5 Tips to Get Ahead in Your Nursing Career

5 Tips to Get Ahead in Your Nursing Career

By Melanie Hammontree, Contributor

Getting ahead in the nursing field can be challenging, especially for new grad nurses. Knowing where to look and how to master the art of working in a clinical environment can also seem overwhelming. To help ensure success, new grad nurses should turn to others for advice, including colleagues, educators and other healthcare professionals who can help them get started right in their nursing career.

5 Ways to Get Ahead in Your Nursing Career

With so many paths to choose for a career in nursing, getting ahead can mean different things to a variety of people. Regardless of whether you want to be a nurse practitioner or develop a specialist area of practice like pediatric nursing, there are a few common tips that all new grad nurses can benefit from.

1. Connect with a mentor

Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, says the most important way for new grad nurses to get ahead in nursing is to stay coachable and to immediately choose a mentor. This individual doesn’t have to be the head nurse you are assigned to, but your mentor should be highly respected in the field with excellent integrity.

“Find the best nurse in the unit – the one that all nurses call to for help – and emulate him or her,” says Burger. With so much to learn in the field of nursing, choosing someone who’s been there before can help you navigate the career possibilities.

2. Look for networking opportunities

Having a well-established network is essential in order to advance your career in nursing. According to Beth Hawkes, MSN, RN-BC, a nursing professional development specialist with HealthStream, “Networking starts in school, when you exchange numbers with staff nurses you were assigned to in clinical.”

According to the American Association of Medical Dosimetrists, approximately 80 percent of all jobs are never advertised. Instead, they are filled through networking.

3. Join a nursing organization

Belonging to a nursing organization can keep you up-to-date on changes in healthcare, provide you with networking opportunities and give you access to continuing education opportunities, specialty journals and conferences.

Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Beth Houlahan, DNP, RN, CENP, says “You connect the work you’re doing with others across the country.” She goes on to explain that joining a professional network can even help you discover new practices and help you solve problems in your current position. “It’s where you develop lifelong, close friendships based on shared purpose.”

4. Make yourself visible

If you want to move up in the organization you are in, it’s important to be seen. Start by letting your shift manager know you are interested in a higher position, whether it is becoming the shift leader or the charge nurse.

Dr. George Zangaro, RN, FAAN, and Associate Dean of the Walden School of Nursing, says to step up and lead change. Try to "be an active member on unit, department or hospital committees and be willing to present the committee’s findings or suggested recommendations for improvement to leadership."

Take time to go to meetings and conferences and take part in special events. Once you are under the radar of the manager, stay positive and express yourself constructively.

5. Further your education

Zangaro also states it's important to pursue additional credentials to make yourself more marketable for future endeavors. "Determine what specialty you are interested in and pursue an advanced degree or certificate." For example, if you have your BSN, start looking at MSN degrees to help you move ahead.

Whether you are a new grad nurse who is unsure of what career path you want to take or you have your sites set on becoming the charge nurse of your current organization, knowing how to utilize your resources can help you go a long way in your career.


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