In the 21st century, everyone has a personal brand; if they don’t, they want one or are told they need one. From TikTok stars to athletes, the brand seems to be the thing. However, many of us — nurses and healthcare professionals included — have no idea what that means for us.
As a nurse, do you need a brand? Do you already have one and don’t know it? If you have one, what is it? And how do you get one if you don’t have one? And if you truly don’t want one, can you skip it altogether?
What is a Brand?
When we think of brands, most of us will come up with images — specifically logos —like Nike, Coke, Colonel Sanders, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. We may also think of entertainers like Oprah, Britney Spears, or Taylor Swift — do they have brands? They live their brands at every moment.
But what is a brand? Sure, a logo is part of it, but smart people and companies think of it as a feeling generated in others. This means that the brand is born of the experience that someone has when interacting with that person, product, or company.
What’s the experience of trying on your new Nikes for the first time? How do those Nikes make you feel? And what is your relationship with the Nike brand? It may make you feel stylish, happy, powerful, athletic, strong, or just cool.
When your pre-teen interacts with Taylor Swift’s brand, the music, the image, and the merchandise have a lot to do with it, but it’s the feeling they have when interacting with Swift’s universe.
So, for a working healthcare professional, what does this mean for you?
Your Brand Has Meaning
Your personal/professional brand is made up of everything about you as a nurse and healthcare professional, including:
Your “hard” clinical skills
Your “soft” skills (e.g., communication, emotional and relational intelligence, etc.)
How patients and colleagues feel in your presence and how you impact them directly and indirectly
The ways you move in and interact with the world (your resume, cover letters, emails, conversations, relationships, and general way of being)
If your brand is about how people feel around you and your impact on the world, there’s no escaping it — you have one. You don’t have to consider it a brand — perhaps you’d prefer to think of it as your professional persona. And if that persona gets you hired, elevates you into leadership, and opens the doors of opportunity, then it may be worth paying attention to.
Identifying Your Brand or Persona
If you want to identify your brand’s core, your core beliefs and values are the first place to look. Ask yourself these questions:
What do I believe about the world around me?
What motivates me to do the work I do and be the person I am?
How do I interact with the world, and what does that say about me?
If I asked my friends, family, and colleagues to describe me, what would they say?
The Barrett Values Center offers an affordable online values assessment that provides an overview of your core values. Other organizations offer similar surveys.
You can also use career coaching, psychotherapy, mental health counseling, or conversations with a faith leader or mentor to identify your motivations and aspirations.
Finding the words to describe who you are and how you impact the world is crucial in identifying your brand. Your authentic self is the center of your brand — who is that person?
Build Your Brand
Building your brand doesn’t have to be a chore — it just takes conscious awareness. Since you’re building it through your every action, relationship, and conversation, your awareness of how you go about your daily life will help build a brand that will take you far.
To build your brand, you can:
Be conscientious in your work
Thoughtfully tend to your work relationships
Increase your emotional and relational intelligence
Sharpen your communication skills, especially listening
Consider having a positive presence on LinkedIn, the premier website where professionals network
Increase your knowledge, skill, and expertise, whether through education, certification, or independent study
Join professional organizations to network with like-minded colleagues
Find a mentor who can help you grow and evolve
Make sure your resume/CV represents you accurately
Consistently find ways to grow as a nurse and as a person
Be Yourself, and Your Brand Will Follow
If you can focus on being yourself, cultivating relationships, and growing as a professional in the ways that hold meaning for you, then your brand will largely take care of itself.
Being aware of how your actions and words affect others is paramount since how other people feel about their interactions with you and your work is one of the core aspects of your brand or professional persona.
Identifying and cultivating your brand doesn’t need to take a lot of time and work. What it truly takes is awareness, and if you can maintain that positive awareness and focus on being the best version of yourself every day, then your brand will truly represent the wonderful person and nurse you are.
Nurse practitioners have been valuable members of the healthcare ecosystem for decades. As providers with increasing practice autonomy, NPs fill significant healthcare delivery gaps.
With a growing shortage of primary care physicians, the need for NPs could not be more dire. When NPs approach patient care innovatively, everyone benefits from their creativity.
NP Innovation is Here
Coming from a background steeped in nursing’s more holistic view of patient care, nurse practitioners’ outlook can differ significantly from physicians’ perspectives.
