How do you answer when someone asks you, “What do you do?” Do you ever simply reply, “I am a nurse.” Doesn’t that feel like a skimpy way of describing your profession to someone who isn’t a fellow nurse?
Nurses can learn everything from how to draw blood to how to run a hospital in nursing classes, but there’s one skill nurses don’t learn, says Pamela Smith, EdD, RN, ANP, and a professional coach, leadership consultant and educator with Class Act Consulting and Professional Development, LLC. Self promotion is one topics usually not found in a class and also one of the hardest things for this typically modest group to master, she says.
How can nurses learn the art of articulating what they do without feeling like they are bragging? Smith, author of the just released The Professional Nurse: Market Yourself for Successful Results, says it’s easier than many nurses assume, and it will help their careers and boost their confidence.
“Nurses are very humble and selfless in what they do,” says Smith, and she notes that many people confuse self promotion with grandstanding.
What’s the difference? Self promotion is explaining what you can do and backing up your statements with facts, says Smith. For example, you can help an organization’s emergency department because you spent 10 years as an ER nurse in a big-city teaching hospital with an ER that saw patients from 100 miles or more. Grandstanding is just stating a claim without any backing. For example, just telling people you are the best motivator around or that you give presentations that have participants on their feet without backing it up is grandstanding.
“Self promotion is just evidence-based practice,” says Smith. “You’re not making it up. You’re not embellishing. You can substantiate everything with evidence.”
How can you learn to let others know your best qualities? Start with learning them yourself, says Smith.
One of the best ways to narrow down what you are good at and what you would like is to write down your perfect job, says Smith. “Once you know your perfect job, you’ll know what’s negotiable and what isn’t,” she says. Even think about how you want to dress for work – suit or scrubs? You might find you’re already in your ideal job, and that’s great. But then it’s time to figure out ways you can continue to develop in your job so you don’t stagnate.
After you have your perfect job down, start to look at your own strengths, skills, talents, abilities, weaknesses, and areas for growth, says Smith. This task is understandably hard for many people and particularly so for nurses. If you think this is an impossible challenge, Smith advises assembling an informal advisory board to help. Ask these close colleagues and friends to help you. Others can help you see yourself in a way that you just can’t, says Smith. Their observations may surprise you and help you see your abilities in a new light.
These steps can help get you started so you can figure out what differentiates you as a nurse, says Smith.
“Nurses are awesome,” says Smith, “and they have so much to offer but they are often overlooked or bypassed because they are not equipped to self promote. If you can self promote, it can open up other opportunities.”