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Pump Up Your Career Volume

You've got what it takes to achieve greater success in nursing.

By Donna Cardillo, RN, BS
Cardillo & Associates Professional Development Seminars
Wall, N.J.

FEELING RESTLESS and wonder what's out there? With health care facilities competing for first-rate clinical nurses, now's the time to weigh your career options. Whatever your situation, you can immediately pump up your career volume by following these 10 steps.

1. Assess yourself

dentify your specific strengths. Everyone has a special gift, but many of us take that gift for granted. Ask a close friend or colleague to name your strong points. Also ask yourself, What do I enjoy doing? Do you like patient contact? Enjoy preparing reports, doing Internet research, and working with budgets? How about teaching, working with students, and developing care standards? Or do you find the technical side of nursing fascinating—the computers, equipment, and machinery?

Look for opportunities to do more of what you love. It's a great way to develop your talents and showcase your skills. And, as you pursue your special interests, other related opportunities will likely come your way.

2. Explore career options

Most caregivers remain unaware of half of what's available to them in the workforce. We also have preconceived notions about certain specialties or work environments that may be far from accurate. Many of us clutch the security blanket of our current positions because we doubt ourselves and fear making a change. Whether or not you plan to move on, it's important to know and appreciate the full scope of opportunities.

To do this, talk to those who work in various specialties and positions—managers, administrators, nurses, educators, entrepreneurs, and product representatives. Career fairs and nursing conventions offer invaluable information, as well. Once you're aware of some options, your anxiety about the future will lessen. You'll also identify goals to work toward. Remember, it's never too soon to start thinking about your next career move. The best time to look for your next job is while you're happily employed.

3. Expand experiences

Volunteer to sit on interdisciplinary committees. Ask to work on special projects. Consider being a preceptor, taking occasional charge, or working on the schedule. If your manager or the nurse recruiter needs help at the next career fair, offer to go along. You may discover something you like and something you're good at when you stretch yourself. Besides, you never know when these skills will come in handy for future opportunities.

Benjamin Disraeli once said, "The secret of success in life is to be ready for one's opportunities when they come." Don't act out of a sense of loyalty to your employer—take action for your own benefit. You'll discover that these new experiences keep you from feeling bored and burnt-out, give you a chance to interact with different people, and make you more visible in your workplace.

4. Sharpen communication skills

Communication is the foundation of success. Those who've mastered this art advance in the workplace. When you learn to effectively express your point and persuade others, then you gain credibility and confidence. You'll earn recognition and stand better able to work with others.

Overcome your intimidation of writing and speaking. Start small by writing an article for your employee newsletter or the newsletter of the local chapter of your professional association. Volunteer to present an in-service or speak at orientation or grand rounds. Don't overlook an obvious resource: library books on how to be a good speaker and writer. Attend seminars, as well. If you learn to do it right and get a little practice, you'll give yourself a competitive edge.

5. Network

Networking is the best way to find and get a job, explore career options, promote a business or private practice, keep abreast of industry changes and issues, and build a peer support system. Attend career fairs, conventions, and professional association meetings whenever possible. At these events, you'll learn something new, see old friends, make new contacts, and create a forum for sharing ideas.

Can't get out? Network via the phone or Internet. Maximize your efforts by gathering and distributing business cards, which will allow you to exchange contact information for future reference. And start shaking hands! It's an important social custom that shows respect and says, "I'm your equal."

6. Work on image

Like it or not, others judge you based on your appearance—often without realizing it. Pay attention to your grooming, posture, and body language. Walk and talk like a winner, regardless of how you feel. Remember that perception is reality. Regardless of who a person really is or what they do, others' perception of that person governs their treatment.

Develop a professional image that matches who you are. If you want to change how others perceive you, change your image. It makes a greater impact than most of us realize.

7. Remain professionally active

No longer optional, professional association membership keeps you on the cutting edge. Your state nurses association and specialty associations offer opportunities to develop leadership, networking, and support.

And if these reasons aren't enough to get involved, professional association membership looks good on your résumé. It shows that you're an informed and involved member of your profession.

8. Return to school

Unless you've already earned an advanced degree, your future should include further education. Aside from the possible career benefits, the personal benefits abound. Formal education keeps you sharp. Education stimulates ideas and action in your life. It builds confidence and character and makes you a more well-rounded person.

Do research, consider your future career plans, and talk to others who've taken the higher education route. Make time work for you—and don't overlook opportunities for informal education. Do more constructive reading, attend seminars, in-services, and adult education.

9. Stay positive and motivated

How you view yourself, others, and the world greatly impacts your chance for happiness and success. Listen to motivational tapes and read motivational books. Be mindful of your associates. Unfortunately, many of us spend a good part of our day with negative people who show little or no ambition. Seek out happy, successful, and motivated people and spend some time with them.

Where to look? Check professional associations, personal contacts, and networking arenas. Ask someone you admire to lunch. Call a role model and ask for advice. E-mail someone who's doing something you would like to do. Positive influences surround you—reach out to them!

10. Target management and leadership

Whether or not you want to become a manager, good leadership skills help you excel at your job, wherever you work. Good managers aren't born—they're developed through education, mentoring, and experience.

Look for role models and mentors. Observe those who lead and manage people well. Take note of what they do and how they do it. Ask for more responsibility at work and emulate those you admire. Set a good example for others regardless of your position. Always look for ways to help those around you, especially those who are less experienced than you. Become a role model in your own right.

Get pumped

Whether you have 1 or 20 years in health care, you can turn your experience into opportunities in the exciting nursing profession. In doing so, you'll not only keep your career momentum going, but boost your potential for success, too.