine which path is best for you. 

Here are the most important things to keep in mind when considering your options.

Follow your passion

Many factors can weigh in on your decisions, and you might be tempted to go down a certain path due to convenience or higher earnings. However, it is important not to neglect your passions. You’ll find work that aligns with your passion to be more fulfilling, and you will be motivated to work harder at it.

Career advancement is something that requires commitment over the long haul. A lack of passion can cause you many setbacks, making you lose track or find it hard to stick it out on a chosen path. Ideally, you can find a sweet spot between your passion and convenience. List down all the possible nursing areas you can advance in, and then narrow down your list to a handful that could fit into the sweet spot. 

From here, you can figure out the best courses to study and the dream placements you would like to work in. For instance, if you are passionate about alternative treatment but don’t want to leave the comfort of your hometown in search of clinical research firms, you can acquire the appropriate certifications to run a private practice.

Find a suitable study arrangement

If you decide to take on a course in a specialty, there are many study options to explore. You can either take courses online, within the four walls of traditional classes or do a hybrid of both. Each alternative has its advantages and drawbacks. Online and hybrid course loads are best suited for people who want to study part-time. You could progress quicker with full-time studies, though you may have to quit your job or take some time off to achieve this.

Also, you might be in luck and find that the course you want to study is offered in an institution close to where you live or work. More nursing schools, colleges, and universities are partnering up with hospitals and other medical facilities to make their nursing courses more accessible to members of the community. That means you can study, earn certifications, and gain valuable work experience for career advancement all under the same roof. 

If you are combining work and study, you should find a perfect balance so you don’t end up overstretching yourself or setting unrealistic expectations.

Financing arrangements

Your career advancement considerations will most likely involve finances. In fact, financial considerations are one of the main reasons many nurses choose to keep their current jobs while exploring new career opportunities. 

Certifications and education programs don’t come cheap these days, especially in healthcare fields, and it takes serious planning and financial commitment to sail through. But thankfully, the high demand for nurses is encouraging more nurses to take on the challenge. The earning potentials are high, and employers are more willing to help pay back nurses’ student loans.

Moreover, thanks to the unprecedented growth in the health sector, many institutions and government agencies are becoming more interested in funding nursing programs. The list of options for financing your nursing studies keeps increasing by the day. You can choose from:

  • State and federal student loans.
  • Grants from both government agencies and private institutions.
  • Scholarships.
  • Refinancing for old student debts.
  • Employer funding,
  • School-funded aid.

 Tips for choosing an advancement path for your career

Feeling overwhelmed and undecided about where to begin making your plans? This eight-point agenda will help you get a head start.

Be practical

First and foremost, you need to take stock of your current situation and then assess practical options that are within your reach. You always need to be mindful of your situation, carrying out career audits regularly, no matter what stage you are at.

You could get carried away by passions or lofty goals, failing to take full, timely account of other crucial factors. For instance, if you are eager to complete a certain specialization course on time but want to continue working full-time while studying, you might risk burnout and sidetracked goals by failing to make practical adjustments.

Target small goals

While you may be tempted to pursue lofty ambitions, setting smaller, more realistic goals could be a more prudent approach to advancement. 

Break down your ambitions into smaller goals that you can take one day at a time. Turning your focus to the smaller details allows you to make more practical decisions. This will help you conquer your dreams one step at a time while also building resilience against unforeseen circumstances that could derail your progress.

Seek out a nurse mentor

Another important thing you can do to improve your sense of direction is to seek help from someone who’s already advanced and familiar with the future territory you are eyeing. A nurse mentor will have a firm understanding of your current situation and where you should be heading. They can help you out with tips on various aspects of your job, from handling overwhelm and burnout to managing expectations, and assessing your advancement options. They can also provide invaluable professional references and networking opportunities.

To find the right mentor, check if there are any mentoring programs offered in your place of work. If there are none, take your search outside – ask around in relevant professional bodies, online forums, and social media groups.

Earn your specialization certification

Without earning a new certification, you may not have that many options to advance your nursing career. Certifications can open you up to more career opportunities in your current workplace and elsewhere.

