As many new and experienced nurses all know, there are plenty of things to learn to be a competent and successful nurse. There are the basics, such as administering medication and filling out charts that every nurse should have a solid understanding of. Then there are the more subtle skills that the best nurses have such as bedside manner and an ability to make visitors feel at ease.
Of course, there are also plenty of things to learn that can also help you to advance your nursing career. Taking courses that allow you to specialize as a nurse are great examples of moving your career forward. Likewise, learning how to incorporate new technologies or focusing on integrating new systems is another way to strengthen your resume.
Though you may not immediately realize it, all of the advancements you are making and all of the knowledge you are gaining help more than just you. Taking forward strides in your nursing career impacts everyone you interact with positively. From your nursing coworkers and doctors that can depend upon you for more to your patients that can sense the breadth of your knowledge, advancing your career helps everyone else.
Improving Hard Skills
Perhaps the most straightforward way to move forward with your nursing career is to focus on improving your hard skills. These are steps like refining your clinical judgment during your first year as a nurse or working towards a specialized certification that allows you to take on greater roles and responsibilities. In general, hard skills are tangible educational advancements in your career.
Hard skills can also include things that are necessarily directly tied to improving the health of patients. For instance, it could include something like learning how to use a new patient tracking software. Technologies are exploding in health care fields, and any efforts to learn the latest and greatest are sure to have a positive impact on your workflows.
The general idea of boosting hard skills is that you are becoming more confident and competent in your nursing abilities. You are learning new concepts and ideas that allow you to take on more responsibility and improve efficiency. These can be pretty obvious benefits to your career, to your supervisors, and to the patients you work with.
Boosting Soft Skills
Equally important to improving hard skills is giving your soft skills a boost as well. This can be a bit more complex than hard skills because soft skills are … well, soft. They aren’t as tangible or easily defined and the benefits, though incredibly valuable, can be more subtle and hard to tease out. However, these are the skills that could prove to make the most significant difference in patient lives.
Empathy is one of the most highly valued soft skills, especially in nursing. It is essentially the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and sympathize with their situation. For nurses, having well-developed empathy skills allows for better bedside treatment, the anticipation of needs, and a more caring demeanor when working with difficult or emotional patients and visitors.
Cultural competence is another soft skill that is important for nurses to have. Cultural competence is the idea of being able to help and treat patients from different backgrounds in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way. It is having the wherewithal to recognize that there are differences in lived experiences between different ethnicities and anticipating how these differences may play out in a healthcare setting.
Benefits for All
There are many, many benefits to be seen from advancing your nursing career. Some of them are going to seem small but will have significant lasting impacts. For instance, maybe you took a class on health insurance policy. You could find that suddenly, you’re in a better position to increase the health literacy of your patients by helping them understand what certain procedures mean and what their health insurance is likely to cover the cost of.
Or maybe improving your hard and soft skills has given you a new perspective on nursing as a whole. The knowledge could put you into a position to be an advocate for better nursing or bedside conditions in your hospital or state. You could find yourself empathizing with a greater number of concerns and becoming an advocate for nurses on a much larger scale.
Your efforts to advance your nursing career could earn you the respect of many of your colleagues and put you into a position to take on greater leadership roles. You may quickly realize that with your new skills you will qualify for a higher paying position. All of these advancements could greatly improve your reach as a nurse, allowing you to positively impact more lives.
There is a never-ending list of new things to learn as a nurse. Working towards building on your knowledge and expanding what you already know can be a great way to improve your career. It can also be a meaningful way to benefit your hospital, coworkers, patients, and community.
It’s difficult to imagine there was ever a time that health care workers were not in demand. As the population grows and people are living longer, it is becoming a struggle to keep up with even the most basic requirements of the country. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted a 16% growth in health care employment opportunities by 2030, which it states is faster than any other industry. Throw into this the pressures of the pandemic and a widening skills gap, and you have a great many understaffed facilities.
While this is a concerning state of affairs, it also presents opportunities. Whether you’re about to graduate from college or have already started your health care career, there are chances for advancement.
We’re going to take a moment to review a few of the elements you should be focusing on as you forge your future in health care.
Clarify Your Goals
To advance your health care career in an empowering way, you need to make sure you’re not simply reacting to the industry’s needs but have a personal plan of action. This begins with clarifying what your career goals are.
This doesn’t necessarily have to begin with a specific job title. Treat clarifying your goals as a process of discovery. Consider first what you want from your job. Aside from the opportunity to help people, which is something shared by most health care workers, think about what areas of the industry interest you the most. This could be a field of care or the types of skills you’re interested in using on a day-to-day basis. Another part of choosing a career path is the lifestyle it provides you. Aside from a higher salary, you may be more interested in a role with a safer environment. Or you may be prioritizing more flexibility or control over your schedule, like travel nursing.
