You’ve been working as a shift nurse for a few years. You love it, and you love caring for patients. But there’s always been something else calling to you: leadership.
How do you start? What steps should you take? Do you need more education?
Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.
Making the Shift to Leadership
“Think about how you want to influence the health care system at large,” says Rachel Neill, MSN, RN, CPPS, Founder of InnovatRN Consulting, Chief Clinical Advisor for HealthEdGlobal, and a Clinician Advocate at Vivian Health. “Leadership roles often provide opportunities to affect change at higher levels and support health care teams across disciplines.”
If you’re not certain that leadership is for you, Ophelia M. Byers, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, NEA-BC, CPXP, CDE, Chief Nursing Office, Overlook Medical Center, and Associate Chief Nurse Executive, Atlantic Health System says “it’s important to gain knowledge that will inform decision-making.” Read nurse leadership textbooks, journal articles, and books by or including nurse leaders. She suggests Fast Facts for Making the Most of Your Career in Nursing, edited by Dr. Rhoda Redulla.
Once you’ve decided to move to leadership, Byers says you need to determine your track. “There are two formal leadership roles: supervisory/managerial and non-supervisory/functional. In supervisory or managerial leadership, the leader has direct and indirect reports that comprise a team and is responsible for the care of those people and the operation, e.g., staff on a clinical unit. In non-supervisory or functional leadership, the leader does not have any reporting team members but rather is responsible for overseeing a specific function (e.g., Nurse Educator) or program (e.g., Magnet Program Director),” she explains.
Find a mentor, says Desiree Hodges, MBA, RN, CCRN, NE-BC, The Vice President of Care Services at the ALS Association North Carolina. “Having someone in your corner is truly key. I recommend having a trusted source give you a 360 evaluation, taking personality surveys, etc. We all have blind spots when it comes to communication, which allows you to recognize your bias,” she explains.
Know about the tasks you may be doing that you aren’t doing now. “You may oversee budgets, organize staff training, and otherwise ensure that nurses follow the right procedures and protocols,” advises Kelly Conklin, MSN, CENP, SVP, Chief Clinical Officer for PerfectServe.
If you don’t have that experience, you may need to earn a higher degree than the one you hold and/or obtain certifications. “Know your organization’s requirements, reach out to your current leader and discuss your plans to obtain the necessary degrees or certifications,” says Hodges. “The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses has an online course designed just for nurses new to leadership roles that cover the basics of finance, human resources, safety, and quality, as well as the leadership skills to be successful in the role of nurse manager.”
Trust your instincts as well, Neill says. And don’t forget your experiences as a nurse at patients’ bedsides. “When moving into a leadership role, it is important to have a direct leader and health care system that will support you as you navigate this transition. In addition, the nurse leader serves as the first-line advocate for the nurses doing the daily work. You cannot support the nurses adequately without a team/system to support you as a leader,” she says.
Conklin says that no matter what you choose to do, “Don’t cut yourself off from opportunities—whatever they may be—that challenge your thinking and bring you to a higher knowledge.”
Nursing jobs offer the kind of high salary and job demand that make them especially noteworthy. In the Indeed list, a registered nurse (RN) earned the top spot for its strong salary potential (listing an average base salary at $84,074) and the 34 percent increase in job postings from 2019-22. For every one million job postings in the survey’s timeframe, 619 of those were for RNs. U.S. News & World Report gave an RN role the number 12 spot of best jobs for its low unemployment, longevity of the career, and meaningful work.
A nurse practitioner role, which requires more education, landed in the number eight spot with an average base salary of $128,105 and an impressive 100 percent job posting growth rate over the past three years. U.S. News & World Report gave the second top spot to a NP role (it earned the number one spot in the organization’s Top 100 Healthcare Jobs), mentioning the high salary and the low unemployment rate of 1.2 percent.
The Covid pandemic sharpened an already growing need for nurses, so the growth rate for these kinds of jobs isn’t surprising. It does speak to the job security of a nursing career; nurses often don’t have to go far to find an open position in the field. And if they aren’t able to find the exact job they want, they have many other options to keep them gainfully employed while they continue their job search.
Hidden within the statistics is the potential for nurses to find the jobs that work for their professional goals and personal needs. They may want a job that allows them to move between roles or specialties and to have a career that is relevant on a global level. Nurses are able to move into different units in their local area or find jobs at healthcare organizations in rural areas and densely populated urban centers alike. They can work as a travel nurse to gain experience while also living in varied locations or they can acquire experience to pursue advocacy roles. Nurses have flexibility if they are seeking jobs with scheduling options or if they want to work in particular areas or with specific populations of interest to them.
