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Self-Promotion for the Nursing Professional

Dispelling myths and providing techniques to help advance your nursing career.

Marketing one's skills and accomplishments as a nursing professional does not stop at the job interview. Throughout your career, effectively communicating your unique educational and professional capabilities can be the deciding factor as to whether you advance vertically or horizontally within or outside of your organization. This article will provide an overview of four myths many women have regarding self-promotion and pragmatic communication techniques that can help advance your nursing career.

As nurses, many of us are comfortable in the role of nurturer, confidante, advocate and task master. But how comfortable are we when it comes to discussing our achievements and individual contributions to the art and science of nursing?

A recent study published in Psychology of Nursing Quarterly demonstrated that women who self-promote tend to fear backlash by their peers and superiors, resulting in suppression of future self-promotional opportunities. Another reason women don't speak up about their accomplishments is they don't want to be seen as separate or different than women who are less successful.1 By contrast, men don't see self-promotion as a negative behavior, but rather, as social prowess and prestige. Men tend to communicate their accomplishments in a factual, confident manner without fear of reprisal. Ellie Cantor, founder and scientific recruiter for CJ Resources states, "women who try to communicate like men often get labeled as aggressive or worse because their behavior does not fit the expectations for how women should act".2

Kelly Watson of outlines four common myths women have about self-promotion.

  1. The Bitch Myth infers that any form of self-promotion is considered shameless bragging. What many women may consider as "tooting one's own horn" is actually good self-marketing and necessary for peer recognition and job advancement.
  2. The Princess Myth means a woman's accomplishments will eventually be made known to all through hard work and determination.3 Unfortunately, this fictional belief only happens in the movies, not in real life. Women who see themselves as too polite to self-advocate often get overlooked for jobs and pay raises throughout their careers due to this passive mentality. As Kae Kohl, chief marketer of Kiwi Marketing group states, "(job) survival depends upon taking action to get noticed".3
  3. The Friends and Family Myth offsets self-promotional responsibilities to one's family, friends and co-workers, with the belief that one's good work and success will get around through word-of-mouth. This assumption is not reality-based in today's busy, egocentric world. No one can sell you as well as you and expecting others to be as concerned about your career advancement is bordering on delusional thinking.
  4. The Martyr Myth is based on the belief that self-promotion is a waste of time since you can't change people's minds about you after a first impression.3 This self-denigrating belief only further propagates the notion that one's accomplishments are not worth mentioning. The result is that for many, hard work, tireless effort and boundless energy have gone unnoticed.

So what can you do to get the word out that what you do is great and worthy of advancement? Here are several suggestions for healthy self-promotion:

  • Believe in yourself and what you have to offer. Keep records of positive performance appraisals, accomplishments that resulted in positive patient outcomes and cost-effective savings for your organization.
  • Speak up for yourself. Say what you want succinctly and firmly. Don't be afraid to express your opinion at the time when it matters most. Practice being assertive. Communicating assertively can not only boost your self-confidence but also lower your stress level at work and home.4,5
  • Volunteer for assignments and committees outside of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. Not only will you grow personally and professionally, so will your networking opportunities.6
  • Stop saying "I'm sorry" so much! Historically, women apologize much more often than men, even when they are not the wrongdoers.
  • Don't be afraid to laugh and show some personality. Being you is your absolute best asset.

For nursing professionals, self-promotion is essential to getting noticed and considered for job advancement whether in your own department, organization or healthcare industry. Marketing one's accomplishments in a self-confident and forward-thinking manner is the best way to get what you want in your career and in life. By using pragmatic promotional techniques at work or any professional gathering, you can become the nursing professional you want to be.


1. Moss-Racusin, C.A., Rudman, L.A. (2010). Disruptions in women's self-promotion: The backlash avoidance model. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 2, 186-202.

2. Jensen, D. (2003). Communication with conviction. Science careers: From the journal Science. Retrieved Feb.13, 2011, from the World Wide Web:

3. Watson, K. (2010). The four myths of self-promotion. Retrieved Feb.13, 2011, from the World Wide Web:

4. Santulli, E. (2007). Speaking effectively. Advance for Nurses. Retrieved Feb. 13, 2011, from the World Wide Web:

5. Mayo Clinic. (2009). Being assertive: Reduce stress, communicate better. Retrieved Feb. 13, 2011, from the World Wide Web:

6. Schindler, E. (2007). The executive woman's guide to self-promotion. Retrieved Feb. 13, 2011, from the World Wide Web:

Karen V. Duhamel has been a registered nurse for 20 years, specializing in psychiatric nursing and quality assurance/utilization review services for this patient population.

At Work Archives
  Last Post: May 24, 2011 | View Comments(1)

Excellent synopsis on a very important topic. I wouldn't limit it to nursing--it's women!

Linda Tieman,  Ex Dir,  WCNMay 24, 2011
Tukwila, WA


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