Professional development is one of the most important items in your nurses’ toolkit. Learning new skills, finding out about new technology and how to use it, and discovering new evidence-based practices will make you a better nurse.

But after a year that has wreaked havoc across the world, do you really need to think about professional development during a pandemic?

Simply put, yes. But depending on your role and your current workload, you can adapt to take realistic steps.

Professional development keeps you at the top of your game. As lifelong learners, nurses are committed to continually improving their skills because their patients depend on it. There’s no way to be the best nurse possible if your thinking remains the same as it did when you first started a nursing practice. But if you’re overwhelmed and your workload just isn’t letting up, your professional development goals might look different from another nurse.

What does professional development look like now?

1. Assess the Past Year

If you’re too tapped to even consider adding professional development to your life, think ahead. The past year has been one long lesson in trial by fire and you have learned a lot, even if you don’t have a certificate for it. Think about what you did that might have sparked a curiosity to learn more. What areas do you think you did well in? What areas could use some additional skills? Did you assume roles or responsibilities you liked or some that didn’t fit so well? All of these indicators can help you think about professional development in the future.

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2. Make a List

Your last year probably found you using skills you never thought you’d use on a regular basis. Maybe you assumed a leadership role because you had to or you found the leadership role you were already in morphing into something much different. Leading a unit through a pandemic is nothing like what you did before. What can you do in the next year to build on the skills you sharpened through the pandemic?

3. Take Action

Sometimes getting started is the hardest step. At some point, life will return to some semblance of normal, and you’ll want your career to be in good shape to move forward when that happens. Taking action can be a large or small undertaking, but doing something is the goal. When you think about your actionable goal, be realistic for the current time. If you are able to apply for a degree program or to take a certification, now is the time to get that plan in action. If you can’t commit to something big, remember that small actions are important.

  • Join a professional organization and attend one event.
  • Network with a nurse you admire.
  • Read a book or subscribe to a journal in your specialty to sharpen your expertise.
  • Take an online course in an area that can build up essential skills including communication, conflict resolution, targeted technology, time management, or goal setting.
  • Share your knowledge by teaching a class in your organization or in your community. You’ll benefit from the public speaking practice and organization skill building, and your audience will benefit from your advanced understanding of the subject matter.
  • Attend a virtual conference.
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Professional development is an ongoing task, and when the world of nursing is in such change, it’s even more important. But many nurses are tired and stressed, so professional development is going to look a little different than it might have a year ago. Just keep moving forward and learning, but do it with an intention that will bring your career to a better place.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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