How to Advance in Your Nursing Career

Are you a registered nurse who wants to move up the healthcare career ladder, but you are not sure how?

Nurses are some of the hardest working professionals, yet with a lack of resources and services increasingly under pressure, many feel unsupported in their career progression.

This means that you have to take a proactive approach to train and further education if you want to advance in the field of nursing.

While this can be a daunting prospect, with so many exciting, not to mention lucrative advanced roles in nursing, it will be more than worth the effort once you are qualified and thriving in your new position.

If you are not sure where to start when it comes to advancing in your nursing career, then the below guide is exactly what you need.

From how to decide what you want from a career in nursing to how to make time for pursuing your professional goals keep reading to find out the exact steps you need to take to kickstart your career in nursing and reach your career goals.

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Step 1: Take responsibility

Are you guilty of blaming others for your lack of career progression?

You don’t have enough support at work. Your family commitments are too time-consuming. Your boss hasn’t put you forward for training.

If yes, then now is the time to take responsibility for your own future and take the necessary steps to start achieving your professional goals.

Nothing will change if you don’t make it change; you need to be in charge of your own destiny.

In order to be more proactive in your approach to your career in nursing, there are several steps that you can take:

  • Try and push yourself out of your comfort zone each day
  • Make new professional contacts both at work and online
  • Find your voice and actively ask for what you want
  • Don’t let setbacks stop you from reaching your goals

Step 2: Carve out time for your career

A natural progression from step 1, once you have taken responsibility for your career, you now need to make sure you set aside sufficient time to turn your dreams into a reality.

While it is all too easy to lament the lack of time you have to progress in your career, think about how many hours a day you spend watching TV or how many you waste scrolling through social media feeds.

You don’t need to invest hours and hours a day in thinking about your career in nursing, but you do need to commit to a set amount of time each day or week if you are serious about progressing.

If you are worried about staying on track, it can be useful to start a career diary that details everything you have done to achieve your career goals.

Step 3: Research the market

If you have a few roles in nursing that you are interested in, then now is the time to carry out as much research about these positions as possible.

You can do this by searching the internet, reading industry-specific journals and publications, speaking to your current employer, and joining professional nursing networks.

When researching the job market, there are several questions that you need to try and answer:

  • What types of nursing jobs are available for your current level of qualification?
  • What nursing roles are currently in demand?
  • Are the nursing roles you are interested in in-demand in your local area?
  • Do you need any further qualifications or experience to obtain your preferred roles?

It can also be beneficial to get in touch with recruitment agencies such as Glassdoor and Indeed to see what information they can offer about the current job market in your area.

Step 4: Look into universities

If you find during your research that you need further qualifications to pursue your preferred career in nursing, then you should start to look into universities that offer the advanced nursing degree programs that you need to complete.

Fortunately, when it comes to accredited universities, there are so many to choose from, both online and on-campus. All you need to do is Google “advanced nursing programs near me” to be met with thousands of results.

That being said, it is not just the degree program itself that you need to consider when selecting a university. You also need to think about your current situation and the type of learning that will fit in with your lifestyle.

For example, if you are already working as a registered nurse in a busy hospital, then you may be concerned about how you can are going to juggle a full-time degree program alongside your current job commitments.

The answer lies in online universities such as Carson-Newman University, which specializes in advanced nursing degree programs.

The beauty of completing a nursing degree online is that you can study at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home, and without any of the usual costs associated with further education such as commuting, housing, or childcare.

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Further benefits of studying online include:

  • Global networking
  • Lower tuition fees
  • Access to online resources
  • Can study part or full-time

If you are still concerned about working and studying simultaneously, you may want to speak to your current employer about your worries and see what they can do to support you.

Step 5: Network hard

As you are probably already aware, networking is an essential part of career progression, but that doesn’t make it any easier, especially for those who struggle to talk to new people.

If you are not a fan of networking, it can be a good idea to start this process online and gradually build up to face-to-face events.

Start by setting up or updating your LinkedIn profile and reaching out to other healthcare professionals and employers. If you have a specific area of nursing that you would like to get into, then focus your efforts on this.

You can also join online nursing forums and chatrooms to make contacts and discover new job opportunities.

Once you have built up your confidence in your networking abilities, you can now move on to face-to-face events such as job fairs, conferences, and open recruitment days.