“Nurse Practitioners do what nurses do best — educate and listen to their patients,” states Dr. Mykale Elbe, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, Assistant Dean of Nursing and Associate Professor at the Catherine McAuley School of Nursing of Maryville University. “Patients report that nurse practitioners listen well and educate them more on their disease and treatment plan.”
She affirms that nurses are responding to the needs they perceive.
“Nurses are returning to obtain their NP degree to serve their communities due to the need for more providers. Most nurses write about the need for primary care or mental health services in admissions essays. With nurses being on the front lines and seeing the needs of their patients, they are being motivated to advance their education and make a difference.”
Claire Afua Ellerbrock, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who supports other PMHNPs in managing their well-being. She sees the NP’s point of view as key to creating effective provider-patient collaboration.
“Nurse practitioners’ approach to the provider-patient relationship is unique, with its foundation rooted in compassion, collaboration, and trust,” states Dr. Ellerbrock. “As nurses first, NPs excel in building trust with patients, and this trust significantly enhances healthcare delivery.”
Dr. Ellerbrock elaborates on how NPs can provide quality care that matches or exceeds that of physicians. “A 2015 systematic review of ten randomized controlled trials found that NPs ‘demonstrated equal or better outcomes than physician groups for physiologic measures, patient satisfaction, and cost.’ Our ability to foster trust is the cornerstone of these positive outcomes.”
And in terms of innovation, Dr. Ellerbrock is enthused by what she sees.
“I’m witnessing exciting innovations in NP entrepreneurship. Nurse practitioners are identifying unmet needs and creatively addressing them, whether it’s through innovative delivery models or educational initiatives for NPs. For example, Justin Allen from The Elite NP has developed a business that assists other NPs in establishing their practices and ensuring high-quality patient care.”
Dr. Ellerbrock continues, “Additionally, my online course business, Stress Free Psych NP, is dedicated to empowering psychiatric and family practice NPs to diagnose and treat mental health patients with greater confidence. I firmly believe that entrepreneurship is the driving force behind advancing healthcare.”
Other NP innovators dot the country with their unique practice models.
Dr. Joanne Patterson, DNP, PMHNP-BC, CIMHP of Atlanta, has created the first-ever tiny house psychiatric clinic on wheels. She can deliver on-site mental health care for businesses, corporations, and schools and reach patients who might otherwise lack the ability to get a fixed office location. Dr. Patterson’s innovation extends to being licensed to treat patients virtually in Maryland, Nevada, Florida, and Washington, D.C., which increases the number of patients who can benefit from her holistic orientation and broadens the market for her business.
Josie Tate, MSN, CRNP, FNP-C, is a nurse practitioner who provides career guidance for other NPs. She feels that NPs are thinking innovatively and creating careers that work for them.
“NPs are leveraging their skills to become intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs within the healthcare industry,” shares Ms. Tate.
“Healthcare organizations benefit from NPs being highly experienced personally and professionally, “adds Ms. Tate. “We’ve created blended and flexible schedules and salary structures that challenge the norms. Whether having two PRN roles, taking locum tenens assignments, or 1099 contract positions, we provide optimal care while living our vision of a liberated life.”
Turning the Tide for a Bright Future
When it comes to the future, many NPs see a limitless horizon. Nurse practitioners can focus on adult gerontology (AGNP), the entire lifespan (FNP), mental health (PMHNP), pediatrics (PNP), midwifery (CNM), and other specialties, and certain roles can be pursued through educational pathways focused on either acute care or primary care. NPs can also earn post-master certificates in other disciplines.
Additionally, full practice authority is slowly growing despite resistance by medical groups who may feel threatened by NPs’ success and growing market share.
Ms. Tate states, “I envision the future for nurse practitioners as the powerhouse of healthcare, especially with an increased number of states gaining full practice authority. Primary care for underserved populations will be accessible thanks largely in part to nurse practitioners.”
Dr. Ellerbrock concurs. “I see the future of the NP role expanding to encompass full practice authority in all states, effectively bridging gaps in primary care and reaching underserved populations.”
She continues, “These gaps in care are not only persisting but also expanding, both in the United States and globally. By 2030, the demand for healthcare workers worldwide is projected to rise to 80 million, while the supply of healthcare workers is expected to reach only 65 million over the same period. Granting NPs the authority to practice to their fullest extent across the country positions us well to meet these growing needs.”
When it comes to embracing this rising tide, Ms. Tate adds, “Nurse practitioners need an empowering mindset to guide and direct their career paths. This mindset will build on their strengths and open opportunities throughout healthcare.”
