The growth of your career as a nurse can be consciously self-generated or simply a result of happenstance and a laissez-faire attitude toward professional development. Neither of these options is necessarily bad in and of themselves, but a thoughtfully sculpted career is definitely fodder for a much richer, more satisfying, and rewarding trajectory.
Whereas employment can often feel like a means to an economic end (i.e., survival), there is also the notion that work is an avenue to self-awareness, a sense of personal pride, contribution to the community and society, and a full engagement in life.
Work, Fear, and Struggle
It is true that, at specific points in life, work serves a particular purpose. But, especially at a young age, before professional training or advanced education, work is often a utilitarian exercise. Yet, at the same time, it can also feed our sense of pride and purpose—and, perhaps, aspirations for more.
Many work ethics are out there, and many of us may be familiar with the so-called “Puritan Work Ethic,” which espouses hard work and a frugal lifestyle. But, then, there are also the 21st-century pop culture notions of “The Four-Hour Work Week” and get-rich-quick plans.
Meanwhile, fears and anxieties are frequently experienced by those who grew up during the Great Depression.
Since the economic downturn of 2008, many households have struggled to survive, with breadwinners working multiple jobs in the face of a rising cost of living, frozen wages, and increased difficulty finding health insurance (the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding) or planning for retirement.
Yes, work can feel like something we need to do to survive. But we can also consider how work doesn’t just pay the bills and put food on the table but also how it feeds us on the inside.
The Continuum of Consciousness
Considering these suppositions, where do you fall on the continuum of consciousness vis-à-vis your nursing career? Are you “sculpting” a career that’s truly meant for you to embody? Or, to the contrary, are you gliding along a track that, while more or less acceptable, seems like it was created for you by those who feel they have the right to dictate your professional pathway?
Along these same lines, is your career driven by something akin to the Puritan Work Ethic, or are you driven by fear, whether it be fear of not having enough, fear of losing status, or fear of being without work?
This continuum of consciousness vis-a-vis our nursing career trajectory can frequently change, perhaps even daily. Some days, you may feel completely connected at work, aware of how you make a difference in the lives of others. On other days, work may feel like a total slog, a chore to complete as quickly as possible, with your blinders fully in place so that you go through your day without much sense of connection or purpose.
The larger arc is what we’re after, no matter what happens daily. Even though it’s no fun to survive those problematic workdays that feel like they’ll never end, if the majority of your work life is positive, growthful, and adding meaning to your life, you’re on the right track.
Sculpting A Nursing Career That Fits
When you consciously sculpt your nursing career, you are the driver, and your decisions create the path ahead of you. And if you’re not exactly sure where you’re going, don’t worry; the path can be created with each step of the journey.
Sometimes, we follow our intuition, applying for a job because “something” tells us we should give it a try. At other times, a potential position comes into our awareness, and we “know” that the position is the best step towards a future that we’re creating. Our intuition can guide us, and we can consciously seek out opportunities that we feel are the strongest choices for us at this particular time.
The main question is this: are you consciously creating your career, or is your career just happening to you? While it may be OK to coast along from time to time, a consciously created career is the most potentially satisfying.
Paying Attention to Career Arc
So, dear Reader, pay attention to the arc of your career. Have you made good choices? If not, is there a way to remedy that situation? If your current position has you feeling stuck, what can you do to get unstuck? Who can you turn to for advice or support? What action steps can you take to get back on track?
Paying conscious attention is a powerful way to feel like you’re taking the reins of your career. Others’ opinions don’t need to matter much unless you value their opinions. Do you feel like there’s something you need to do because “they” say you “should”? Well, who are “they,” and why do you need to listen to what they say.
Some people function from that above-mentioned place of fear, and others operate from a place of abundance and grace. Which lens would you prefer to look through?
Take the reins of your career path. Find your place on the continuum of consciousness. Create a career that works for you, and make your nursing career a work of art of which you’re proud.
Water and feed your nursing career with conscious creativity and attention, and it will feed you from the inside out.
Minority Nurse is thrilled to welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.
Despite their public-facing profession, many nurses put networking activities at the bottom of a to-do list. But keeping a strong professional network is important in good times and bad. You want to have colleagues and professional peers you can reach out to when you are looking for professional opportunities; but in a strong network, you are also able to offer help to others.
Even if you hate networking, keeping up a professional presence beyond your workplace is essential to your career. Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to chat up 50 people at a networking meeting (unless you want to!). Networking encompasses a broad scope–finding what you’re comfortable with and staying active in that platform is important. Every now and then, add in activities that are beyond your comfort zone as those kinds of activities offer tremendous opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Here are a few ways to get started.
Get an active social presence
Nope, that doesn’t mean meeting people face to face. Nurses who have a solid professional presence on social media–including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok–are establishing a professional identity and building a reputation for expertise. Share important news from your organization, your alma mater, your professional organizations, or colleagues. Relay your own experiences and what you have learned in your life to help others. Keep all your posts professional, positive, and informative. Aim to make at least one post a week.
