Being part of a highly respected profession and helping people every day are clearly the main reasons why so many people decide to enter the nursing profession. It requires dedication, compassion and resilience, so the salary you receive as a registered nurse is unlikely to be the main driver.
That’s not to say that all your hard work won’t pay off though. Nurses now have more opportunities than ever before for advancement to more senior positions. That includes a chance to rise through the ranks of the profession to become the nursing leaders, educators, researchers and policymakers who are shaping healthcare state-wide, nationally and even internationally.
There are considerable financial rewards to be gained when you choose to advance your nursing career too. You can also increase your involvement in decision-making and clinical practice, which in turn can lead to greater levels of job satisfaction.
Another motivator for moving up the ranks is that more senior, advanced nursing personnel are highly in demand and a vital part of modern healthcare delivery. This means achieving promotion can present opportunities to be more in control of your workday. This could include, for example, a senior nursing professional having set hours, instead of disruptive shifts, and flexible hours to fit around family commitments.
These are just some of the reasons to work towards more advanced roles in nursing. Below, we discuss how you can prepare yourself to take the next step up the career ladder.
Experience and involvement
There are some general life and career tips to keep in mind, when you want to make a success of both work and daily living, and juggle them appropriately. However, as nursing is such a distinct and demanding career, naturally it requires a focused and strategic approach when you want to secure promotion. One of the pillars of this is acquiring as much ‘hands-on’ experience as possible, potentially in a range of different healthcare settings.
To secure a more advanced job with your current employer, being able to demonstrate your commitment matters a great deal. This should not simply include your devotion to getting the best outcomes for patients, but also the way you interact with colleagues, your contribution to team dynamics and of course your understanding of organizational compliance, processes and goals.
When applying for new jobs with new employers, make sure you can demonstrate diverse work experience and the skills and knowledge you have gained. Include clinical placements during your study periods in your work experience overview, and any additional steps you took to improve your practical abilities and insights.
Tell recruiters not just what you did, but also how you intend to put that experience to good use on their behalf. What have you done to go ‘above and beyond’ the expectations of your position, and what are your values as a person and a nurse?
Qualifications for senior nurses
To achieve promotion as a nurse, many of the steps upwards rely not just on your work resume but also the qualifications you have completed.
More advanced nursing positions require a great deal of clinical expertise, along with proof of other crucial personal and professional skills. Reputable institutions such as Wilkes University offer a wide range of online programs to allow working nurses to gain additional credentials. For those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, and are looking to transition into a career in nursing, the accelerated Nurse Practitioner program by Wilkes University can be a great choice. This program allows students to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in as little as 15 months. Students study topics such as the principles of nursing, behavioral health and care across the lifespan.
Focus on what niche to aim for
As both proven experience and a degree in nursing create so many opportunities, it’s a good idea to home in on a particular career path early in the process. What area of nursing best matches your ambitions, as well as your personality, preferences and interest? For instance, your experience and training could open doors to becoming an advanced nurse practitioner, with a new level of clinical responsibility that some nurses find deeply rewarding.
Showing an extensive understanding of preventative healthcare, diagnosis and current treatment protocols will get you noticed by recruiters. Those who also have excellent emotional intelligence make excellent candidates to become family nurse practitioners.
Alternatively, your aim may be to progress to become a nurse mentor, preceptor or educator. If that is the case, your dedication to helping more junior staff will be vital in impressing your future employer or the decision-makers at your existing organization. They will also want to see evidence of your investment into being an excellent communicator.
Are you leaning more towards pursuing a career in research, leadership or policy-making within nursing? In that case, you will be a lot more credible to future hires if you can show evidence that you have invested effort into keeping up with modern trends and developments in global healthcare.
Network and research
The above point leads smoothly to this practical and essential way to advance up the nursing career ladder — networking. As they say: it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.
The truth is that to secure a promotion in nursing, what you know is the bedrock of advancement, but you can still build on that by making important connections.
It’s not just about securing impressive personal or professional recommendations and references either. To grow your skills, knowledge and insights, you can also learn from others who have advanced in the nursing profession.
This could involve volunteering to shadow senior staff or specialists in your own time. Ask your manager for constant feedback and make the most of formal appraisals to gauge your strengths and any gaps or weaknesses you can work towards addressing.
