The Seasons of Your Nursing Career

The Seasons of Your Nursing Career

When people in their 80s or 90s talk about their experiences, they may often refer to being in the autumn or winter of life. We can also think about our nursing careers in the same way. If you were to reflect on your career in terms of its various seasons, how would you describe where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re heading?the-seasons-of-your-nursing-career

The Promise of Spring 

Graduating from nursing school is when your career begins formulating, with taproots making their way into the fertile soil of possibility. As you achieve landmarks like passing the NCLEX, getting licensed, and landing your first job, those taproots begin to take hold.

With the accumulation of new skills or knowledge, those taproots dig deeper, and your confidence in yourself as a nursing professional grows.

In the spring of your career, your trust in your abilities and knowledge increases with each successful patient encounter. Even though you’re a novice, with each blood draw, catheterization, medication administration, or correctly interpreted ECG, things begin to make more sense, and one day, you realize that certain things have become second nature.

The spring of your nursing career feeds on the moisture, nutrition, and compost of accumulating experience and confidence.

Sailing into Summer

You practice many skills entering the summer of your career with great certainty, and you may feel ambitious about your plans.

In the summer of your career, you begin to feel like a true professional. You know what you’re doing, and if there’s something you don’t understand, you can usually figure it out using your increasing powers of critical thinking. With more experience under your belt, the summer of your career is marked by a sense of increasing belonging and ease.

We must remember that things can get stormy even in the summer. You may be challenged by something you’ve never encountered, which may lead to temporary lapses of confidence. If you’re unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of bullying or incivility, you may not be as confident as you would have been. If you’ve been employed by organizations with weak leadership or toxic cultures, these experiences may have stripped away some of the natural joy of maturing into your career.

In the best circumstances, the summer of your career means you can dig deep into what you know, apply your knowledge and experience, and be confident enough to turn to mentors for guidance when uncertain. Sometimes, being confident means knowing when to admit what you don’t know.

The summer of your nursing career may see you changing specialties, pursuing certification, or going back to school. During the summer, you’re filled with the promise of the future. If things have gone relatively well and you’ve had a majority of positive work experiences, you continue to mature and grow into your role as a nurse with each passing day.

Settling into Autumn

Autumn is a time of transition when the leaves begin to change color, and you may even encounter a certain level of decay. The autumn of your career could be when you find yourself at the peak of your powers, perhaps mentoring others or serving as a leader.

Like the autumn of our lives in our 50s or 60s, the autumn of our nursing career may be marked by a certain level of maturity and certainty as a nurse but also a sense that the summer has passed.

This might be a time when some of the slings and arrows of the past come back to haunt you, and you feel somewhat bruised and battered by the experience of being a nurse. But in the best-case scenario, the autumn of your career can translate to knowing who you are, knowing what you know, and being aware that you’re an expert in your chosen area of professional focus.

The Quiet of Winter

In the winter of your career, you may experience a sense of winding down and completion. If you’re in a strong financial position, you may decide to work part-time, take a sabbatical, or actively plan for retirement.

If your economic situation means you need to continue working, you may choose a less strenuous position. Just as in the winter of life, your physical strength and endurance may be somewhat decreased, and you may be faced with the knowledge that the most productive years of your professional life are behind you. 

In the winter of your nursing career, attending conferences, gaining more certifications and skills, or returning to school may feel much less imperative. Then again, you may enroll in a master’s or PhD program more for your personal growth than for any professional gains that another degree could bring.

These later years of your career may or may not be about resting on your laurels and enjoying the fruit of your many years of labor. After all of your hard work, no one can argue that you don’t deserve it.

To Each Season its Time

Each season of your nursing career will not necessarily match the season of your personal life. Developmental life stages and professional development do not always happen in concert.

For example, if another nurse began their nursing career in the spring of their life (her 20s, for example) and your career began in your 40s (which one might call the summer of life), your career experiences may have been radically different. That nurse in their 20s may have been single and childless, while you may have jumped into a new nursing career when your family life was in full swing with marriage and children, and possibly aging parents to care for, to boot.

Whether the seasons of your life and career are a perfect match or seem incongruous to those outside, the most important thing is for them to feel cohesive to you. No matter where you find yourself on the personal and professional continuums, your job is to find your natural place in those processes and make the best of each.

In every season, there is a time, and no matter where you find yourself, that time is now.

Nurse be Nimble, Nurse be Quick

Nurse be Nimble, Nurse be Quick

The notion of pivoting in your nursing career isn’t a new one, and that readiness to pivot can emerge from having a nimble mindset and a willingness to read the tea leaves of your career. Nurse, are you nimble?