If you are still struggling to make new connections, try the below networking tips:

  • Set networking goals so that you are clear about what you want to achieve from the get-go.
  • Use social media to your advantage.
  • Make sure you have something to offer in return.
  • Personalize any correspondence
  • Never dismiss anyone until you have spoken to them.

Step 6: Find a mentor

Never underestimate how important a mentor can be in helping you to achieve your professional goals. This is especially true in the nursing sector, where you may not receive sufficient support from your direct boss.

Again, finding a mentor can be a challenge for some, but they will be worth their weight in gold once you find the right person, with many nurses enjoying long-term relationships with their mentors throughout the entire lifespan of their careers.  

So, what exactly is a mentor, and how can they help you with your career?

Essentially, a mentor is someone who has experience in your field, ideally several more years experience than you, who provides valuable insight into the profession.

When it comes to finding a mentor in nursing, you need someone who has been in your shoes. Someone who knows how demanding the job is but still manages to pursue and achieve their goals.

There are many ways that you can go about finding a mentor, including:

  • Observing senior nurses at work
  • Looking for a mentor online such as on LinkedIn
  • Joining a mentoring program
  • Seek the advice of tutors involved in clinical internships

You should find that there are plenty of nursing professionals who are only too happy to help shape the next generation of nurses.

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Step 7: Seek out experience

If you are a working nurse, then you are in the fortunate position to be able to experience different nursing units to see what areas of nursing you are best suited to. This can be particularly useful for people who do want to advance in their nursing career but don’t have a specific role in mind.

Simply ask your supervisor if there are any volunteering positions within the hospital or if they need an extra pair of hands within a specific department. While you are unlikely to be paid for this work, it can give you a valuable insight into other areas of nursing. Plus, any extra experience will always look good on your resume and make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.

Other benefits of volunteering include:

  • Building new connections
  • Learning new skills
  • Broadening your horizons
  • Showcasing yourself as a go-getter

Step 8: Say yes more

Do you consider yourself to be more of a yes person or a no person? Or, more specifically, are you more likely to say yes to new opportunities or let someone else take the risk?

If it’s the latter, then now is the time to change this.

Simply by saying yes, you will find that your career starts to move forwards without much effort on your behalf.

Say yes to any new opportunities such as training days, online courses, and mentorship programs.

Say yes to making mistakes. There is nothing wrong with getting something wrong as long as you embrace your mistake and learn from it.

Say yes to anything that draws you out of your comfort zone. Nobody gets to the top of their game by playing it safe.

If you are a bit of a perfectionist by nature, which many nurses are, you may struggle to say yes to everything as your self-doubts may hold you back. However, if you want to move up the career ladder, you need to accept that the path may not always be smooth and keep at it anyway.

Step 9: Pick the right specialization

There are so many different advanced nursing careers to choose from, so how do you know which one is right for you?

Of course, there is no simple answer to this, and it can sometimes be a case of trial and error to see what kind of role you are best suited to.

That being said, there are certain areas of nursing that have the ability to transform your professional life into something really special. These are:

Family Nurse Practitioner

Not only are FNPs highly in demand in the United States, but this role also offers a high salary and the opportunity to practice independently, depending on which state you live in. Furthermore, as a family nurse practitioner, you can get to care for people of all ages and from all walks of life, which can be very rewarding.

Travel Nurse

Do you find yourself easily bored working in the same environment each day? Travel nurses typically obtain short-term positions that range from 8-20 weeks and can expect to operate within a whole host of different healthcare settings, including hospitals, private practices, schools, and even correctional facilities.

Health Policy Nurse

Would you like to affect real change within the healthcare industry? If yes, then a career as a health policy nurse can help you to achieve this. Health policy nurses deal with public policies, health education, and research programs, as well as legislative changes.

Nurse Educator

For nurses that want to teach the next generation, the role of nurse educator is the perfect fit. Another job in advanced nursing that is highly in demand in the U.S, as a nurse educator, you will be responsible for teaching students clinical skills, both in the classroom and in healthcare settings.


If you are driven, determined, and willing to put in the work, there is no reason why you can’t achieve your goals within the field of nursing.

As one of the most in-demand sectors in the country, the field of nursing is crying out for qualified and experienced professionals that are keen to succeed.

Whether you want to care for patients, teach others, or be involved in policy reform, by following the above advice and investing time and effort in your future, anything is possible.

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