WALKING DOWN the hall to start my shift as a supervisor on three busy pediatric units, all I wanted to do was turn and run out the door. At one time, I'd loved caring for children, their families, and the staff. But my enjoyment seemed to be disappearing, my passion waning. I knew I had to make a change. It was time to assess what I was doing and find a new purpose for my professional career.
Sound familiar? If so, do what I did to evaluate my career plans-use the nursing process. As nurses we learn early to use the nursing process to ensure the best possible care for our patients. Assessing, reassessing, developing goals, and making new priorities are basic skills. We can use that same process, with its cycle of overlapping, interrelated steps, to systematically assess our careers and determine our professional goals. Here's how to apply it to your career plans.
Step 1: Assess your current position
This is the first and most important step. Start by collecting subjective data-your own views about where you want to be, what you like and dislike about your current position, and what problems you face.
After you have this information in hand, compile some objective data-information that you can see or measure, such as recent performance evaluations. Can you glean any pertinent information from them? Have you had any compliments on your job performance in the last year? How about negative feedback? Ask your colleagues, relatives, and friends how they see your behavior and attitude toward work.
From my own assessment, I realized that although I still loved nursing, I'd lost the passion for being a supervisor. The staff in my units confessed they felt I wasn't as "connected" as I'd once been. My family said that I must use up all of my pleasantness at work because I sure didn't bring any home. These things were horrible to hear but reinforced the need to examine my career further.
Step 2: Diagnose your career's illness
Take the information you gathered during your assessment and try to diagnose the problem with your career. You'll use your diagnosis to plan interventions that help prevent, minimize, or alleviate specific issues in your next position.
My diagnosis was "apathy and distress related to current supervisory role with potential for poor career outcomes." From my diagnosis, I could proceed to a plan of action; I knew I'd prefer looking for a position that didn't involve supervising.
Step 3: Plan to take action
Use your diagnosis to develop a plan of action. Include goals or desired outcomes and specific interventions to help achieve them. When writing your interventions, ask yourself what, where, when, how much, and for how long. Examples might include spending more time with patients, pursuing advanced education within a year, or getting certified by June 2006-all things you can do to help achieve your goals.
Determine priorities from your assessment and diagnosis. Set both short- and long-term goals to determine timelines for your outcomes.
Keep the following issues in mind when writing your plan:
* Make it realistic for you and your family, and take your significant others into account.
* Tailor your plan to your current status. For example, will full-time work be a match for you? Or would part-time weekends be more practical?
* Make sure the plan reflects current industry trends. When searching for a new path, I looked for innovations in nursing. I found that automated scheduling and temporary staffing were emerging, and I tried to focus my goals around actions that would take me in that direction.
* Design a plan that takes you where you want to go.
Step 4: Implement your plan
It's time to put your plan into action. If you'd like to move up in your field, perhaps one of your objectives is to obtain an advanced degree. If your assessment and diagnosis showed that you need a new challenge in a stimulating environment, you may need to research specialty areas that interest you, such as the emergency department or obstetric services.
Whatever your goal, two actions are crucial at this stage. First, update your resume. Second, sit down formally with your immediate supervisor and discuss your assessment and plan. She needs to be on board with your goals. She could prove to be a valuable asset during implementation.
Whatever your plan, you must begin to move or you'll never meet your goals. Implementing your plan is the scariest part of the career assessment and change process. You may have to go on interviews, take new classes, or take the plunge in an area of nursing where you have little experience. But this step promises professional growth and may lead to opportunities that you never imagined.
Step 5: Evaluate your progress
Evaluation is an ongoing process that lets you track how well you're meeting your goals. You need to determine if you've met them, partially met them, or not met them at all. If you haven't met your goals, reevaluate your plan. You may need to alter it. The following points will help you regularly evaluate your plan.
* Make your evaluation systematic by including measurable outcomes and keep the evaluation ongoing. Don't stop the process after you've done some items.
* Document your response to interventions. As you complete each intervention, document in a journal whether or not you successfully completed it and why.
* Evaluate how effective your interventions have been in helping you reach your goals and outcomes.
* Use ongoing assessment data to revise your diagnosis, outcomes, and plan. As you proceed with your plan, reevaluate it periodically.
* When appropriate, involve significant others, colleagues, and your supervisor in the evaluation process.
Remember that the nursing process is cyclic. The stages repeat each other and go both backward and forward. Do the same thing with your career change process. If you get stuck in the implementation phase, reevaluate your interventions and create a new plan. The goal of the process is to alleviate, minimize, or prevent career problems. Use the process as a problem-solving approach to make your plan in an organized manner.
I'm happy to say that after I went through this process, I found a new career that suits my life perfectly. I took a position overseeing the scheduling, staffing, budgeting, and position allocation for nursing staff at my organization. It was completely out of my realm, something totally new and different, but I've learned new skills that are priceless in today's health care environment. I now enjoy going to work and find my role both fulfilling and challenging.
If I could share just one thing I've learned, it would be that taking the time to assess your career and find what makes you happy is well worth the effort. Finding fulfillment and happiness in your career is essential for you, your family, your patients, your peers, and the health care organization.