Being nimble in your career means you’re willing to think beyond what’s right in front of you. It also means preparing and paving the groundwork for something you want – and if you don’t know what you want, you’re at least asking the right questions.

Many nurses settle into an area of nursing, rest on their laurels, and think less of the future than they should. These nurses don’t necessarily think a great deal about what they may want in five or ten years; thus, when they’re suddenly feeling unhappy and itchy for change, there’s much more work to be done due to the years they’ve spent avoiding any forward movement or thought for the future.

Listen to the voices that you hear. Pay attention to the ever-evolving zeitgeist of your industry. Know what other people think, and if you work in an evidence-based profession, follow the evidence when it pertains to you and your area of expertise.

The Consequences of Non-Action

In Buddhism, the concept of non-action is an important one. You know the adage, “Don’t just sit there, do something?” In certain circumstances, it’s sometimes better to turn that around and say, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” However, when it comes to your career and its ongoing trajectory, I prefer action, even if that action is listening, thinking, and asking salient questions.

Let’s say you’re a nurse like me who worked in home health for the first decade of your career. You’ve never worked in the hospital, and while you love home health, you’ve been feeling called to finally take the plunge and enter the world of acute care. This may be a tough row since you’ve been in outpatient nursing for your entire career, but there’s no saying it’s impossible.

During these past ten years, when you’ve been focusing exclusively on home health, you haven’t done any networking, your resume is a mess, and you have few contacts beyond your small universe of home care colleagues. All along, you’ve never considered that any of the hospital staff you’ve met could be helpful to your career, so you haven’t connected with anyone on LinkedIn, built relationships, or otherwise laid the groundwork for the future.

In your mind, you’d like to jump right into the ICU, but common sense says that without any hospital experience since nursing school, you’re going to have to pay some dues, prove your mettle, and begin with a position in med-surg, step-down, or a sub-acute floor. Sure, you’d love to land an ICU position, but you don’t have the nursing skills or the connections to get you there. Your road will be challenging, but it’s not impossible – it’ll just take time and diligent action.

Reading the Inner Landscape

Being nimble of mind means being open to possibility. It also means that, in terms of your career, you’re steeped in curiosity and expansiveness rather than wearing blinders.

As a nurse who is nimble of mind and quick to grasp the opportunity, you read your immediate surroundings, the healthcare landscape around you, and the landscape within your heart and mind.

If there’s an inkling in your head or heart that what you’re doing now won’t hold water for you in a few years, now is the time to take inspired action in a new direction. That inspired action can simply be chatting with a nurse or manager who you know and trust, reaching out to a career coach for inspiration or ideas, or seeking informational interviews with professionals who are holders of information that may be helpful to you.

If you maintain awareness of how you feel about your career and work life, you’re more likely to take preemptive action that will incite change rather than being reactive when the going gets tough.

Remain Awake and Aware

We can all get sleepy and lazy at specific points in our lives. We feel comfortable, settle into the status quo, and conveniently forget or ignore that we may want something more down the road.

You must remain awake and aware of the possibility, understanding that every colleague you meet could be a source of brilliant information that will wake you up to something new. If you’re feeling complacent in your career, there’s no time like the present to do something about it and take a forward step.

As professionals, there’s always the micro and the macro. The micro is the minutiae of the day-to-day, the details of our lives and work. Meanwhile, the macro is the bigger picture, the bird’s eye view, and this is where we need to keep at least a little attention. Getting caught up in the web of details is easy, but those details can close your eyes to the broader career horizon.

Being nimble and quick doesn’t necessarily mean turning on a dime or being blown in some new direction with every wind that comes your way. Being nimble and quick means that you’re listening, willing to change, and quick to perceive that change may be in the air.

Is your workplace unstable? Do you need to be happier in your role? Do you feel limited or stuck? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do as a nurse? Is your current specialty area drying up and being supplanted by new technologies or skills?

I’m glad these questions make you uncomfortable because a bit of discomfort will galvanize you toward change if change is what is called for.

Nurse be nimble, nurse be quick. Nurse, consider your future, and keep your eyes wide open.

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.

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.

Defining Nursing Career Success on Your Terms

Defining Nursing Career Success on Your Terms

Every nurse and healthcare professional has the opportunity to define career success in their own way. However, how many of us allow our nursing careers to be defined by someone else? How can we seize control of our careers and define success on our terms?