If taking on a new specialization sounds daunting, there are other general certifications that can qualify you for more senior managerial and administrative roles, including certifications offered by the American Organization for Nurse Leadership (AONL) and the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). 

Note that these senior roles normally require an advanced degree like a Master of Science in Nursing Science (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice.

Explore networking opportunities

To find more growth opportunities, you need to look beyond your current circle of friends, family, and colleagues. Regular networking can help you find mentors, coaches, and other like-minded nurses who can offer invaluable career advice. What’s more, participating in networking events and professional groups can qualify you for various perks, including free passes and exclusive access to valuable resources, discounts on education courses, exclusive invitations to important events, and more. There are hundreds of nursing organizations from national to local, private, and public. 

Here are the best ones to start with:

  • Advanced Practitioner Society for Hematology and Oncology (APSHO)
  • American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners (AAENP)
  • Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA)
  • National Academy of Dermatology Nurse Practitioners (NADNP)
  • National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP)
  • Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH)

Seek out more support

Advancing your nursing career all by yourself is no easy feat, and you will need all the help you can get. You probably already have burdens like old student debt and other personal debt, responsibilities from your current job, or dependent family members.

The first place to seek support for your advancement plans is your current workplace. If there are advanced openings that you would like to explore there, you can ask your employer to help you prepare for them. Many healthcare organizations now prefer to train in-house staff for potential future openings in advanced roles rather than finding external candidates. You can get support from your employers in many ways, from a more flexible work schedule to a guaranteed job offer at the end of the course, and outright financing for your course.

You can also get your friends and family involved. Let them know that you are about to take on extra responsibilities and need all the help you can get, from emotional support to help with housekeeping. 

 Focus on key career advancement skills

Regardless of the path you choose, you will find some key career advancement skills highly valuable. These include:

  • Communication: Ability to communicate effectively and inspire the same in patients and members of a medical team.
  • Interpersonal skills: You will be working with people across the personality spectrum, from patients to medical staff.
  • Critical thinking: The ability to think for yourself and find the right answers to unusual problems.
  • Resourcefulness: You should be able to come up with tools and information to manage many different situations effectively.
  • Empathy: You need to cultivate patience and empathy to provide care and assistance effectively for patients.
  • A keen eye for detail: This is critical to facilitating treatment and care plans for patients with various illnesses.
  • Leadership: You need to exhibit a strong sense of leadership to inspire confidence in patients and members of your medical team.
  • Networking: Your ability to make new friends and acquaintances can be a springboard for career advancement.

FAQs on nursing career advancement

What is the biggest challenge facing nurses today?

With the demand for healthcare professionals outstripping supply, many healthcare institutions are struggling with staff shortages. As such, more nurses are now dealing with increasing workloads. Burnout is increasingly becoming commonplace. However, with people’s lives on the line, many nurses have no choice but to work under mounting pressure and stress.

What are some nursing trends to look out for?

An aging population of boomers has led to an unprecedented increase in demand for adult care nurses. Furthermore, the pandemic has led to a growing demand for contactless healthcare delivery and compliance with new social distancing and safety requirements.

What are some strategies for advancing my nursing education?

Advanced nursing studies is no easy feat and requires lots of planning and commitment. These strategies can help prepare you for the challenges ahead:

  • Make all the necessary preparations on time.
  • Read extensively and gain as much info as possible about any advancement option.
  • Stay focused and committed.
  • Cultivate empathy and good interpersonal skills.
  • Be passionate about studying and learning.
  • Stay positive.

Move up the ladder in your nursing career

There are many ways to expand the horizon of your career in nursing. We have discussed the various options available for challenging yourself and finding more fulfillment as a nurse. 

Nurses are in demand, and you can make yourself even more resourceful and valuable to your community by pursuing a befitting career advancement option. You can qualify for more senior nursing roles by doubling down on a desirable specialization. Networking and a growth-inducing work environment can also open new doors. And, if you feel overwhelmed at any point, don’t be afraid to seek support from others – your employers, mentors, financial institutions, and government programs.

Choose a befitting career advancement option today and give it your best shot.