Dr. Elbe is encouraged by how today’s NPs are being educated. “We’re ensuring that we’re preparing NP students around access to care, understanding social determinants of health, and the role NPs can play in improving outcomes, promoting health, and preventing disease cost-effectively.”
There’s no denying that nurse practitioners are reaping the rewards of decades of hard work, advocacy, and professional advancement. From entrepreneurship and a business mindset to innovative patient care models, NPs will continue to be an essential cornerstone of keeping the American healthcare system serving patients with increased access to care and the compassionate, skilled providers to treat them.
Talking about your gifts, accomplishments, and talents is essential for professionals who want to advance their careers, but nurses often tend towards the humble side of things, so it doesn’t always work in their favor.
While humility is a wonderful characteristic, when you want to get ahead as a healthcare professional, you need to be able to articulate what it is that makes you unique, and hiding your light under the proverbial bushel does you no good in the end.
So, to make your way in the world and grow your career, you need to understand the art of the humble brag.
It’s Not Boasting
When you’re in the market for a new job, requesting a promotion to nursing supervisor, or maybe writing a personal essay for your CRNA school application, the time for shyness and excessive humility has passed. While you may not be comfortable talking about yourself and tooting your own horn, it’s something you likely need to get accustomed to to get what you want.
Boasting gets a bad rap in our culture, and for good reason. When someone can’t stop talking about their new sports car, how much their new house cost, their fabulous summer on Mykonos, or their enormous trust fund, they’re boasting for no other reason but to make sure other people know how wonderful, wealthy, and wildly successful they are.
It’s apparent when someone is boasting for no other reason but the elevation of their ego, and this is not your strategic road to success. Instead, there’s another path to take, and it’s the art of the humble brag.
Embrace the Humble Brag
When you want to communicate your value as a nursing professional, how do you do that? If you’d like an interviewer to understand what makes you the stellar nurse you are, how do you frame that statement? And if you want to be promoted to nurse manager of your unit, how do you make your case that you’re the best possible choice for the position?
Enter the humble brag. The humble brag is a strategy for talking about yourself in a matter-of-fact way that states the facts. It isn’t humble to the extent that you’re embarrassed to talk about your skills, knowledge, education, and expertise; instead, it’s modest enough not to sound boastful or self-aggrandizing, yet forthright enough to mean business and get your point across without ambiguity. As a colleague once described it, it’s stating a fact about yourself with all of the emotion removed. For example:
“I’m a strong nurse leader. I have a proven track record of excellent team cohesion, with a nurse retention of 80% over the last five years. We’ve created a happy, healthy team.”
“My skills in quickly creating therapeutic rapport and trust between myself and my patients is something I’m most proud of.”
“I love working with moms and babies. I have a collection of thank you cards that grateful parents have written. I know without a doubt that I make a positive difference in their birthing experience.”
If you can say what you need to say about yourself without cringing or wanting to melt into the floor, you’re doing well. If you can verbalize what makes you so awesome simply as a fact and without shame or embarrassment, you’re on your way to humble brag success.
Practice Makes Perfect
Now it’s your turn. Consider listing 20 things you do well as a nurse and healthcare professional. What are your greatest talents? Where do your skills, knowledge, and expertise shine most readily? What are the accomplishments you’re most proud of?
Remember that when you can quantify a result or accomplishment (e.g., “nurse retention of 80% over the last five years”), numbers speak volumes. And if you can’t quantify it, then qualify it (e.g., “I know without a doubt that I make a positive difference in their birthing experience.”)
You also want to choose the content of your humble brag for your specific target audience and purpose. For a CRNA school interview, you should focus on your critical care skills and experience. Suppose it’s an interview to be on the board of a community-based non-profit that works with marginalized communities. In that case, you’ll want to discuss how you’ve successfully interfaced with or served similarly affected groups.
If you have an interview or other situation coming up where you’re going to need to talk about yourself in a positive light, this will be an excellent time to practice the art of the humble brag. It’s never too early to learn the skill of verbalizing your gifts, experience, expertise, and knowledge in a way that’s effective, forthright, unashamed, and transparent. People like confidence, so use this as an exercise in increasing your confidence in your worth.
The humble brag is a skill like any other, and with time, you can become an expert in talking about yourself positively, enthusiastically, and convincingly.