Beyond a Cookie-Cutter Career

At this time, your definition of success may mean earning your MSN by age 35 and your PhD or DNP by age 45. On the other hand, for one of your nurse colleagues, success may mean getting a BSN, finding a job to pay the bills, and putting a child through college. For another, it’s taking a year off and traveling the globe on an around-the-world ticket. And why not?

There are many prescriptions for a successful nursing career, but cookie-cutter solutions are just approximations of what’s possible for you. What works for Jane, the nurse, doesn’t necessarily add up for Bill, the nurse. Jane and Bill have different life histories, goals, professional experiences, family circumstances, and responsibilities, so they must forge an individualized path.

Just because “they” say you need two years of med/surg before pursuing other opportunities doesn’t make that true for you. As a new grad, I skipped med/surg and acute care altogether and never looked back as I created a career focused on community health and home health nursing – did I miss out on some experiences? Sure. Do I care? Not really. It was my choice, and the consequences of that decision are mine to bear, whatever they may be.

Your Own Compass

When a hiker strikes off into the woods, they often use a compass (an old-fashioned version or an app) to keep from getting lost. All compasses universally point out where north, south, east, and west are. So the hiker can use those cardinal directions with a detailed topographic map to make good decisions about where they’re heading.

Not so with a nursing or healthcare career – true north for one nurse is dead wrong for another. For most new grads, that first professional expedition out of school means marching right into an acute care position – that’s true north in many cases. But for us nurse iconoclasts, rebels, and black sheep, we may very well turn around and march in the opposite direction than our peers, and that’s OK.

Wherever you are in your nursing career, you must find your own compass and solicit the drummer who will play the beat that moves your feet toward your own definition of success.

Defining Your Success

You need to know your thoughts and feelings to take the bull by the horns and define success on your terms. This may seem rudimentary, but many of us are buffeted by the winds of opinion that others force on us. We may also be influenced by our peers’ choices, even if they don’t tell us what to choose or do.

Knowing what you truly think and feel necessitates exploring your motivations, goals, and desires and identifying the preconceived notions you brought to your professional nursing career. Unfortunately, we all have career baggage and self-judgments that hold us back and keep us from making choices that are truest to our nature.

These questions (and others, of course) may hopefully lead to further exploration and the uncovering of what you want:

  • What are my greatest strengths? What do I bring to the table as a nurse and healthcare professional?
  • What are my “weaknesses”? Where do I need to bolster my knowledge, expertise, and/or experience?
  • What are the things that are potential threats to my success and happiness? (e.g., Do I lack motivation? Am I going through a difficult divorce? Do I have medical or mental health conditions that negatively impact me at home or work? Is a lot of my energy taken up by caring for an elderly parent or disabled loved one?)
  • What opportunities are out there just waiting for me to seize them?
  • Who might be a good networking connection?
  • What are past experiences that can lead to new opportunities in the future?

Staying Focused

Many factors will influence what we do in our nursing careers over time. If your circumstances change (e.g., divorce, marriage, birth of a child, etc.), you may need to adjust your work schedule. If a big corporation buys your hospital and heads roll left and right, you may need to abandon ship before things get terrible.

Threats, opportunities, and stuff that happen may cause you to lose focus and deviate from a clear career plan. These abrupt turns can be advantageous happy accidents but can also lead you unhappily astray.

Staying focused means you consciously choose to keep your eyes on the prize, maintain the integrity of your plans, and simultaneously be open to serendipity and the unknown. An open mind will serve you best in just about all situations.

Know Thyself

Creating a nursing career on your terms calls on you to know yourself as well as possible. The advice mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg: find coaches, mentors, counselors, therapists, colleagues, and/or accountability partners who can listen well, hold your feet to the fire, question your motivations, and otherwise be there when you’re at your strongest or your weakest.

Dig deep and get to know yourself. If you do nothing else, self-reflection and increased self-knowledge will benefit every aspect of your life, not to mention your relationships with those around you.

Defining your nursing career on your terms isn’t rocket science, but it’s also not as simple as it seems. Do the work, put in the sweat equity, and you’ll be rewarded with self-knowledge, self-confidence, and an understanding of what makes you tick in your personal and professional lives. The rest is the icing on the cake.

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.

Overcoming Mission Drift in Your Nursing Career

Overcoming Mission Drift in Your Nursing Career

Has your nursing career drifted off course? Do you need to align your career path with your personal or professional mission? You’re not alone, and there’s something you can do about it.

