How Nurses Can Set SMART Goals

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated November 30, 2023
    Did you know 91% of people don't reach their New Year's goals? Dive into how SMART goals for nurses may increase your potential success.
    Featured ImageCredit: ajr_images / Getty Images
    • SMART is an acronym that stands for goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and happen within a specified time frame.
    • SMART goals create a structure that increases your potential to achieve your goal.
    • Nurses might consider writing professional SMART goals influenced by the market events of 2022 or the expected trends in 2023, such as an increased number of NP-led practices.

    Did you know that 91% of people who make New Year’s resolutions don’t achieve their goals? Research shows most people throw in the towel by January 19. But the 9% who are successful pursue their goal with relentless passion. In other words, they want it badly.

    The people who achieve their goals have another secret — they know what goals to set and how to structure them to increase the chances they succeed. They develop SMART goals.

    Find out why setting SMART goals for nurses can be an important strategy to lay the groundwork for professional development and tracking your progress.

    What Are SMART Goals?

    According to 1994-2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 20% of small businesses fail in the first year, and 65% fail by year 10. Your nursing career is a little like a small business. To advance your career, you must be intentional in managing your career.

    Creating SMART goals is a foundational strategy that can support goal achievement. Before writing your SMART goals, let’s review what they are.

    SMART is an acronym to help you remember each part of writing structured goals.

    1. 1It’s easier to track goals when they include specific objectives. For example, instead of a goal to become a nurse practitioner (NP), you might set a goal to submit your application to an NP program within six months.
    2. 2When goals are specific, they are also measurable — meaning you’ll know whether you’ve achieved it. For example, a goal to lose weight isn’t measurable. But, you can measure your goal if it is to lose five pounds in two months.
    3. 3Going back to the NP example, you would only expect to become an NP in six months if you were four months from graduation. Only write goals you can reasonably expect to achieve, or you may become so discouraged that you stop working toward your goals.
    4. 4Your goals should be meaningful and stretch you out of your comfort zone. They should also be achievable by improving your current habits. Setbacks can bring about action, but if your goals aren’t realistic, it won’t be easy to get and stay on track.
    5. 5To measure your goals, you must have a time limit to achieve them. Your time frame should be clear and give you enough time to accomplish your goal.

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    SMART Goals for Nurses: Where to Start

    You should also evaluate your progress during the time frame you set. Is the goal still achievable and realistic? Is the time frame too short or too long? This allows you to reset and start again without completely throwing in the towel.

    SMART goals for nurses may be personal or professional. In 2022, several events changed nursing and have impacted the profession. This may also impact your professional goals.

    For example, the nursing shortage contributed significantly to several events in 2022. These included the Minnesota nursing strike, care of COVID-19 patients, and the guilty verdict for Christiann Gainy that was blamed on short staffing.

    Consider including a goal to work with your local American Nurses Association chapter to advocate for wage increases, expand nursing education, and support nursing faculty. These actions can help increase the number of nurses entering the profession.

    The projected nursing trends for 2023 may also impact the professional goals you set. Addressing the nursing shortage will be a top priority in 2023, as well as the mental health needs of patients and nurses.

    Experts also estimate there will be a rising number of NP-led practices. These trends may contribute to your desire to improve your knowledge and work toward becoming an NP. It may also lead you to practice strategies to protect your mental health.

    Your personal experiences and desires often inform the personal and professional goals you set for your future. Your professional goals may include improving your clinical skills. For example, you might write a SMART goal addressing your assessment, time management, or leadership skills.

    Examples of SMART Goals for Nurses

    The best way to start setting professional goals is to analyze where you want your career to be in five years. Outline the steps to achieve that goal, and then write SMART goals to reach each one-year goal. It isn’t necessary to stick with the time frames when you’re developing the goals. This is the first step as you’re identifying your long-term objective.

    As you revisit your long-term goal regularly, you may discover it needs adjustment. If your initial long-term goal is to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP), you may discover that you prefer working with children and switch to becoming a pediatric nurse practitioner.

    Using the long-term goal example of becoming an FNP, you might write two short-term SMART goals in January 2023.

    By June 1, 2023, I will have researched online NP programs and submitted applications to four online nurse practitioner programs that offer FNP specialization.

    1. 1Submitting four applications to online NP programs with FNP specialization
    2. 2Submitting four online NP applications
    3. 3Writing four applications in five months
    4. 4Gathering the required documentation in five months
    5. 5Completing by June 1, 2023

    By July 1, 2023, I will have researched available public and private financial aid options for online NP programs and submitted at least six applications to help pay for the online FNP program.

    1. 1Researching financial aid programs; submitting at least six applications
    2. 2Submitting six applications
    3. 3Locating and applying to six financial aid options in six months
    4. 4Researching and applying to six financial aid options in six months
    5. 5Completing by July 1, 2023