A Guide for Getting Ahead in the Field of Nursing

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The world of healthcare is one that is always in need of strong leadership. Because medicine is such a broad and diverse field that is in a constant state of development, good leaders are necessary so that those developments can be guided appropriately to ensure the best possible patient outcomes. From new procedures and technological innovations to changes in protocol and methods of practice, the various aspects of healthcare need to be shaped and governed by those with the patients’ best interest in mind.

While once the leaders in medicine seemed to only be comprised of doctors, the modern era has seen the realization by the medical community that there is a significant value to having the voices of a diverse set of healthcare professionals contribute to the more significant conversations. Among the voices that have been more recognized of late are those that belong to nurses.

Nurses possess knowledge and experience gained from working on the frontlines of healthcare, caring for patients daily, and in challenging circumstances. Many have made the investment in their careers to earn a master’s degree or even a doctor of nursing practice degree. Often working as part of a team, they carry insight into the needs of patients and providers alike that can help positively shape the future of medicine. Bringing your nursing career to the point of leadership isn’t an easy task in and of itself, however.

If you are a nurse who aspires to get ahead in the field of nursing, there are several things you can do that will help you to gain the skills that you need in higher positions of leadership as well as to equip you with the qualifications that are necessary for such roles. While no nurse has an easy job to do, taking such a path is full of its own set of challenges and obstacles. It is one that is necessary, though, if you wish to get ahead in the field of nursing to a position where you can help affect change at higher levels within the medical community.

Start with Your Education

Most industries out there share the common thread that those who reach greater heights are typically those with more education. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule by any means, the world of medicine is such that one cannot truly advance their career without the appropriate level of education. Obtaining the right information on various medical topics and procedures is a big part of becoming a leader in the medical community. If a nurse wishes to take their career to the next level, the first place to start is with the right advanced degrees. One example of this is ACLS certification, which can be earned through online courses. Find out more here.

Many nurses these days have already completed a four-year bachelor’s degree (BSN) to become a registered nurse (RN). While an associate’s degree can still qualify you to become an RN, those who aspire to enroll in advanced degree programs, like a doctor Of Nursing Practice Degree, for instance, must already have a BSN.

Once you have a BSN, then you can go one to earn a master’s degree or a Doctor of NursingPractice degree. Those who are looking to distinguish themselves as leaders can select a program that is specifically designed to equip nurses with executive leadership skills. You will find this to be true with master’s degree programs as well as a Doctor of NursingPractice program. Furthermore, those who want to become leaders in a specific specialization can find designated programs of both types geared towards particular areas of study as well.

Obtaining the right degree is another thing that one must give a fair amount of consideration to. Typically, if a nurse wants to earn an advanced degree, he or she must continue to work either full or part-time while they are enrolled in a program. This can be a difficult thing to balance as both your job and your studies will require an incredible amount of dedication and focus. The good news is that there are plenty of options for earning both MSN degrees and doctor of nursing practice degrees online, making such programs much more manageable for working nurses.

To find the right degree for your career path, you should take some time to consider exactly what track you want to take. If you already specialize in an area, then your choice might be a bit clearer, although there are always options regarding the level of education you wish to pursue. You might be ready to begin a completely new track. Whatever you feel is your vocational calling in nursing, you will surely be able to find the right Doctor of NursingPractice degree or Master of Science in Nursing program for you.

Build Your Connections

Another major piece of the puzzle in regards to becoming a leader in the world of nursing is that of building the right professional network around yourself. Not only is it a good idea to have good relationships with your peers in the field of nursing, but branching out to other levels and specialties is also something worth considering.

The nursing community, overall, has some excellent resources when it comes to professional networking. There are actually a large number of national and even international professional nursing networks out there that are easy enough to join. These organizations are a great way to build your professional network and get in touch with other nurses in your particular area of medicine.

Some organizations are inclusive to all nurses nationwide, no matter what your professional background and aspirations might be, as the American Nurses Association. Others are specific to the specialization that you work in, such as the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. Still, others are specific to the level of education that a nurse has. For instance, there is an organization that is solely comprised of those who have obtained a doctor of nursing practice degree.