Going Adrift

We all choose nursing as a career for a variety of reasons. For some, nursing is the prudent career choice to put food on the table for our families. For others, it’s a lifelong dream. And for still others, the mission and vision of being a nurse develop over time, no matter the original reason for pursuing this particular professional path.

It’s a given that various factors impact our career choices. It’s also apparent that foreseen and unforeseen circumstances govern our personal and professional lives. To be fair to ourselves, we can choose to see ourselves and our careers with compassion when our professional life goes off course, our work loses meaning, and we feel at sea on an ocean of self-doubt and mission drift.

Identifying Where Your Career Went Off Course

Once you acknowledge that your career is off course, the next step is identifying where things went awry. This isn’t always easy, but it can be done — with or without professional help in unpacking the state of your nursing career.

First, look back at why you chose to pursue nursing in the first place. Was it for the money? Did a family legacy influence you? Did you choose nursing because of a personal experience that inspired you? Did you see nursing as a solid career offering flexibility, a decent living, and a varied career?

Once you remember why nursing seemed right then, consider the course of your career from the beginning until now. What choices did you make? Did you find work environments that suited your personality and interests? If you managed to change specialties at some point during your nursing career, what prompted the change, and did it bring you increased satisfaction?

After enumerating these various aspects of your career, it’s time to dig deeper and begin to wrestle with why you’re unhappy or feel off-kilter. Be brutally honest, and assess what it is about your current career trajectory that isn’t sitting well with you. We all change over time, and what may have seemed exciting or fulfilling ten years ago may now seem loathsome, dull, or overly stressful.

Aside from your career and job choices, you must also evaluate your personal life. For example, did you have a child or two since becoming a nurse? Did you get married or divorced? Has a loved one become disabled or died since you became a nurse? What age-related changes do you perceive in your life and health?

The circumstances of your personal life are impacting your work more than you thought. Several babies born in a few short years can change your feelings about work. A divorce can throw you off your game. A little self-compassion can go a long way here.

No matter how or what went off course, you can get back on target when you’re ready to do the work to get there.

Creating Your Future

When you’ve identified what brought you to the game in the first place, you’ve taken the first step. And once you’ve been honest enough to name what’s gone wrong or isn’t working, you’ve taken another leap forward into a new and exciting future.

Now you need to conceptualize — and verbalize — your new career vision and mission. Career drift can’t really be overcome until you can catch a glimpse of what you truly want. A mission and vision come from clearly understanding your motivations and desires. These can be identified in various ways, and you don’t always need a career or life coach to do it (but that can sometimes help).

Do you want to work with children and heal some deeper part of yourself that wasn’t loved as a child? Is working with underserved populations close to your heart? Have you realized that providing nursing care to injured combat veterans in honor of your father’s service is where your heart lies?

Sometimes what drove us to nursing isn’t what continues to light our fire.

When I was first in nursing school, I was sure I’d graduate and serve the dying with dignity and compassion by opening an inpatient hospice. Although I did a fair amount of hospice care over the years, I would never have known that fifteen years later, I’d be focused with the laser-like intention of helping nurses create more satisfying and inspiring careers. I also wouldn’t have guessed that freelance writing, blogging, speaking at conferences, consulting, and podcasting would further support that vision.

My future crept up on me over time — it didn’t hit me over the head. My career was certainly focused on community health and outpatient care for a long time. Still, the other pieces that got me up in the morning were nowhere in sight in 1996 when I graduated from community college with an ADN. My journey was circuitous and unexpected at times.

Creating your future involves assessing the present and seeing what is and isn’t working. This can be subtle, take time, or happen overnight in a grand epiphany of self-awareness and clarity. No matter what, it generally doesn’t all come together without some concerted effort on your part.

Mission Back on Course

Career mission drift can happen for personal and professional reasons. And how you can get back on the course are also varied and based on your needs, motivations, desires, and personal drive.

A nursing career that feels adrift is no fun, and it can sap your satisfaction and inspiration to get out of bed and report to work. Staying focused on what you want out of your career is essential, and since this is a moving target throughout your life, it takes ongoing assessment and reassessment to figure it out along the way.

Be real, honest, and willing to do the work to unearth why your career is off base and how dedicated you are to getting back to a place of inspiration and feeling great about being a nurse.

No one said this is easy, but it’s worth it. If you spend a third of your life working, why not do work that brings you joy and satisfaction? Those are two of the most powerful engines for your personal life and career success. So get back on track and experience more joy in your nursing career — you’ll never regret doing what you love.

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.