There are over 4.2 million Registered Nurses (RNs) and around 325,000 Nurse Practitioners (NPs) in the US, so if you want to advance your nursing career, you will need to put in some effort to stand out from the crowd. Developing your nursing career is an ongoing process that will require passion and dedication. In return, you will reap a range of rewards.

Benefits of advancing your nursing career:

  • Increased responsibility
  • More job opportunities
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Increased compensation

There are many things you can do to develop your nursing career further. Here are our favorite tips:

Create a plan

One of the first things you should do when considering how to enhance your nursing career is to create a career development plan. You may choose to prepare your plan in conjunction with your supervisor or manager, as they should be able to provide helpful input and guidance. Your career development plan should outline all the steps you will take to enhance your career, whether through gaining practical experience, acquiring knowledge through further education, or developing your professional network. Make your goals specific, and always include a timescale. Your plan should be a living document, one you revisit and update regularly and adapt as required so that it continues to be relevant as your career progresses.

Ongoing professional development 

Gaining certifications helps to keep your career-focused and demonstrates your commitment to continuous learning. Finding the time to complete the certifications can be challenging when you are working, but the effort can pay off quickly if you land a better role.

Basic Life Support Certification: formal training in the symptoms of life-threatening emergencies, including how to provide CPR and use an AED.

Advanced Cardiac Life Support training: this develops your life support skills and gives you some training in drug therapy.

Pediatric Advanced Life Support (ALS) Certification: learning techniques for life-saving care for children.

Studying for further qualifications

Pursuing higher education in nursing is one of the most effective ways of developing your career. For prospective employers, a degree gives an immediate indication of the levels of knowledge and ability they can expect from you. Studying for a degree in nursing involves a considerable time commitment, but you can expect to be rewarded with a broader range of job opportunities and higher remuneration.

Main nursing degrees:

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

The entry-level degree for nursing, this undergraduate qualification is designed to prepare nurses for a wide range of roles in hospital or home care settings or a physician’s office. It will usually take 2-4 years to complete a BSN degree.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Studying for a master’s degree will help you develop more skills specific to nursing and some more general soft skills such as leadership and management. A master’s degree is a prerequisite for becoming an NP.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The DNP is the most advanced degree in the field of nursing. Unlike some doctoral degrees, the focus is not on conducting research but on translating the vast body of research already available into practical applications. You will develop your analytical and evaluation skills, enabling you to design and deliver improved patient health outcomes, and lead on advocating health policy. DNP graduates have the skills to work in specialist areas such as improving access to healthcare, reducing hospital admissions, and disaster planning. They may take up roles as advanced clinicians, managers, or faculty researchers.

If you are a nurse practitioner wanting to progress your career in clinical practice, this postgraduate degree will give you the edge over other candidates. When there is a vacancy to be filled, a candidate who has shown the commitment to gain further qualifications is likely to be at an advantage over candidates who have not. In some cases, a doctoral degree may be required for an NP role, and a DNP graduate can work in primary care as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).

Click here for more details on how a DNP degree course can help your career progression. For example, the DNP course at Marymount University comprises two key areas of study: Critical Thinking and Research and Quality Improvement in Healthcare. Graduates are equipped to deliver more effective healthcare with enhanced knowledge, strategic thinking, and leadership skills.

A study program designed to transition from BSN to DNP will usually take around 36 months to complete on a part-time basis. In some cases, MSN to DNP programs can be completed with part-time study in as little as 20 months.

If funding a nursing degree seems out of reach, it is worth exploring the scholarship options available, for example, College Scholarships.

Find a mentor

A mentor will guide you through your career development. It can be someone you met while studying, a more senior person where you work currently, or someone in another unit. A good mentor will offer a safe space for you to learn and to ask the questions you might not feel comfortable asking in other settings.

Your mentor may also help you to identify opportunities for career progression, putting in a good word for you with colleagues and supplying professional references to support your job applications.

Broaden your experience

Look for opportunities to work in different departments. A secondment is an ideal way to gain experience in other clinical areas. It gives you the chance to learn more about how another department works and whether the type of work it entails suits you. For example, you could learn about how a pediatric department works without committing to a permanent job in that unit.

Volunteering can also allow you to widen your experience, develop new skills and gain an insight into what it would be like if you were to move to another department.

Specializations

Building varied development into your career gives you a greater breadth of experience and can help you identify a specialization you would like to pursue.

Career options for nurses with advanced qualifications include clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse-midwife, and certified nurse-anesthetist. Certified nurse-anesthetists are some of the most highly remunerated nursing professionals with high levels of responsibility and autonomy. Clinical nurse specialists develop expertise in a specific population, such as pediatric care, or a particular disease type, such as cancer.

Networking

As in many walks of life, promotions in nursing are often based on connections. Although this may seem biased, it is perfectly reasonable when seen from the recruiter’s perspective. Recruiters generally want to minimize risk. It is easier for a recruiter to trust someone they know, particularly if they have worked with them previously. If a recruiter knows you and your level of ability and commitment, that is a more compelling argument for offering the role than words on a CV. Similarly, if other people known to the recruiter can vouch for your high standards at work, this will stand you in good stead for a new role.

Professional organizations offer plenty of networking opportunities:

  • American Nurses Association
  • Emergency Nursing Association
  • International Council of Nurses
  • National Association of Hispanic Nurses
  • National Black Nurses Association
  • National League for Nursing
  • National Student Nurses Association
  • Sigma

If you can attend local networking events, this can be very helpful for progressing your career. Events may provide an opportunity for learning new skills, but perhaps more importantly, they give you the chance to meet other people in the sector and grow your network. Start networking as early on in your career as possible. Undergraduates should be sure to exchange numbers with the staff nurses and managers on placements. Once you are in the workplace full time, look out for other opportunities to connect with new people, such as on training courses. Aim to attend at least one conference per year to boost your networking.

Demonstrate professionalism 

To progress your career, it is essential always to maintain a professional attitude. It can be challenging in a stressful work environment, but demonstrating a positive can-do attitude helps to inspire and motivate colleagues at difficult times and will show your potential for more senior roles. Always be a good ambassador for your workplace and your profession. You never know when a networking opportunity might present itself.

Keep an open mind on future roles

There are many different paths that you can take when you start to advance your nursing career. Take time to explore the options open to you now and those that could become accessible in the future with further study and development. For example, moving into administration, becoming a research nurse, or a legal nurse consultant may be less obvious avenues to pursue, but they could also offer interesting careers.

Whatever direction you choose to take in your nursing career, the important thing is to find out what skillsets and experience are required for the role and work towards gaining those, with a goal-oriented plan to keep you on track.