6 Tips for Beginning and Advancing Your Nursing Career

May is National Nurses Month, and Nurses Week runs May 6-12. Both Nurses Month and Week shine a spotlight on nurses’ commitment to the healthcare system and to public health. This year’s theme is “Nurses Make a Difference” and it provides us all with an opportunity to recognize nurses for their hard work and contemplate where we would be without them. 

If there were any doubt that nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system, just take a look at the numbers. Nurses make up the largest percentage of healthcare professionals in the United States—there are four times as many nurses as there are physicians. There are almost 4.2 million registered nurses and RN employment is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

As a Talent Acquisition specialist at Hoag, we come across a variety of nursing opportunities and review a number of resumes. We see nurses who span several different specialties and experience levels, each bringing passion and dedication to the healthcare industry. Whether you’re just starting out as a nurse or have been a nurse for several years, here are some tips for taking initiative in your career. 

1. Map Out Your Career Path

Having a plan for how you want your career to unfold is a powerful first step toward advancement. You might not be able to plan for everything—for example, opportunities may arise that you hadn’t considered—but creating a career map can help keep you focused and motivated toward your goals. Revisit your plan at regular intervals or when you change roles or facilities and make adjustments as needed. 

At Hoag, we believe in investing in our employees and helping our nurses take charge of their professional growth and development to meet their goals. Our Clinical Ladder program is designed to provide our nurses with career advancement while remaining in the clinical setting and providing direct patient care. 

2. Ask For Help 

As a new nurse—and even as an established one—you are going to have a lot of questions, especially as your career continues to evolve. If there is anything you are unsure about in your daily work, make sure you ask for clarification from your colleagues or supervisors. There are no stupid questions and, chances are, someone else had the same question but was too afraid to ask. 

You don’t have to go it alone; your colleagues are there to support you as you all work together to provide the best care possible for your patients. If you are new to the facility, ask someone who has been there for a while to show you the ropes. Building these relationships early on can ease the learning curve and help you get acclimated to your new role. 

Keeping track of any questions that come up also provides a great opportunity to tap into your professional network. You can reach out to past colleagues or coworkers on LinkedIn and see if they are available to meet virtually or in person. This allows you to reconnect and pick their brain on areas where they may have more expertise. 

3. Get a Nurse Mentor 

Having a mentor can be extremely beneficial for nurses at any stage of their career. New nurses often face challenges when starting a new role, and a nurse mentor can help address and alleviate some of those issues. A mentor acts as a support system and can offer guidance and advice. Not only that, but having a nurse mentor can improve job satisfaction and promote career growth and development. 

Many healthcare facilities have mentorship programs in-house, but there are also national and global organizations that can connect nurses with a broader community. These include: 

As you advance in your career, consider giving back by becoming a mentor to the next generation of nurses.

4. Continue Your Education

As a nurse, you will always be learning something new on the job. But if you want to advance your career, one of the best things you can do is be proactive about continuing your education. Most professions that involve getting a license require some form of continuing education (CE). 

Requirements for CE vary by state. In some states, you will need to earn a certain number of contact hours—the amount of time you are present during a course—every two or three years, while in others, CE is not a requirement. If you practice in a state where CE is not required, your employer may have its own job-specific requirements. 

5. Choose a Specialty 

Healthcare in particular is constantly changing, and nursing in particular is seeing a rise in new specializations. While you don’t have to choose a specialty if you don’t want to, choosing one can help you gain more responsibilities and potentially earn a higher salary. 

If you aren’t sure where to start as far as choosing a specialty, think about what your interests are. If you like working with newborns, consider specializing in neonatal nursing. If you like working with and analyzing data, you might want to look into nursing informatics. If you are passionate about working for a particular organization, head over to their website to learn more about the different specialities they offer. For example, here at Hoag, we specialize in multiple areas, including Women’s Health, Cancer, Orthopedics, and more. 

6. Build Your Network

Networking is something professionals are aware they need to do, but don’t particularly like to do because they feel like they are imposing on others. As a nurse, networking can be the key to growing your career. If the people around you are aware that you are open to new opportunities or looking for ways to advance in your current role, they may be able to help point you in the right direction. Tap into your network, whether in person or on LinkedIn and be sure to keep them updated when you are thinking about or making a career change. 

At Hoag, we are proud of our commitment to excellence in nursing. For over 65 years, our nurses have helped us deliver unsurpassed personalized care to our patients and the communities we serve. We are honored to share our purpose and mission with nurses at every stage in their journey. If you’re ready to join an organization that invests in its employees and helps them advance in their careers, check out the current open opportunities at Hoag or sign up for our monthly newsletter to get career resources sent straight to your inbox.

About Hoag

Hoag Hospital is the highest-ranked hospital in Orange County in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 best hospital rankings. Since 1952, Hoag has served the local communities and continues its mission to provide the highest quality health care services through the core strategies of quality and service, people, physician partnerships, strategic growth, financial stewardship, community benefit and philanthropy.

Hoag is a nonprofit regional health care delivery network in Orange County, California, consisting of two acute-care hospitals, 13 urgent care centers, nine health centers and a network of more than 1,700 physicians, 100 allied health members, 7,000 employees and 2,000 volunteers. More than 30,000 inpatients and 450,000 outpatients choose Hoag each year.