Choosing the right career path in nursing can be daunting, especially when the healthcare industry offers many specialties, roles, and opportunities. Getting stuck in what we’ll call option paralysis is a real possibility, and it takes focused energy and clarity to avoid pitfalls along the way.
You don’t know what to choose when you have so many choices. The danger lies in choosing to do nothing instead, perhaps staying stuck in a job or specialty where you’d rather not be. This is when you need a plan, a focus, and the determination to move forward no matter what.
Understanding Option Paralysis
Option paralysis, sometimes known as choice overload, occurs when you’re presented with too many choices. In nursing, this can happen when you’re bombarded with potential career paths, from bedside nursing and clinical education to healthcare management, research, and entrepreneurship.
While options are good overall, you risk ending up in stress and indecision. And if you’re hoping for job satisfaction, work-life balance, and positive career growth, then proactively pushing back against option paralysis and taking action is called for.
How to Overcome Option Paralysis
As a nurse, you may be aware of some of the career path options that may be open to you, but you also know there are a whole lot more of which you’re completely ignorant — in essence, you don’t know what you don’t know. Where do you begin? Here are some ideas for overcoming option paralysis and making decisions from a place of increased clarity.
Step 1: Define Your Career Goal
The first step in finding a new nursing career direction is clearly defining your career goals. What do you want to achieve in your career? What types of colleagues and patients do you love to work with? Are there patient populations that you know you can’t deal with? Is there a type of role that you’ve always dreamed of, or do the options feel positively overwhelming?
You’ve always had a goal of working in a completely non-clinical role. However, when you think about what might be out there in terms of non-clinical avenues for nurses, you feel like you’re walking on quicksand.
Step 2: Research Your Goal
Once you’ve identified that you’d like to understand more about working in a non-clinical role, it’s time to gather information. Remember, the first step of the nursing process is assessment, so you need data to identify your next steps.
When finding out what non-clinical roles for nurses are truly out there, you can use search engines, social media, nursing journals, podcasts, and articles to find out more.
Keep a running list of roles that you discover, including those that hold no attraction for you whatsoever — these will come in handy. As the list grows and you learn more about these different career paths, you might still feel you have no idea what’s right for you.
One of the ways you can reverse engineer this part of the process is by definitively crossing off what you wouldn’t even consider doing. After all, if you can’t say what you’d like to do, you can at least identify the things that are an absolute iron-clad no.
Research the requirements, qualifications, and expectations associated with viable career paths. You’ll explore educational requirements, certifications, and what experience you need to break into that area of nursing.
If you can identify specific individuals who work in positions that sound interesting, you can summon the courage to reach out to them and ask if they’d be willing to exchange emails or chat on the phone or a video call. You may be surprised how many people are eager to discuss their work.
Step 3: Identify Milestones
Breaking down your career goals into smaller milestones is essential. These milestones are checkpoints on your journey, making the process more manageable. And since many nurses lack awareness of what preparing for a non-clinical role might entail, your due diligence is to know the steps and milestones.
Step 4: Create a Timeline
A timeline is a crucial tool for managing your career progression. Determine when you aim to achieve each milestone and create a realistic timeline. Be flexible but committed to your schedule, as life may throw unexpected challenges. Having a timeline keeps you accountable and focused on your long-term goals.
Step 5: Continuous Learning and Adaptation
The 21st-century healthcare industry is in a state of constant evolution. A mindset of continuous learning will be invaluable to stay competitive and relevant in your chosen career path. Attend conferences, workshops, and webinars/seminars related to your field. You may also find podcasts, articles, videos, and social media feeds that help you stay current.
Step 7: Evaluate and Adjust
Regularly evaluate your progress and be willing to adjust your plan, just as you would during the nursing process if your initial assessment, diagnosis, and plan failed to yield the results you were looking for. And if your interests or life circumstances change, realize that change is inevitable. You must continue to ensure that your career aligns with your values, passions, and aspirations, even as you evolve as a professional and a human being.
Option paralysis is a real challenge when deciding about your nursing career. However, you can take control of your professional trajectory by adopting a thoughtful approach.
With clearly defined goals, solid research and networking, and an open and flexible mind, you can confidently move forward in your ability to navigate the road ahead. Remember, your nursing career can be a winding path, and it’s within your power to find the avenue to your most significant personal and professional fulfillment.
Nurses have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when planning their nursing education journey and professional career in healthcare. From entry-level Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) to a terminal degree like a PhD or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), there are a myriad of pathways in the nursing profession.