Show your face at events
Yes, in-person attendance is great, but not everyone is able to do that. Find professional organization meetings on Zoom and go to those. Attend seminars, both local and far away, that can help you meet other nurses and folks in other professions. Attend and participate in breakout sessions. Try to schedule this at least once a quarter, more often if you can.
Offer to help
Networking is not a one-way street. Good networking helps your career, but you can also help others–no matter where you are at in your own career. Even as a new nurse, you can offer to help nursing students who are trying to navigate their next steps. Nursing students can give talks at high schools to help introduce younger students to a nursing career. Or stretch past nursing and offer to share your talents in organization, communication, or advocacy with others. The key is to give back to keep your network moving both ways. Try to reach out to help once a month.
Don’t be shy
Networking is a dynamic process and requires attention. Send notes and messages when you see a peer has won an award. Inquire after an event to see how it went or wish good luck before a big presentation. React with praise if warranted to a peer’s LinkedIn post. When you are consistent about reaching out to others without asking for anything in return, it won’t seem so uncomfortable to ask for help when you need it. Nurses are used to taking care of things themselves and asking for something often is the last thing they want to do.
As you become more comfortable with networking and as your network grows larger, you’ll notice how frequently people rely on each other–whether that is for landing a job in your dream organization or for finding a speaker to fill in for a last-minute schedule change at a convention. Practice asking for help, watch how others do it, and begin reaching out to others. Connect with others frequently–this should happen at least once or twice a week.
Building and nourishing a network takes time and effort but will develop meaningful personal and professional connections.
As a nurse, you might think networking isn’t as vital to your career as the on-the-job skills you hone every day. But networking is a vital element of career success.
Networking effectively takes commitment and planning, so taking the time for an approach that will work for you will help you get the most out of anything you do.
You’ll meet people who can help you
When you network, you’ll meet a lot of people–some of them will be able to help you in varying ways and some are just good to know. Making connections is especially beneficial if you’re looking for a new job, but it’s also important for finding out about excellent academic programs, scholarship information, research collaborations, or new industry developments. And the more people you know in the nursing industry, the more information you’ll have to help you avoid anything that doesn’t match your own values and goals.
You’ll meet people you can help
Many people see networking as something that will help them, and sometimes that can detract them from really engaging with the larger nursing community. Nurses are notoriously focused on helping others before they spend time helping themselves. But don’t forget about the immense value you bring to the table. No matter where you are in your career, you have information and perspective that will help others. Whether you can share your technology knowledge, your perspective on diversity issues, or your history in moving to a new role, others will appreciate it.
You’ll gain professional credibility
Those who are prominent in any industry often earn that prominence because they strategically seek out new opportunities and people–they network even when they aren’t looking for anything specific. As more people become familiar with who you are, your name will come up for any range of opportunities. For instance, because you spoke on a local panel, you might be invited to speak at a national conference. Your work on a patient advocacy committee could lead to an invite to teach a course. Your collaboration with a medical center could give you an early heads about a new career opportunity.
You’ll be ready for opportunity
Don’t wait until you need a new job to start networking–build it into your professional plan. When you are attending professional organization meetings or conferences and actively participating on committees and groups, you are establishing an important foundation. That solid foundation ensures your readiness when an opportunity comes along. You will know, and have built relationships with, people you can turn to for advice or for a reference. You’ll understand what experience and skills are important for your next step. And you might even find a new path in nursing you were unaware of.
Networking provides opportunities to make important connections while also giving some of your time and talent back to the industry.
One of the most dreaded job interview questions is this: “What is your biggest fear?” Like a deer caught in headlights, many job candidates don’t know how to answer such a question—should you admit your real fear or should you turn it into a “positive” and skim over it all?
Even if you aren’t job hunting right now, the question, “What is your biggest fear?” is an excellent way to assess your career hopes and plans. Figuring out your underlying dissatisfaction and what areas you are most concerned about can help jolt you into taking action to overcome your biggest concern.
What’s you career fear?
I am not getting anywhere.
After years of being in the same role, it’s easy to assume your chances for advancement are limited. If you are unhappy with your role, it’s time to rethink your career path. Do you want a supervisory role or are you looking for more responsibility in your job duties? Do you want to move from one area of nursing to another? Deciding where you want to go is often the first step in achieving your goal. I am expendable.
Many nurses, at one time or another, feel like their jobs aren’t secure. They aren’t off base—layoffs happen and nurses are often the first target in a hospital staff reduction. They key is to make your presence well-known, well-established, and valuable to your unit and to your whole organization. Always do your best, and go above and beyond your job requirements. Read up on the latest research in your specialty so you’re current with cutting-edge developments. Learn to become the expert on new equipment in your unit. But don’t just do your job and go home. Join a committee within your organization and make an effort to help facilitate change or boost engagement for all employees. I don’t have the qualifications I need for the job I want.
You can’t fake experience. If you need more qualifications to get the job you want, you have to start somewhere, and you might as well start now. But don’t assume you need another degree. Consider the role you want and see what other people in that role have for qualifications. Would more certification help you? What about a switch to experience in a different department or even another area of the country? Qualifications come in many forms, so decide where your need to boost yours and get started on it.
I could do better than this job, these benefits, this organization.
