By Jennifer Larson, contributor
July 12, 2012 - The best way to boost your nursing career and assure more professional prospects for the future is to make yourself stand out. Employers notice nurses who have added skills and education to their résumés, and they’ll remember who was willing to go the extra mile.
Advance by degrees
The most widely accepted way to improve your career prospects is by furthering your education, especially since a growing number of hospitals are requiring their new nurses to have a baccalaureate degree. Nurses with associate’s degrees who are able to return to school and get their BSN can significantly increase their job prospects. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics noted in a recent Occupational Outlook, "Generally, registered nurses with at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) will have better job prospects than those without one."
Those who go on to earn a master’s degree or doctorate will find even more open doors, including the potential for roles in advanced practice nursing, health care administration and academia, which are areas expecting to see more demand as health care reform moves forward.
But not everyone can afford the time or money to return to school--at least not right now. If this is your situation, there are still some great options for self-improvement.
Certification is an excellent strategy for showing your dedication to your specialty--and to continuing your education in this arena.
Diane Thompkins, ANCC's assistant director for certification, says that certification shows nurses are committing to learning--and continuing to learn.
“It actually provides the nurse an opportunity to demonstrate to the public and to her patients and colleagues that she has an expertise in a specific area,” said Diane Thompkins, MS, RN, assistant director of certification services for the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
“You can’t just do it overnight, so it shows some initiative,” added Karen Cox, Ph.D., RN, FAAN secretary of the American Academy of Nursing’s board of directors. “Plus, it shows ongoing commitment.”
The American Nurses Credentialing Center currently offers 26 exams for nurses seeking to become certified. In 2011, 13,526 nurses passed their certification exams, and 23,195 renewed their certification. (Those numbers include both registered nurses and nurse practitioners.)
And the numbers are growing, according to Thompkins, as more nurses take advantage of the opportunity to obtain specialty certification.
Generally speaking, a nurse seeking certification will need to log about 2,000 hours of clinical practice in his or her chosen specialty within the past three years, as well as 30 hours of continuing education. Some specialties also have additional requirements, such as graduate degrees, job experience, or additional contact hours or continuing education. Candidates for clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner certification must have the appropriate degrees, as well.
New or recent graduates may want to set certification as a future goal to help them plan out their career paths.
“It is an achievable goal,” Thompkins said. “It may be what spurs a person to realize these other steps (such as going back to school for another degree) are not that daunting.”
Join a professional organization
New graduates who are uncertain about how to launch their careers often find that joining a professional organization--whether a national association, a local chapter, or both--is just the impetus to get them started in the right direction. It also provides a built-in professional network.
“That is really your ticket to more professional development,” Cox said.
And it’s not just for new grads. Mid-career nurses can benefit from plugging into the professional organizations, too.
Cox noted that professional organizations provide benefits such as regular news updates, specialty journals and information about certification. Additionally, nurses may find opportunities to participate and obtain leadership experience on committees or boards that could position them for even more opportunities in the future.
Boost your business skills
Another, less formal, way to boost your career is to become more business savvy. This can include learning how to communicate more effectively and how to network.
Kathleen Pagana, Ph.D., RN, speaker and author of The Nurse's Communication Advantage: How Business-Savvy Communication Can Advance Your Nursing Career, recommends that nurses work on improving their communication skills in order to improve their credibility.
Consider your current communication techniques and see if you can identify any weaknesses that might be holding you back. Do you ever find yourself apologizing for speaking up during a meeting or presentation? Or do you preface a presentation by admitting how nervous you are?
“Things like that can hurt your credibility,” she noted.
You might want to learn more specifics about intergenerational communication or cross-cultural communication, which can help you communicate better with your colleagues and also your patients, she added. Or learn more about using social media effectively and appropriately.
Since health care has become more of a team effort, you may want to look into opportunities beyond the nursing field, Cox suggested. You could take a seminar on leadership development or learn about quality improvement methods on a larger scale, for instance.
Not sure where to start? Consider seeking a mentor. Don’t be afraid to just ask someone if you think you can learn from him or her.
“Many people would be honored,” Pagana said. “And if they’re too busy, they’ll tell you. But you don’t want that to be the reason for not doing it.”
© 2012. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.