For many nurses, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is an achievable goal worth the effort in terms of the return on investment it can offer. But how can you measure the potential value of earning your MSN?
Why the MSN?
With nursing becoming increasingly complex in this new millennium, nurses are expected to have a broader scope of knowledge, more skill and expertise, and the ability to be dynamic leaders within a multidisciplinary industry, whether that leadership comes from an official title or simply through a nurse’s words and deeds.
An MSN is an advanced degree that can open many doors for an ambitious nurse seeking increased knowledge and expertise. Often, but not always, more nursing education brings a relative increase in career opportunities and earning power, and the MSN is no exception.
Having a master’s degree creates a certain level of credibility in the eyes of patients, nursing, and non-nursing colleagues, and the value of professional credibility cannot be overstated.
Damion K. Jenkins, MSN, RN, is a nurse educator, nurse career coach, mentor, and author. He states, “My MSN in nursing education provided me with essential insight, knowledge, and skills that have been imperative throughout my career as a nurse educator.”
In terms of any further return on investment for earning his MSN, Jenkins adds, “My education has offered me many opportunities to position myself into nursing leadership positions where I can make tremendous positive impact in all areas of nursing practice. From bedside nursing to academic nursing to clinical administration, I have fully leveraged everything my MSN education and training offered. I’m not so sure I’d be as successful as I am today without the privilege to receive this extremely valuable education.”
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) also says it well:
“Beyond the professional opportunities nurses gain through graduate education, there are some tangible benefits to one’s quality of life. Nurses with advanced preparation typically enjoy more opportunities to impact the overall design and implementation of care. As education increases, salaries follow suit. Nurses with master’s degrees can command six-figure salaries and often rise to the top of healthcare’s leadership ranks. With new practice opportunities emerging and the demand for highly specialized nursing skills rising, the time is right for you to begin your graduate-level nursing education. The earlier in your career you complete your formal education, the longer your professional life and the higher your lifetime earnings will be.”
The AACN is a cheerleader of the drive toward a growing body of master’s-prepared nursing professionals. They continue:
“The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) encourages all nurses to strive for higher levels of education to advance their capacity to enhance the quality of care available to our nation’s diverse patient populations. Calls for more nurses with graduate-level preparation are coming from inside and outside the profession from authorities as diverse as the Institute of Medicine, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Now is the time to invest in your future and begin your journey into graduate nursing education.”
There is no question of the potential value of the MSN. But what about the value of the MSN for you?
The MSN: What’s in it for You?
What can an MSN mean for you? There’s a lot to chew on since the number of choices is growing. Let’s examine a few.
The rising importance of nurse practitioners (NPs), also known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), cannot be denied. That said, there are multiple roads a nurse can choose as an APRN, including:
Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP)
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
Acute Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP-AC)
Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP-PC)
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
For a non-APRN MSN, there is another dizzying array of choices, including, but not limited to:
MSN, Public Health Nursing
MSN, Nursing Education
MSN, Health Informatics, or Nursing Informatics
MSN, Health Care Quality & Patient Safety
MSN, Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
MBA & MSN, Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
MSN, Care Coordination
MSN, Nursing Leadership and Administration
Informatics, leadership, systems, safety, and quality are areas where many nurses are making a difference, and an MSN is a pathway to these types of positions.
Show Me the Money
In terms of earning power and job growth, we can attest from the data that a master’s degree in nursing can increase the amount of money a nurse can make, especially for APRNs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the breakdown shows us the reality:
Registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $77,600, a mean hourly wage of $37.31, and have projected job growth of 6% (as fast as average) through 2031.
For other MSN roles, Indeed reports that a nurse manager earns an average of $78,474 per year, and a research nurse earns an average of $79,610. From these numbers, we can see that the earning power of an APRN far outstrips that of the nurse manager or nurse researcher, who earns the same annual salary as a registered nurse despite a higher level of education and potentially a much higher level of debt in student loans. (We are, of course, assuming that the researcher and manager have an MSN.)
Numbers are approximate for some regions of the country and every facet of healthcare and related industries, and there are always opportunities outside of the norm.
We can say with much clarity that, when considering pursuing an MSN, you’ll want to do your homework in terms of what your earning potential will be, what opportunities exist for that nursing specialty, and how satisfied you might be in the particular role that your chosen MSN program will prepare you for.
Networking, speaking with school representatives, working with a career coach or counselor, and doing your due diligence and research are all prudent uses of your time and energy before you sign on the dotted line and enter an MSN program.