Also, getting as much information from colleagues in other healthcare roles naturally increases your value as an employee. You have context for your own tasks, duties and aims as a nurse, but also the ability to support other staff more comprehensively.
Optimize clinical placements during your nursing studies too, and if possible, volunteer for extra experience. You should certainly make the best use of your mentor or preceptor during your degree program and any future clinical work.
Don’t forget your peers either. Chatting to them and sharing experiences and insights can help you to gain new perspectives and best practices. You could widen this networking and research by attending conferences, forums and other healthcare events. You may make a great connection with someone who tips you off when your ideal job role becomes vacant. At the very least, you can add this endeavor to your resume as proof of your dedication to your profession.
Publish and present as a nurse
One of the best ways to boost your nursing career is to share your practical experience and professional perspective with others.
This could include drafting and submitting articles for healthcare journals and websites, or your own organization’s publications and web pages. These should be helpful, scrupulously fact checked and well within any criteria established by your employer. It’s common practice in healthcare to pool valuable information as much as possible, as an “act of professional generosity and a shared responsibility”. You could also volunteer to speak at forums, staff meetings and other events too.
Every one of these opportunities helps to better establish your name and credentials as well as serving to build your confidence and communication prowess.
Showcasing the desired attitude and personality
Investing time in studying for a nursing degree is not always easy, even when you choose to pursue your training online. You may need to arrange your learning and clinical placements around an existing job and family commitments. It will be worthwhile, however, when you secure a step up in your nursing career, with a range of benefits, including a better salary and greater responsibility.
That sort of focus and determination to succeed counts for a lot with future employers in healthcare. The fact that you decided to improve your skills in such an impressive manner is bound to count for a lot.
However, your credentials and your work experience to date may still need something ‘extra’ to tip the balance. This is especially true if you apply for more senior nursing positions in competition with candidates who have similar qualifications and employment histories. It may come down to what you personally bring to the position and employer.
Your personality and attitude are closely entwined with your performance, and your ability to fit well into a new role, and a new team. This is why pre-employment personality assessment tests are becoming commonly used in all employment sectors, including healthcare. They are utilized to try to predict a candidate’s level of motivation and self-confidence, both of which can have a big impact on the strength of their performance.
Finding someone with a strong amount of self-assurance makes perfect sense when recruiting for advanced nursing roles, as you need candidates who can make decisions and take action decisively and appropriately.
How you can build soft skills
When it comes to putting your best foot forward with potential recruiters, there are some steps you can take to build your soft skills. Many of the steps outlined already will intuitively help you to develop your personal as well as professional skills. It’s not all about achieving clinical excellence through study, experience, research and networking.
For instance, the more you communicate and collaborate with other healthcare professionals, the better you will get at it. The more exposure you have to a variety of patient situations and needs, the more opportunities you gain to expand your emotional intelligence.
Other soft skills — which are sometimes referred to as empowerment skills — you will need moving forward include critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. One way to fine tune these is to be ready to ask questions and make suggestions as often as possible. You should also make an effort to view even wrong answers as a valuable learning tool.
Much of this can involve pushing yourself out of your comfort zone as a nurse, and acquiring the sorts of soft skills that are embedded in modern leadership. Whether you are heading up a small clinical team or promoting healthcare policies in your next job, there is an expectation that you will have excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to get the best out of others.
There is a huge emphasis these days on having a strong, nurturing organizational culture. As a senior nursing professional, the onus will be on you to support and enhance that. This can be achieved by being a leader and “sharing information, creating a higher level of trust, and promoting a sense of inclusion and belonging”.
Time to take a step upwards in nursing
Remember to be thorough in exploring potential job openings in your location and healthcare field of choice. Don’t jump into the first well-paid post you see without spreading your net a bit wider first. You could also consider asking for a sabbatical or secondment away from your current role to gain more exposure to the sort of new environment and challenges you are considering. Arranging informal visits to new healthcare organizations may also be a wise move before you apply or go for an interview. You need to demonstrate you are the best fit for this promotion in nursing, but you also need to be confident it matches your aspirations and preferences.
Many of the ways to take a step upwards in nursing require long-term strategy to increase your value to a future health or social care employer, and acquire the correct qualifications, experience and personal attributes to gain an advanced nursing post, but remember, there are always practical things you can do to make career advancement possible.