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How to Reach Your Full Potential as a Registered Nurse

Photo of nurses as part of a surgical team

Many people outside of the medical community tend to think of nursing as a one-dimensional profession. The classic description of a nurse as one who assists physicians in the administering of healthcare is certainly one way in which a registered nurse can function. However, there is so much more than one might do with a nursing degree than this.

While there will always be a place in the medical world for dedicated nurses who give their all day in and day out to care for patients as RNs, there are a number of incredible options out there for nurses who feel that their talents, skills, and experience would lend themselves to other roles that might be higher up in the medical hierarchy.

Such nurses can contribute a great deal to the field of medicine. In fact, it is becoming more and more common for nurses to be placed in positions of great responsibility. This is because the firsthand knowledge and experience that nurses obtain from working directly with patients and physicians make them more than capable of providing insight into how better patient outcomes can be achieved across the board.

If you feel that your potential as a nurse is such as would make you a strong candidate for positions of greater responsibility and contribution to the world of medicine, there are certain things that you can do that will help you to reach that potential. Here are just a few of the more common ways in which a nurse can reach for more in his or her career.

Advanced Degrees

Advanced degrees are an interesting subject for nurses. It is possible to practice as a nurse with just a nursing certificate under our belt. Although this is the case, most nurses these days opt to at least obtain a two-year associate's degree in pursuit of the RN certification. Still more feel that it is better to go for a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) in order to work as a qualified nurse.

Anyone who is looking to reach their full potential as a nurse will want to at least have a BSN degree. This is essentially the first step to earning further advanced degrees that will help you in your career. For instance, if you hope to work as a nurse practitioner, you will need to have a DNP. You will not be qualified to earn a DNP unless you at least hold a BSN first.

 

The next question you might be wondering is what does DNP stand for? DNP stands for Doctor of Nursing Practice. This is the highest type of degree that a nurse can hold and carries a great deal of weight within the medical community. By earning your DNP, you become qualified to do so much more within the field of nursing and the world of medicine as a whole.

While it is helpful to have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) before enrolling in a DNP program, this isn’t always necessary. There are a number of excellent programs out there that provide for a BSN to DNP track. Ultimately, the decision to go for a DNP without an MSN will pretty much depend on what it is you would like to accomplish in your career.

Those who hope to study and work in a very specific niche of medicine might wish to be equipped with as much knowledge and experience as possible. These individuals might, thus, opt for multiple degrees. However, it isn’t entirely necessary in all cases. A career or academic advisor should be able to point you in the right direction in this regard.

Your next question might very well pertain to how you would possibly earn such a hefty degree. Most nurses work in shifts that can vary from month to month, or even week to week in some cases. The hours that a nurse works aren’t exactly conducive to becoming a full-time student. The good news is that these days there is no shortage of options available for nurses dedicated to reaching their full potential.

Online degree programs are designed specifically for such purposes. A nurse can now enroll in an expedited, online DNP program for a reasonable tuition cost. While the workload will be heavy for a while, it will ultimately be worth it if you are able to reach your full potential in your nursing career.

Make Connections

Another incredibly significant piece of the puzzle when a nurse is trying to advance in his or her career is that of professional connections. The medical community as a whole thrives off of such connections amongst working professionals. The importance of medical and healthcare professionals being able to exchange experiences and ideas cannot be overstated.

This is why such things as professional organizations exist within the medical community. Physicians, nurses, and other professionals can connect via such organizations with others who work in similar roles. There are even some organizations that are specific to the particular field of medicine that one works in or is studying.

For example, the Academy of Neonatal Nursing is a professional organization designed for nurses who work in the neonatal field. On the other hand, the American Academy of Nursing is one that is open to nurses who work in all fields. Other organizations are state-specific and help nurses within the same state network. By joining such organizations, you obtain access to a valuable community of like-minded nurses.

Via a professional organization, you can stay in the loop with major developments in your field. Such developments might be legislative in nature or they might be related to breakthroughs in medical research. No matter what the context might be, anyone looking to achieve their full potential in nursing should stay current on any and all major developments.

