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Career Success Tips for Registered Nurses

NurseJournal Staff
Updated May 17, 2022
    Navigating a nursing career in any healthcare environment is a challenge. Here’s how to be successful in the current healthcare climate.

    You dreamt of being a nurse your whole life. You conquered nursing school and finally get to discover where your career will take you.

    Becoming a registered nurse is exciting, but entering the nursing workforce in a strained healthcare system may be nerve-racking.

    With limited resources and consistent short-staffing, you may be wondering how you can be successful as a nurse. We provide career tips for nurses to succeed in today’s healthcare climate.

    Go Back to the Basics of Patient Prioritization

    Working a busy shift with limited resources is challenging, and there may be times when you feel like the call bells never stop.

    If you’re feeling pulled in many directions, take a moment to regroup. Remember the activities in nursing school that helped you decide which patient to see first. Go back to those strategies on a busy shift when you’re feeling flustered. It’s easier said than done, but ice chips can wait.

    As you get more experience, you’ll become an expert at time management. Until then, go back to the basics of prioritizing which patient problem to address first.

    Be Proud of Your Work

    One of the age-old tips for nurses is to treat each patient like your own family member. This serves as a gentle reminder to provide quality care to each patient.

    It may be tempting to cut corners when you have several tasks looming over you, but take a moment to consider what that means for your patient. If you have a questionable-looking intravenous dressing, you have the choice to change it or add to the mountain of tape.

    If your grandmother was laying in that bed, what would you do? Change the dressing.

    When you give your report to the oncoming nurse, you will be proud of the care you provided.

    Be a Leader Among Your Peers

    Take advantage of opportunities to become a nursing leader in your unit. Joining a committee or quality improvement project might be optional, but it can help your career.

    When you join a committee, your colleagues will see your professional qualities like presenting and collaborating. This helps you gain confidence as a nurse while earning respect among staff.

    Leadership opportunities can help improve your annual evaluation, and they’re great resume boosters, too. When deciding which committee to join, consider how each could help you reach future career goals.

    Network With Hospital Staff

    As you participate in extracurricular activities, you’ll get to know your colleagues more personally. Once you are comfortable opening up, consider networking with nurses and other staff throughout the hospital.

    Make a point to engage in conversations with hospital staff from every department — from the kitchen to central supply. If you float to another unit, learn the nurses’ names on the floor. You never know when you’ll need to call a favor in the middle of the night from someone outside of your unit.

    Advocate for Your Well-Being

    A useful career tip for nurses is to advocate for yourself as a nurse and your well-being. This means finding ways to feel your best so you can show up for your patients at work.

    Explore what works best for your wellness regimen and use your days off to fully recharge as a nurse. Does fast food make you feel lethargic? Consider meal prepping in advance, so there’s food available when you need to rest.

    Advocating for your well-being also means knowing your limits and creating healthy boundaries. If working overtime has you feeling exhausted, take the day off! It’s OK to say no to overtime requests so that you can have a recovery day.

    You may need to say no to social plans to make sleep a priority. As a nurse, you know how much sleep you need to be present on a shift. Be comfortable declining social invites so you can rest up before a shift.

    Protect Your Joy

    You will likely have coworkers who are vocal about feeling burned out. This is common in any nursing unit, pandemic or not.

    You may find yourself in a conversation with nurses complaining about everything wrong with the unit. This can bring down morale and may cause you to question your own happiness.

    Feel free to walk away from the conversation. You worked too hard to earn your joy as a nurse to let anyone take it away.

    Remember to surround yourself with positive people outside of work, too. Your nursing career doesn’t have to be the center of your life. Spend your days off enjoying family, pets, or a hobby that gives you fulfillment.

    Remember You’re Not Alone

    Nursing is a team-oriented career, and you’re not meant to navigate it alone. Whether you’re considering a career change or taking on new challenges within your unit, turn to peers and mentors for advice.

    Nurse mentors can help you decide when it’s time to make a change in your career and guide you to take the next step. If you’re experiencing burnout, turn to peers for support. You’ll probably find you’re not alone in having feelings of pre- and postshift nursing anxiety.

    Ask your peers what strategies work for them in relieving work-related stress.

    Protect Your License

    Short-staffing leads to heavy assignments, but where do you draw the line for safety? Speak up if you feel patients may be at risk due to an unsafe assignment.

    You don’t want to lose your license because you had an unrealistic patient load. Be familiar with the policies at your healthcare facility and what would happen if you refused an assignment.

    Here are eight ways to protect yourself, your nursing license, and your nursing staff as a supervisor.

    Change Your Environment if Needed

    There will be plenty of times when you question your job satisfaction as a nurse. If you’re working in a consistently short-staffed environment, you may feel burned out earlier in your career than you expected.

    Know that nursing burnout is normal, and it’s something you can work through. It’s OK to take a mental health day or reduce weekly hours to part time if you can.

    If you are feeling stagnant in your nursing job, consider transferring to another unit. It’s common for nurses to change specialties many times in their careers.

    Maybe you’re feeling curious about an advanced nursing specialty; challenge yourself! You may find that you were meant to be in another area all along. Allow yourself to find that unit that makes you feel at home and can use your unique skill set.