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Why nurses need greater awareness of career progression

The nursing workforce is the biggest group in modern healthcare.  Healthcare organizations understand very well the importance of retaining nurses who are confident and competent and can cope with the growing demands of offering effective and safe care for an increasingly complicated patient population.

Record turnover is currently being experienced in nursing for a number of reasons, resulting in staff shortages and the loss of valuable expertise.

The importance of career progression for nurses

Career progression is an important concern for nurses as a lack of any such progression can lead to nurses feeling unchallenged, stuck in a rut, and just wanting some kind of change.

If this is the case, nurses need to avoid just waiting and hoping for changes to happen, take on a more proactive approach and focus on the benefits that making a change will bring.

There are a few things nurses will need to learn to do in order to progress in their career, including getting out of their comfort zone, asking for what they really want, doing their research, approaching strangers in the industry, constantly being on the lookout for new opportunities and not being put off when they are turned down.

Why nurses need to think about their career

Nurses need to take some time out to sit and think about their aspirations, career, job, and options. 

You may well be happy in your current position, but there is no harm in exploring options, seeing the courses available to you, or considering where you might want to be in another few years.

It is a good idea to keep a diary to jot down some ideas and even set a minimum of one goal with a deadline for when you need to achieve it.

Goals could include doing some research on a DNP program, which can be taken online from Arbor University, which offers a number of programs to help nurses advance their careers while taking a faith-based approach to learning.

Other goals could include getting in touch with local GPs to ask about being able to shadow a practice nurse, researching and making inquiries about volunteering opportunities, organizing a meeting with your line manager to discuss ways to take on more responsibility, helping to train new staff or getting a mentorship qualification, and attending an open recruitment day at a local hospital in order to network and check out what may be available.

Professional development for nurses: The vital components

Nurses should examine the ways in which their current organization stands up to the three vital components of professional development.

The majority of organizations will have an advantage if they have a formalized professional development program and can accurately track the results of it in order to make any necessary adjustments.

Organizations should be focused on three vital professional development components for nurses:

  1. Ensuring dedicated resources are in place
  2. Having a customized professional development plan in place for nurses that encompasses the whole career continuum
  3. Having in place an effective measurement system for identifying improvement areas for nurses

Gathering information

Nurses should make time to do research on roles that might interest them, as this is a vital part of career planning.

This can be done in a number of ways, such as searching the net, becoming a part of professional networks, learning about initiatives, pilots, or schemes, reading relevant publications and journals, speaking to their employer, exploring skills or career frameworks, and making use of their existing network for discussions about career progression with peers.

Understanding the job market

It is important for nurses to do their research on the job market that is within their chosen field.

Take a look at job websites to see vacancies and be sure to sign up to get alerts from agencies, particular employers, and websites.

Try to work out which jobs exist at your preferred level, the roles that are most in demand and where that demand exists, and the experience, qualifications, and skills required from those who will fill them.

It can also be a good idea to talk to employers, nursing agencies, and recruitment agencies, as they may be able to provide you with information regarding the current job market in your particular area.


Networking is a crucial aspect of career progression, so it is important to take it seriously and find the best ways to go about it.

Examples of ways to network include:

  • Attending conferences, events, job fairs, and local groups, as well as recruitment open days
  • Getting involved with campaigns, forums, Facebook pages, and Twitter pages related to nursing
  • Reaching out to employers or other healthcare professionals via LinkedIn

It is important to keep a record of the contact details of others during networking and to ask if you could contact them in the future for advice.

Shadowing opportunities

It is vital for nurses who care about their career progression to take the initiative and actively begin to search for shadowing opportunities.

Those already employed will find it helps to gain permission to shadow from their manager if they explain that doing so could enhance or improve their knowledge and practice in their existing post.

The experience and skills that could be gained from shadowing are immeasurable, and it does not have to be in your workplace but in external organizations such as hospitals, nursing homes, charities, the local council, hospices, or GP surgeries.

Shadowing is a terrific way to gain experience, learn, make contacts and get a feel for what it would be like to work in a different position, all of which could open the door for career progression in the future.

Those who are already employed should ideally find time to schedule shadowing within their working time, but if this is not possible, there are other ways to arrange it, such as doing it on your own time and unpaid.

Shadowing can be an enormous benefit over the long term and serve as your passport into a different role or even sector.

Arranging informal visits

It is possible to arrange a less formal visit with a potential employer. Indeed, this is actually a surprisingly common practice in the healthcare industry that most employers are happy to accommodate.

This is a great way of gaining valuable insight into a different work environment and helps to make an assessment of whether that environment would be suitable for you as well as offering more opportunities for asking questions, making a good impression, and making new contacts.

However, even if the visit is informal, it is important to realize that the employer will nonetheless be watching to see how you behave and interact with others, so remain professional at all times.

Other good tips for informal visits include being specific about the area you would like to visit, researching the employer in advance, referencing the visit if you apply for a job there, and preparing some questions to ask beforehand.


Opportunities for career progression and development for nurses in the workplace can sometimes be thin on the ground due to lack of funding or time, service demands and staffing issues. One way to get around these problems is by volunteering.

Volunteering can help with enhancing current skills or even learning new ones while also helping to bridge gaps in your experience and knowledge that could otherwise be a problem.

Free training is almost always provided when volunteering, and your stint may not need to last beyond two weeks.

Volunteering opportunities could include palliative care experience at a local charity or hospice or even working on a ward in some hospitals.

Volunteering is a great method of learning whether a particular environment suits you while helping those in need.

Taking a sabbatical

A sabbatical refers to arranging some temporary time off from your current employment in order to do something else.

This can actually be a good thing for employers as it enables you to gain skills, qualifications, or knowledge that could then be of assistance to their workplace or service.

This time could be utilized to do research or project work, perform a different role or do some study in order to get a new qualification.

It can be done within your organization or via a third party such as a different employer, charity, or external company and can take anything from just a couple of weeks to a couple of years.

The greater relevance to your role and current organization a sabbatical has, the more likely you are to be able to do it while still being paid, either by your current employer, a different one, or a mixture of both.

Many employers will already have a policy regarding sabbaticals, so make sure to check if yours does and if not, arrange a meeting with your managers to make a case for yourself.

Nurses can often feel stunted in their professional development, but the key is to get out there and take a proactive approach.

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