As you narrow down what you want from a career, it can then be useful to move on to what doors specific qualifications can open for you. If you’re already in nursing, following a doctor of nursing practice course can give you access to various lucrative leadership positions. Some of these careers, like family nurse practitioner and psychiatric health nurse practitioner, may be familiar to you already. Others may be slightly more unexplored, like being a nurse educator or taking on administrative positions. Looking further into what options each qualification could offer not only highlights careers but also gives you a road map to bring your closer to the role.
Consider Your Current Skills
It’s important to remember advancing your career isn’t just predicated on learning new skills. One of the great things about having established yourself to a certain extent in the health care sector is you’ll likely already have some transferable abilities. As such, you should take the time to review what these are and where they might be considered valuable.
Your technical skills may be the most obvious place to begin here. After all, these are usually the aspects denoting your suitability in certain medical fields. However, it can be easy to overlook just how vital and attractive your soft skills can be in a variety of roles. If you’re a registered nurse, thinking about which abilities you use in a typical day — digital tool usage, organizational processes, empathy, and leadership among them — can be a useful place to start. It’s also worth talking to colleagues and friends in fields you’re interested in pursuing to understand what soft skills are in demand.
Having a good handle on your range of skills is also an important component in shaping your resume in a way to capture the interest of the right health care industry employers. It’s worth considering that, contrary to other professions, employers in nursing have a preference for skills-led resume structures. As such, you need to professionally format your resume and make it easy for applicant tracking systems (ATS) to ascertain you have the relevant hard and soft skills for a role and pass you through to the human decision-makers. Avoid bulking up your application with a lot of irrelevant skills and experiences. This can just confuse matters and lead to you missing out on the next step of your journey.
Benjamin Franklin’s expression, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” may seem a little hackneyed. However, it can be appropriate when you’re trying to advance your career in health care. There are some forms of preparation that can help set you up not just to gain the position you want but also to confirm you’re targeting the right career.
One of the most important forms of preparation is gaining a practical sense of the position you’re pursuing. Let’s face it, no job in health care is exactly as the standard job description would have you believe. When you’re already working in health care you’ll likely have contacts that can help you to shadow a professional in your intended field and get a real idea of what the work, atmosphere, and pressures of the environment are like. This can either solidify your commitment to following your path or help you avoid working yourself into a role you’ll be miserable in.
Once you’ve clarified that this is the career you want, one of your next areas for preparation is the interview process. Getting nervous or not having access to the right responses is a common way people trip up. Even in health care, most interviews will include a selection of standard questions; some surrounding your behavior on the job, others about your personality and workplace fit. Take the time to look into the ideal responses to these and practice these in a way that is genuine and relevant to the role you’re applying for. This may well be your best chance to make a good impression, so make the most of it.
The combination of the growing demand from patients and the challenges of COVID-19 has opened job opportunities in health care. When you’re advancing your career in the field you must take care to understand what your goals are and how you can utilize your current skills to define a meaningful path for yourself. These steps, alongside some key preparations, can help make certain your progression is successful.
With a necessary focus on technical skills in nursing school, nursing students can’t forget the importance of mastering soft skills.
Nursing students’ days and nights are consumed by learning every technical detail of nursing school, so they can easily neglect the soft skills, like communication and interpersonal skills, that just can’t be learned in a book. But becoming proficient in these will make you a better nurse.
Communication skills are a combination of how you write, what you say, the way you listen, and how you interact with other people. Here are a few ways to boost your communication skills while you are in school.
An easy way to develop communication skills that will help you become a better nurse and make you a more effective team member is to watch others. Do you notice other nursing students who seem to have a way with people? Do some of your supervisors in your clinicals get along with students while commanding an undeniable respect? If you see people who have traits you like, watch what they do and how they do it. You can also notice people who have traits you don’t like or that appear unprofessional so you can avoid those.
Communication isn’t all about what you say. When you interact with others, listen to what they are saying. Whether it is a patient, a professor, a nursing student, or a supervisor, listen carefully to their words before forming your own opinion. People want to be heard and that can only happen when you are listening to them. Don’t interrupt and do hold back on offering your opinion until you know that’s what they are really seeking. You can learn more from listening than from talking.
Almost as important as what you say is how you say it. Be careful to say what you mean. If you have a request, state it plainly. Don’t assume others will know or should know what you want or need. Try to rise above any previously formed feelings (for instance, if your professor has forgotten a set appointment again) so that your voice remains neutral. You can be irritated, but part of mastering soft skills is learning how to speak in control of each situation.
Clear written communication takes work and it takes practice. In a professional world (that includes an academic world), certain rules must be followed. Start practicing as a nursing student. When you need to write to someone, use a proper greeting and a proper closing. Triple check to make sure you have spelled names correctly. When writing a note, a memo, or an announcement, use complete sentences and spell out each word. Professional communication is much different from the quick texts we are all so used to. But when you write clearly and professionally, you’re perfecting your communication skills and forming an important cornerstone in your reputation.
Nursing school is an ideal time to practice your communication skills. Ask for feedback from professors, mentors, supervisors, friends, and other students. They can offer great insight to nuances you might not even be aware of. It’s a great start to a career in nursing.
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