Your Nursing Career Report Card

Your Nursing Career Report Card

Remember when you’d run home with your report card to show your parents how you did in school? Or were you the kid who hid it at the bottom of your bag so they wouldn’t see it? Well, your nursing career deserves a report card, too. So how’ve you been doing, and what grade do you think you deserve?

Report cards can measure performance, communication, talent, intelligence, diligence, attention to detail, time management, relationships, and many other categories. In some schools, letter grades are the norm, while in some alternative schools, there are no grades. Sometimes, our report cards are pass\fail, and we either make the cut or don’t. And sometimes, those grades don’t seem fair.

The Nurse’s Report Card

The nurse’s career report card can look different for everyone, and there are various classifications we can use to measure a nurse’s success. What do you think you excel in, and what could use a boost?

If we look at clinical performance, we can examine and assign a grade to different assessment skills (neuro, psych, cardiac, respiratory, etc.). Clinically, nurses also need to do well in collaboration, communication, documentation, and patient relationships. And those nurses who work in non-clinical roles (like yours truly) need an entirely different measure of their skill sets and responsibilities.

While I don’t use any clinical skills in my current career manifestation (except with friends, family, neighbors, and the occasional stranger on the street), I still think of myself as a nurse and have judgments about where my greatest and weakest skills manifest.

Do you play well with others? Do you readily share your toys? Do you hand in your homework on time? What would your nursing report card say?

What’s on Your Nursing Career Report Card? 

Aside from evaluating and assigning value to your clinical skills, let’s examine your career. For those of you familiar with my blog or podcast, some of these will be familiar since I talk about them ad nauseam. Nevertheless, taking a few moments to assess yourself in a new way is important. Shall we?

Your career toolbox:

Let’s review what this means. Inside your nursing career toolbox is your basic resume, skeleton cover letter, and thank you note; your LinkedIn profile and LinkedIn strategy; your business card (yes, you need one); apps and tools that make your life easier; your professional network; and whatever else moves the needle for you.

If you were to give yourself a grade on the state of your career toolbox, would you get an A? Where could you lean in a little bit more?

Time management:

Time management can be a bear for anyone living in the 21st century. However, since nurses are more apt to care for their neighbors, friends, family, and even strangers, we can be hard-pressed to find time for some aspects of our lives that should receive at least a little attention.

What kind of a grade would you get for your time management skills? How often are you late for appointments? How often do you get home from work much later than you’d like? How badly are you challenged in managing your time professionally, and how does that impact your family and personal life?

Self-care and wellness:

Self-care and personal wellness can be inextricably connected to time management since we can easily let go of our self-care when time slips through our fingers. Get to the gym? “Impossible!” Take a leisurely bath? “Are you kidding me?” Go to a movie? “How indulgent!”

How badly are you falling down on the job of self-care, nurses? What would it take to reprioritize it again and get it back on the calendar? Is it solely a time management issue, or do we need to give you a D for prioritizing your health and well-being?

Collaboration, teamwork, and relationships: 

Teamwork and collaboration are about getting along with others in the sandbox. Collaboration is key in most nursing and healthcare sectors; some of us are better at it than others. Is working on a team hard for you? Do you chafe at sitting through committee meetings? (I know, I know; meetings are usually deadly boring.)

If you work in home health, you must collaborate with the therapists, case managers, schedulers, and aides. In med/surg, you talk with doctors, surgeons, RTs, interventional radiologists, and other nurses. It’s a circus of personalities and ways of being.

Teamwork, collaboration, and professional development are so important; how are you doing? Is there something that needs to change so that you develop yourself in this career area?


Many nurses wait to do assiduous networking until they’ve lost a job and are in the job market, desperate to find work. You’ll likely get a D or F in this category if you’re not consistently and actively building your network and nurturing professional relationships.

Happiness and satisfaction:

Being happy in your personal and professional lives should be measured on your career report card. Maybe you do all the “right” things, but you’re still miserable; in that case, something has to give.

Your resume may be awesome, and your nursing skills could be through the roof, but if you’re in the dumps every day about the direction your career is heading, it’s time for a change.

What is it that makes you tick? Where do you find satisfaction? How do you manifest joy in your life?

How would you grade your personal and professional happiness and satisfaction? Be honest!

Career/professional development:

It’s easy to fall into stagnation in your nursing career. We’ve likely all done it at times, and this type of complacency can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and downright unhappiness and misery.

Career development means different things to different nurses, depending on where you are in your nursing career.

For you, it might mean earning a BSN, MSN, PhD, or DNP. For someone else, it’s volunteering and meeting new people. For yet another nurse, it might entail becoming an EHR super-user or joining a QA committee at work. Finally, you might join your state nursing association and learn how to lobby your legislators about important public health bills under consideration. Career development is a personal journey, and how you develop your nursing career is as idiosyncratic as it is important.

Meanwhile, we acknowledge that there are times when doing anything about our careers is the furthest thing from our minds. When a baby has been born, a parent is ill, or a spouse is disabled or out of work, the personal understandably takes precedence over the professional. But when the dust clears and life is more or less on an even keel, it’s time to lean in again.

Make the Grade

Nurses, no one but you issues your career report card unless you engage with a career coach or other professional to help you raise your grades. Sure, I can tutor you in resume writing, LinkedIn, interview skills, and networking, but the final grade is up to you.

Would you like to change that calculation if you’re playing well with others but aren’t getting enough recess?

If you stay current on evidence-based nursing research but haven’t upgraded your resume in a while, is that an area worthy of focus and attention?

Have you made your well-being so low on the priority list that your health has suffered? Are you OK with that?

Making the grade is about you, what you want, and where you’re going in your nursing career. It’s not about the pressure from others about what they think you should do. It’s all about what will bring you the most joy, health, satisfaction, and professional success you desire to create for yourself.

Your Career Homework

Review the seven categories listed above and grade yourself between A+ and F. To review, they are:

  1. Your career toolbox
  2. Time management
  3. Self-care and wellness
  4. Collaboration, teamwork, and relationships
  5. Networking
  6. Happiness and satisfaction
  7. Career/professional development

Once you’ve done that, decide which areas you’ll tackle, a timeline for doing so, and a set of actionable, measurable, and achievable steps to bring that grade up next “semester.” If you need a tutor and a cheerleader in that process, email me, and we can work together on bringing your report card up to speed.

Manifesting the nursing career you want isn’t always easy. Measuring your relative success and taking inspired action can also be a challenge. But in the interest of your career and calling as a nurse, you couldn’t choose a better way to focus your energy to create the life and career you want and deserve.

Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature 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.