You also gain access to events pertaining to your specific field. Such events can help you to network and build valuable professional relationships with your fellow nurses or they might be educative in nature. Some events might even count towards your required continuing education credits as well.

The connections that you make and the knowledge that you stand to gain by being part of a professional organization can be incredibly helpful in allowing you to reach your full potential within your nursing career.

Find a Mentor

If you are someone who is looking to achieve a certain level of success in your career, one of the most valuable resources that you could give yourself is that of a mentor who has already been there. A mentor is someone who can give your firsthand knowledge and advice that can aid in guiding you to reach your full potential

Even someone who is only a few years and steps ahead of you in their career can prove to be invaluable as a mentor. The guidance and advice that a mentor can supply you with can help you to better understand the steps that you should take and the mistakes that you should avoid in your own career path.

Finding the right mentor might be a bit easier than you think, as well. If you work for a major hospital or health system, there might already be a mentorship program in place that you can enroll in. Just inquire with your human resources department to see if such a program exists and if they are taking candidates at this time.

 

If you don’t have a program of this nature at your disposal, there are still ways of finding a mentor that are a bit more on the informal side. You can simply look to see if there is someone withing your professional network that you respect and who would make a good mentor.

The qualities of a good mentor are a bit on the subjective side as you are essentially looking for someone who is in a position in their career that you aspire to with your own and who also is willing and able to impart their knowledge to you. You should look for someone who is regarded as a leader and who has a reputation for being reliable. Such a person should be happy to work with you in this way and offer you professional feedback throughout the next stage of your career.

Know Your Goals

While this might sound like a piece of generic career advice, it is not something that can or should be overlooked. There is no clear way of reaching your goals in your career unless you know exactly what those goals are. Simply having a vague picture in your mind of being a contributor to developments in healthcare will do you no good if you are trying to reach your full potential.

For the years that you are in nursing school, you will be exposed to various fields of nursing. It is perfectly ok for you to not know precisely what you want to do and accomplish at this time as it is very likely the first time that you are being introduced to such things. It is through experience that you will be able to find your true calling as a nurse.

Once you have found that pursuit that you would like to dedicate your energy and talents to, it is important to sit down and lay out what it is that you would like to accomplish. It might seem a bit silly, but it is a good idea to physically write out your goals onto a piece of paper. Not only does this help you get a clear picture of what those goals are, but such a tactic can help you associate particular steps in your career with achieving your goals.

It is important that you take the time to do a bit of introspective thinking on this score. You want to make sure that you are doing all that you can to reach your goals on a professional level. Now, this isn’t to say that those goals won’t change or develop as you go along. Reaching your full potential is not a one-step process. Make sure that you know where you would like to get in your career but are open and flexible to the changes to your vocation that might develop with more time and experience.

Practice Self-Care

Another piece of advice that you will want to bear in mind if you truly hope to reach your full potential in your nursing career is that you need to take the time to practice good self-care. Often, nurses spend their entire professional, and most of their personal, life thinking of others. While this is no doubt one of the shining qualities that make nurses so valuable to society as a whole, it can also lead to the tendency to put one’s self on the backburner.

Ultimately, if you burn out professionally, you won’t be very likely to achieve much in your career. Moreover, you can’t expect yourself to continue to offer your patients the highest levels of care if you do not first care for yourself. With extensive hours that will need to be dedicated to working, education, and your professional development, it might seem like there won’t be much time left over for looking after yourself.

However, there are ways of working self-care into your schedule, even if that schedule is jam-packed. Every once in awhile, take a break for a few days and get away from work and school. Taking a day or two to recharge is incredibly helpful in avoiding mental burnout.

Make sure, also, that you give yourself the chance to get the right amount of sleep at night. Nursing is a job that typically requires you to be on your feet for most of your working day. Coupling this with the fact that you have to be mentally checked-in all day makes for a fairly exhausted nurse by the end of a shift. The right amount of sleep at night is the only way to ensure that your mind and body are able to fully recover and recharge for the next busy day.

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