With a high demand for skilled nurses–in patient-facing roles and in administrative roles–the trend of nursing job growth means nurses are in an excellent position to find the job that suits them best.
Nurses are in high demand across all health care settings right now, and health care recruiters are an excellent resource to help nurses find the best job. With excess strain on resources from the pandemic and nurses leaving the profession from retirement or burn out, many organizations are anxious to fill empty positions. A health care recruiter can be the link that connects qualified nurses with the right opportunity.
Because of the tight job market, health care recruiters tend to reach out to nurses right now, rather than being sought out by nurses. Whether a nurse is contacted by or is reaching out to a recruiter, Mazzaro offers some suggestions to make the experience better and raise the chances of nurses finding just the right role.
Mazzaro says a health care recruiter will talk with job candidates to find out how their skills will fill the organization’s needs, and they also want to know what a nurse is looking for in a job. They are the first step in the hiring process, and so are an excellent resource for nurses to find out if things like pay and benefits or shift opportunities will meet their expectations. She even invites nurses to join a LinkedIn group specifically for job-seeking nurses.
Apply If You Have the Needed Skills
“If you see a job you want to do, apply for it if you’re qualified,” she says. But if the job description says you need five years of experience and you’re a new nurse, don’t send in a resume. “Read the job posting and be respectful of what’s written,” she says. If you write a cover letter, make sure you have the proper organization and names in the letter. Mazzaro says she’s received letters in which a competitor organization was listed. That lack of attention to detail will immediately disqualify you.
Give All the Details
Make sure your resume is up-to-date, says Mazzaro. If you provide all the necessary and accurate details it will save time in the hiring process. Some organizations calculate pay based on years of experience, so if you’ve been a nurse for 30 years, say so. Be clear and specific about what type of unit you work on. List your specific accomplishments and describe the types of patients you work with.
Understand the Job
If you are moving from one nursing responsibility to another, have an understanding of what the job means for you. Knowing the job’s typical duties is essential so you know how your skills will help you succeed and how you’ll help the organization. But also understand other details such as if you are moving from a night shift to a day shift, the pay rate might change. And if you’re moving from a staff nurse to an administrative role, you’ll be expected to have different hours and benefits. If you’re coming off a travel contract in particular, being realistic about the salary you’ll make as a staff nurse is essential, says Mazzaro.
Be Honest with the Recruiter
“Do some research and talk with the recruiter,” says Mazzaro. “The time to talk about salary and benefits is with the recruiter and not when you’re interviewing with the hiring manager.” And also be open about your needs. Do you want a traditional schedule or do you really need three 12-hour shifts to accommodate your life? How far are you willing to commute? And Mazzaro says she always asks nurses why they are looking for a new job. “I want to find out what’s important to them,” she says.
A health care recruiter is an excellent resource for nurses who want a new job. Because nurses are in such demand, you might hear from one about opportunities you didn’t know were available. For the best results, be honest about your needs and wants in a job. With the right information, a health care recruiter can place you in a new role that will advance your career and benefit the organization you’re joining.
Hospitals remain the top employers for nurses, but they are certainly not the only places where nurses can find a fulfilling career. Some may find that their true passion is in helping others outside the confines of an inpatient setting. And luckily, that is possible. There is a great need nowadays for compassionate and skilled nurses who can serve people in the community setting. Listed here are just a few examples of specialty areas in community health that nurses may want to consider.
Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing
Hospice nurses provide comfort-focused care to patients who have a life expectancy of six months or less. Palliative care, though sometimes used interchangeably with hospice, is slightly different in that patients do not necessarily have to be in the terminal phase of their disease process. Palliative care nurses care for seriously ill individuals who are dealing with discomfort as a result of chronic diseases or treatments used to manage these diseases. Regardless of the technical differences between them, both hospice and palliative care nurses specialize in symptom management. Rather than focusing on curing patients, hospice and palliative care nurses promoting comfort, which may involve managing chronic pain, respiratory distress, or nausea, among other things. While some hospice and palliative patients are cared for in hospitals, many also receive care in their homes.
If you are skilled with IVs, then you might consider working as an infusion nurse. Infusion nurses start and maintain various kinds of intravenous lines. Not only do they administer medications, but they also provide monitoring for their patients to make sure that treatments are effective and are not causing any adverse effects. Those who have had a lot of experience with IVs in the hospital setting might find this type of nursing appealing. Many companies, including home health agencies and pharmacies, are hiring skilled nurses who can provide infusions to patients in the community.