The benefits of joining one such professional organization are numerous. Not only do you automatically become a part of a network of nurses just like yourself, but you can also participate in conferences and educational courses specific to your specialization. Members of organizations will receive regular updates on current events and advancements relating to areas, and there are also plenty of opportunities for nurses to get involved and assume leadership roles. Those who wish to advance their nursing careers shouldn’t hesitate to do so.

Find a Mentor

Professional mentorships are another excellent way for nurses to advance their careers and get ahead in the world of medicine. Taking on a mentor who is in a place in their career that you personally aspire to be in one day can be extremely beneficial to helping you achieve your goals. Finding such a mentor can be a tough process in some circumstances, but it is certainly worth doing.

Start by inquiring with your place of work to see if there is already a mentorship program in place. Certain larger hospitals and healthcare systems might already have such a program available to those who wish to take advantage of it. If your hospital or medical offices don’t have a program like this in place, you might consider seeing if you might be able to help set one up.

In some circumstances, an official program isn’t a possibility. This doesn’t mean that those in such situations will be unable entirely to find a professional mentor. It just means that if you want a mentor of this kind, then you will have to seek one out yourself. Ask yourself if there is someone in your professional network who might be a good fit. If you hope to earn a doctor of nursing practice degree, is there someone who is already a doctor of nursing practice who would be able to share their experience with you and help you to achieve that goal? Do you know someone who specializes in a particular area of medicine that you would like to specialize in as well?

Furthermore, there are specific characteristics that your mentor would ideally possess. Try to find someone who has an evident passion for their field of nursing who also can pass along that passion to another. Excellent communication skills and enthusiasm for nursing are also essential qualities to look for in your mentor. Ideally, you would also be able to learn from someone who has also worked as a leader in the world of nursing, as they will be able to impart to you some critical insight into what it takes to become one.

Once you have someone in mind, all that’s left to do is have that conversation with them wherein you ask if they are willing to serve as your professional mentor. If they exhibit some or all of those qualities, then chances are they will be eager and excited to help you along in your career.

Get the Right Experience

So much about excelling in the world of medicine has to do with the amount of professional experience that you can obtain throughout your career. Because of the nature of this field, the ability to provide a high standard of healthcare to patients isn’t something that can be solely learned from being in a classroom or studying textbooks. Hands-on experience is essential to being successful as any kind of healthcare provider.

There are many different ways that a nurse can potentially gain the experience that he or she needs to excel in a particular area of medicine. If you are looking to grow in a specialty, then you should undoubtedly see if you can shadow or assist others who are already working in that area. Volunteering is also a great way to gain more working experience in a specific area.

Aside from experience within a specialty, it is also a good idea to look for opportunities to gain leadership experience as well. Taking on more responsibilities in your work environment can help you to hone your leadership skills and obtain management skills as well. Even if you only have the opportunity to start small, anything you can do to step up and take on leadership roles will go a long way to helping you to get ahead in the world of nursing. Not only will this help you to learn what areas you need to improve on when it comes to your leadership capabilities, but it will also allow you, peers, to start viewing you as a leader in the workplace as well.

This is another area that you will want to inquire about with your place of employment. Some hospitals have programs in place that are designed to help nurses with their professional development. These might present nurses with those valuable opportunities to gain practical experience in a specific specialty or experience with leadership roles. Most places of employment are eager to help nurses gain work experience as this helps them to become more valuable members of a medical team.

Show Your Eagerness to Get Ahead

Something that might sound like a bit of an obvious step might very well prove to be one of the most valuable ones that you take on your road to becoming a leader in the world of nursing. This step is to simply make it known and take opportunities to display your eagerness to advance your career. Those who are above you in the hierarchy of the hospital in which you work might not have any idea that you aspire to become a leader in your field.

Taking those chances to assume more responsibilities and develop your professional skills is one thing. Still, all that hard work might not amount to much if you are unable to communicate to your employers that you wish to rise in the ranks. While there is much to be said about communicating such aspirations through your actions and attitude, there is also some significance to making it a point to have a conversation with your superiors wherein you make it known that you hope to one day find yourself in a leadership position in the world of nursing.

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Samantha Acuna is a writer based in San Francisco, CA. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and Yahoo Small Business.