Feeling dissatisfied is a huge red flag that it’s time for a change. What is the root of your concern? Is your organization in financial or ethical trouble? Maybe it’s time to actively open up your own job search. Is your salary below that of other nurses with your education and experience? It might be, but consider all the other factors that play into your salary total and work-life balance. Would a salary boost require a much longer commute? Is your benefits package more generous than most? Being properly compensated for the job you do is essential, so make sure you consider all the factors surrounding your whole benefits/salary/work-life combination. If you are truly underpaid, it’s time to gather hard evidence and talk to your manager or human resources. And if that fails, a new organization might be your next step. Confronting your biggest job fear isn’t a fun task, but it’s one that can get you out of a rut and on the road to a career you want.
“Keeping an open mind” is probably one of the most clichéd expressions within the English lexicon. Yet, when I placed that phrase into action, it sparked my nursing career. I hope that my message will allow others, especially new graduate, millennial registered nurses like myself, to consider a growing yet still relatively small aspect of nursing: home care/visiting nursing.
Like countless other children and teenagers, I had many different career aspirations. However, in retrospect, my becoming a RN is not an extreme surprise. Being the son of Afro-Trinidadian immigrants and growing up in the predominately African American/Caribbean neighborhoods of Central Brooklyn in New York City, I had decent exposure to the health care industry. While it is a generalization, it is common to see many Afro-Caribbeans (e.g., Haitians, Jamaicans, and Trinidadians) in New York City working within health care, ranging from nursing assistants to LPNs, RNs, and so forth. With that assertion, I indeed have family members and friends of my parents who are active in these occupations.
After I finished high school, I did more research on health careers, specifically nursing. Of course, I was not ignorant of the fact that nursing is a profession dominated by women and that, unfortunately, there are myths and stereotypes about men who enter into the profession. Being a man, especially a young African American man, I knew that I was not the image that most people would think of in regards to being a nurse. Nevertheless, I kept an open mind. I enrolled at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn, and I was eventually accepted into the nursing program.
Without a doubt, nursing school was the hardest academic endeavor that I have experienced thus far in my life. It took me time to adjust from a standard memorization model of learning to the analytical and critical-thinking process that is the essence of nursing school. There were times when I wondered if I could ever get that cognitive skill. Of course, despite the fact that I was in school, the process of life still went on. From my anxieties about my future to dealing with illness and death in my family (two of my relatives passed away in roughly a three-month span), nursing school was not easy for me. However, with perseverance, I graduated with my associate’s degree in nursing in January 2011 and passed the NCLEX later that year. I returned to New York City College of Technology to complete the RN-to-BSN program and received my BSN in 2013.
Despite holding my BSN degree, I still found it challenging to find employment with the hospitals in New York City. While I obviously had the degree requirement, I lacked the RN experience that was specified for a majority of the jobs. Also, by speaking with some of my colleagues who were also having issues with nursing employment, I knew that I was not suffering from random bad luck. There were indeed structural issues—things beyond my control—that were affecting the nursing job market. While I was never depressed during this time, it did hurt to some extent to have a viable degree yet no tangible evidence (e.g., a nursing job) to show for it.
To quote the late R&B singer Marvin Gaye, I “heard it through the grapevine” from some of my colleagues about visiting nursing with home health agencies. While it is true that some home health organizations want an experienced nurse (hospital or otherwise), I heard that some organizations were willing to take new graduates and train them as needed for their nursing duties. Even though the thought of going into clients’ homes did not seem overly appealing, given my limited employment options, I once again kept an open mind and did my research. I found organizations within my district of New York City that were willing to take recent graduates.
Currently, I work with three different Licensed Home Care Services Agencies (LHCSA): ValuCare, PellaCare, and The Royal Care, all of which are based in Brooklyn. The crux of my duties as a LHCSA RN includes making a full physical assessment of the client, inspecting their home environment, and viewing their active medications for compliance and side effects. In addition to those tasks, I contact their respective physicians to get pertinent data and give current information. Then, I craft a care plan for the home health aide to follow to assist clients with their needs, from helping them with activities of daily living to calling the EMT/paramedics for emergencies.
Like any subdivision of nursing, there are pros and cons with being a LHCSA RN. For cons, you never know what you might encounter in a client’s home, and being a New Yorker, I do go to some districts that suffer from urban decay. However, the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives. I am able to create my own schedule. If you live in a city with a decent mass transit system like my hometown, you can use the bus, subway, or tram instead of a car. And due to New York’s diversity, I get to see clients of all backgrounds. As minority nurses, being in this role allows us to give back to our respective communities by being agents of preventive care and health advocacy that will hopefully alleviate some of the ailments that afflict minority populations. Finally, with national health care reform, this area of nursing is growing.
Obviously, being a LHCSA RN is not for everybody. If you love the hospital, nursing home, or another clinical setting, then do what is right for you. Nevertheless, given the somewhat tough job market for new nurses, let life be a lesson as it unfolds and keep an open mind.
Brandon Archer, RN, BSN, graduated from New York City College of Technology in 2013 and currently works as a LHCSA RN. He lives in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.