6 Strategies for Achieving Nursing Professional Development Goals

Krista Vaughan, RN, BSN

May 31, 2023 • 6 min read

Setting and meeting goals is an essential part of professional development for nurses. By creating clearly defined goals, you can track your progress and strive to reach your desired outcomes. You can easily reach your goals by incorporating six effective strategies for goal-setting in nursing professional development. These strategies can help you take control of your career path, improve job satisfaction, and build your skills meaningfully.

What Is Nursing Professional Development?

Professional development is more than just getting additional education, completing modules, and learning new skills at work. It’s doing those things outside of your nursing job that helps you advance your career and get noticed as a nursing professional. You are investing in yourself and the goals you want to achieve in your career.

Goal-setting is an integral part of your professional development. Setting effective goals can help you stay focused, motivated, and on track for success. Before you can achieve your goals, you need to list the aims you’d like to reach. Here are some examples of long-term nursing goals:

Advancing your degree

Obtaining specialty certifications

Volunteering in your community

Participating in Clinical Ladder Programs

Choosing a specialized healthcare area

Obtaining Continuing Education Credits

Engaging in advanced technology like telehealth

Getting a mentor

Joining a professional nursing organization

Participating in nursing research or Process Improvement (PI) Projects

Participating in hospital committees

Taking leadership or technology classes, like word processing, spreadsheets, email management, and presentation software

Strategies for Achieving Your Professional Development Goals

Once you have made a quick list of goals, you will need to create a plan to achieve them. Fulfilling these goals is helpful in all stages of your career. Whether you’re new to the workforce or looking for advancement, these six strategies can lead you toward success.

1. Use SMART Goals

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It’s great to write down the goals you want to achieve, but if you don’t make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound, you may struggle to meet them. These are known as SMART goals, and you can write them out like this:

I will obtain a master’s in nursing education within the first five years of my nursing career.

I will achieve one certification in my specialty area in the first seven years of my nursing career.

I will take four computer classes by the end of this year.

You can see from these first few goals that a registered or licensed practical nurse could achieve several of their aims within the first decade of their career, but you must have a plan for achieving those objectives.

2. Build Professional Relationships

In today’s world of technology, it is easier than ever to build professional relationships through websites like LinkedIn. You can connect with friends at work, leading to further networking and job opportunities. Be sure to post your resume, including any special skills you have, and use a resume builder. Always leave yourself listed as “open to work.” You never know when that perfect job will fall in your lap through your connections.

You can also attend recruiting events and network through these avenues. Another great way to build relationships is to choose a mentor. You can often build this long-term relationship through an employer or school or work friendships. It should be with someone who has plenty of experience in your field. Mentors serve as guides, support structures, counselors, and friends. They also play a vital role in helping you network with other professionals through their relationships.

3. Obtain a Professional Nursing Certification in Your Specialty Area

Certifications are a great way to demonstrate expert knowledge in a specialty area. Usually, nurses can obtain certifications after one to two years of practice in a specialty area, and employers often encourage them through reimbursement or up-front certification payout programs. In addition, you can obtain many certifications through professional organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center or specialty organizations like the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses or the National Certification Corporation.

Find out from your leadership or other nurses in your specialty area which certifications they have and what resources they use to study for the exams, then set a goal to achieve certification. Most certificates require continuing education credits to maintain them, which increases your knowledge and keeps you aware of best practices in your area.

4. Obtain an Advanced Degree

Nurses have so many degree options that it can be challenging to choose the right one. Many nurses begin their careers as licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPN or LVN), which can require a certificate or degree. Others chose to become registered nurses (RN) through either an Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. An ADN can be beneficial because it takes two or fewer years to obtain, and you can begin working as an RN quickly. A BSN usually takes four years to achieve and can be expensive; however, many hospitals now require a BSN to work.

Many nurses choose to go on to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP), or a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD). These degrees can lead to jobs in nursing leadership or informatics or help you become a nurse practitioner, researcher, or university professor. Many organizations offer scholarships or reimbursement for advanced degrees with an agreement to stay at the organization for a specified length of time.

5. Be a Lifelong Learner

Nurses don’t always have to achieve learning in college. You can acquire additional knowledge in many places, including national organizations like the National Area Health Education Center (AHEC) that offers Continuing Education Credits (CEs) and certification review courses. Most US states and territories have an AHEC membership, and many organizations provide free membership through which you can obtain CEs for free or at significantly reduced rates. You can find interesting and helpful content on nurse credentialing and education through websites that provide these resources and can help you find your next job.

6. Measure the Success of Your Goal-setting Strategy

It can be tricky to measure your success objectively. Often one type of professional development activity can lead to the next. For example, maintaining a certification usually requires obtaining CEs every year. Participating in your facility’s clinical ladder program requires participating in volunteer activities or precepting and mentoring other nurses. When you begin checking items off of your list of goals, you will be able to measure your success. Decide what success looks like for you.

Do you want to become a nursing leader, or are you hoping to become the best medical-surgical nurse on your unit that others see as a mentor? Do you expect to participate in research projects, or do you want to be the principal investigator (PI) for a clinical trial that leads to the next significant breakthrough? Once you start achieving these objectives you set for yourself, you will quickly recognize your successes.

Achieving your own professional development goals can seem like a daunting task for even the most seasoned nurses. However, with the right plan and goal setting, you can achieve those goals through these simple strategies that lead to a rewarding professional nursing career you can be proud of.

Author Bio

Krista Vaughan, RN, BSN has been a nurse for over 28 years. Most of her background is in L&D, but her passion is helping nurses develop themselves professionally. She’s a clinical educator and freelance writer.