Encouraging Your Nurses’ Career Path?

Nurses make up the largest employee category in U.S. health systems. More than ever, healthcare leaders are advocating for the need to retain confident nurses who can lead, and be ready for change and complexities in managing patient populations. Nurses are on the front line of patient care and are crucial for advancing health. When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute of Medicine built the report “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” the key recommendation was for nurses to be full partners with doctors and other professionals in redesigning the country’s healthcare system.

As a nurse leader or executive, are you empowering your nurses on staff to navigate and build careers? As competent nurses on your team are beginning a professional career, are you helping them find the right career trajectories? Here are steps you may want to pursue:

What nurses expect from their leaders has changed. Young nurses today are not looking for authoritarian leadership. In light of today’s tight job market, gone are the days when staff are expected to be grateful to even have a job – it’s beginning to be an employee’s market and nurse shortages are seen to correlate. Today’s nurses, especially the Millennial workforce, want their leaders to be coaches who help them to learn and grow as professionals. Retaining nurses requires adjusting styles to adapt to this new generation.

Do you know characteristics of an effective coach? Are you facilitating change and helping staff to embrace change? To help identify your personal nurse coaching style, feel free to playback Catalyst Learning’s on-demand webinar with Dr. Rose Sherman, “Develop A Coaching Mindset.” (must have Adobe Connect Installed to View)

Develop Your Nurses Leadership Potential
During individual development conversations with staff nurses, especially younger ones who may be earmarked for future leadership, discuss their development. Be sure to go over effective leadership styles and characteristics – discuss positive communication skills, how to manage conflict, and delegation techniques. Give nurses tips on how to cope with change, manage stress and improve time management. The best way to help a young nurse to develop leadership potential may be to tell her how a leadership path was rewarding for you. Help nurses envision themselves leading teams. If nurses seem interested, encourage them to develop a personal plan for developing their leadership potential.

Nemours Children’s Hospital (Orlando FL) was built in 2012 and has quickly become a premiere children’s hospital in the Southeast U.S. When Nemours’ leaders decided to add charge nurses to every shift on every unit, they sought out a training program that would give their emerging leaders the development needed to effectively manage a nursing team. Nemours chose NCharge™: “Nurses Learning to Lead.” Nemours is on a Magnet journey, and strives for a cultural transformation in nursing by developing nurse leaders. Read more about Nemours Children’s Hospital.

Help If Nurses Are Looking For Career Change (Or Pivots)
Advancing through a leadership route is not for every nurse out there. For some nurses, maintaining a long-term nursing career trajectory may mean changing to a different role. The challenge for today’s nurses who want to pivot careers isn’t lack of opportunity, the challenge is actually choosing from so many opportunities. There is a growing list of new nursing and health disciplines. Many nurses may only pivot towards urgent care or behavioral health, for instance, to obtain a more favorable work schedule. Others may fully pivot into roles within information management or nursing research, while others still may transition into being wellness coaches, healthcare writers, or pharmaceutical sales representatives.

If you have a nurse who is contemplating a career pivot, encourage them to do a self-assessment of what makes them light up and feel fulfilled. Ask them to be critical, and think these things through:
• Why do you want to change specialties?
• Are you making a change for the right reasons, or do you just want to get away from  challenging colleagues or other short-term issues?
• Do you want to move out of a hospital setting?
• Are you ready for additional training or certifications?
• Do you want more or less contact with patients?

Talk to your nurses about how to make their personality characteristics work for them by considering correlated nursing specialties and environments they might enjoy more than others.

Show Nurses Career Navigation Tools Available To Them
In encouraging career growth for your nursing staff, show your nurses where HR (or other?) tools are and how to access them. But don’t lean just on HR to perform this navigation role. Many nurses may not understand how to use navigation tools, and end up leaving an organization instead of navigating it, just from not knowing what professional growth or complimentary roles are available to them.

Encourage Continuous Learning
Lifelong learning offers nurses the opportunity to keep current skills up to date, and to pursue a wide variety of interests. Healthcare is a constantly changing field with advances in medicine, expansion of evidence sources, new treatments and care model/regulation updates. For nurses who want to blaze an intentional path for their career trajectory, encourage new learning challenges. In such a dynamic industry, future leaders should: Attend conferences, obtain certifications, take management courses, and stay current on regulations and care model delivery changes. So be sure to advocate for your staff to be continuous learners, even if it is another clinical area. Of course we cannot ignore that most positions in advanced practice, leadership, teaching and research require obtaining Master’s or Doctoral degrees. But not all nurses will go this route, so be ready to point to alternative learning sources or credentials.

Encourage Building Networks & Join Professional Organizations
Meeting new people, with whom nurses can exchange ideas and work experience, is one of the best ways to encourage your staff to build new perspectives. Networking within a nurses’ own organization is important of course, but encourage your nurses to gain information from the industry by networking outside of it too. Nurses can build a network and make friends by attending workshops, conferences, or participating in webinars with colleagues and people with similar interests. Being a member of a professional organization looks good on your staffs resume and offers nurses the chance to learn from peers, who also want to improve their perspectives and build strong interpersonal connections. Many nurses get into the profession to help people, and outside organization “networking” doesn’t sound comfortable to some nurses. But tell these nurses that networking is to the benefit of both parties as they learn from each other. If your nurses still seem reluctant, tell them doctors do it all the time! Why does it seem normal for doctors to seek outside-the-organization networks, but not nurses?

Teach Nurses About Emotional Intelligence
Teach your nurse staff about key components of nursing professionalism: being honest, maintain confidentiality about patients, be respectful, cultivate strong interpersonal skills, keep a positive attitude, maintain competency and keep up to date in one’s work.

But professionalism and EI apply to off-the-job too. Nurses have been cut for consideration for leadership roles because of improper personal Facebook pages or hurting their personal brand by gossiping or causing conflict. Urge nurses to see themselves as leaders and to personally cultivate and promote their leadership skills and abilities.

See our related article, “6 Traits of Nurses With High Emotional Intelligence.

Encourage Nurse Staff To Find A Mentor
Having a nurse role model who gives wisdom to younger nurses can be very helpful to young nurses starting a career journey. There is nothing in a textbook that can replace real-life experience of a seasoned nurse who has navigated a full career. If your health system doesn’t already have a mentor/mentee program, maybe it is time to start an official career advice and guidance program.

Stanford Healthcare (Palo Alto, CA) started a Nurse Mentorship Program back in 2004. The program was originally designed to help new graduate nurses succeed in their first nursing positions. First-year nurses are statistically more inclined to leave the nursing field than more established peers, so it is a great time for early mentor interventions. New nurses learn from established nurses, as they integrate nursing theory into practice over time. The program also helps new nurses understand the organization culture. The goals of Stanford’s program are to have a culture of mentoring, professional development, teamwork, and high retention.


“How to advance your nursing career path and create long-lasting job satisfaction,” Nightingale Blog
“Nursing Professional Development,” article, Stanford Healthcare website
“Lifelong learning strategies in nursing: A systematic review,” U.S. National Library of Medicine (National Institute of Health), October 2017
“Lifelong Learning,” Johns Hopkins Nursing Magazine, Mat Edelson
“Ready to change specialties?: Make sure you know yourself and what you really want”, American Nurse Today, Janet Boivin RN, BSN
“Five Tips For Advancing Your Nurse Career,” Megan Krischke, AMN Healthcare/NursingJobs.com