Wound Care Nursing
Wound care nursing is a specialty area for nurses who have a passion for helping patients afflicted with wounds, some of whom have chronic and debilitating injuries that put them at high risk for infections. Among the people who require the services of wound care nurses include bedbound patients, diabetics, patients with chronic circulation problems, and patients who have had accidents or surgeries. If you are interested in this kind of nursing, you may also want to consider getting some type of certification in wound care nursing. Your expertise will be valued by many organizations and you may see patients in their homes as a traveling consultant for durable medical equipment companies and healthcare agencies that specialize in wound treatment.
Worker’s Compensation Nursing
Getting injured at work can affect one’s life in many ways. Depending on its severity, workplace-related injuries may affect more than just one’s physical health. Losing the ability to work can also cause mental and financial strain. As a worker’s compensation nurse, you will have the opportunity to help these individuals get their life back on track. You will have the role of a case manager who will ensure that your patients get the high-quality treatment necessary to restore them to their highest level of function.
When you think of an educator, you may picture someone who is in a classroom, lecturing and scribbling notes on a chalkboard. While nurses do teach in academic settings, there are also nurse educators who work in the community. These are nurses who may work for pharmaceutical or medical equipment companies that are selling highly technical products. The job of nurse educators, in these cases, is to assist other health care providers in understanding how these products work so that they can be safely utilized in clinical settings.
Public Health Nursing
Public health nurses wear many hats. They may go out and educate communities about preventing the spread of certain types of diseases. They may go into clinics to provide vaccinations. Other times, public health nurses may visit people in their homes to ensure that they are living under humane and sanitary conditions. In some cases, they may also function as medical case managers for underserved individuals in the community. Whatever they do, the main role of public health nurses is to safeguard and promote the health and well-being of the communities they serve.
One of the beauties of the nursing profession is the sheer diversity of available opportunities. Inpatient settings, like hospitals, are just one of the many places where nurses can share their talents and make a difference. Nurses have a lot of freedom in shaping the course of their careers and if you are looking for a change of pace, now could be your chance to do so. Who knows, you just might find your calling as a community health nurse.
Med-surg is one area of nursing, but the skillset required of these nurses covers a wide breadth and depth of responsibilities. Med-surg nurses, the largest specialty of nurses, work in all areas of healthcare. They are hired to treat patients in hospitals, health centers, surgical centers, and offices. Med-surg nurses also find their skills in high demand so this role is a popular one for travel nurses as well.
If you’re a nursing student considering this as a career path, you might wonder what does a med-surg nurse do? Nurses in this role practice a high-level of hands-on care with their patients. They are treating patients who are ill with various ailments or they may care for those who are preparing for or recovering from surgery.
As with anyone in a nursing career, med-surg nurses need to have excellent critical thinking skills and must be confident in their work. They’re required to make immediate decisions and to notice when a patient’s health has changed in the slightest way.
As a med-surg nurse, you’ll be using the skills you have to assess the whole patient, so even if you’re treating someone who is recovering from a GI surgery, you’ll be watching for other symptoms or changes. You’ll want to be alert to changes in breathing, new indications of pain, and even changes in skin color that others may not see in their assessments.
Because of this essential high level of awareness and understanding of the patient, you’ll need to know a lot of information and be committed to a lifelong learning process. Med-surg nurses have all reached the professional attainment of a registered nurse. As a professional med-surg nurse, becoming certified is an additional step that shows you will provide the highest level of care to your patients and also demonstrates a dedication to the nursing practice. As med-surg nurses continue to advance in their careers, they should pursue recertification to continue learning of the latest developments and advances that will help them care for their patients.
If you’re already working as a med-surg nurse, this is a week to celebrate all your life-saving work. Be sure to check out the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses week-long celebration including several virtual events you can tune into for free. As an experienced nurse in this area, you know this career offers constant change and you probably see new conditions and challenges all the time. During a year of a worldwide pandemic, however, your career probably looks very different than any other year. The COVID-19 crisis has posed a serious threat to the physical and mental health of med-surg nurses even as it reaffirmed their commitment to helping save lives.
During this year’s med-surg nurses celebrations, reassessing how you can support yourself and your team is important. Talk to your colleagues to see how you can all work together when you are seeing more patients than you ever have at once. Talk with family, friends, or professional therapists to help when you are overwhelmed. And continue to reaffirm your career choice and know a world is grateful for the work you do.