Nurses remain in an enviable position when it comes to the job market.
Despite the economic downturn that took root in 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of registered nurses will grow 26 percent by 2020, faster than the average for all other occupations.
Driving that growth, says the BLS, are technological advancement, an increased emphasis on preventative care and the large, aging baby boomer population poised to both increase demand for care and open up positions as older nurses inevitably retire..
Add to that the unknowns of healthcare reform and the impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and and you can see it is an environment that is rich with possibilities.
Importantly, many of those opportunities are outside the traditional clinical environment, meaning that nurses can find rewarding career occupations in academia, the corporate world and even as entrepreneurs.
"The need for experienced nurses is more important than ever," says John Fulcher, Director of the Healthcare West Division of Bauer Consulting Group, an affiliate of MRINetwork, an executive search and recruitment organization based in Philadelphia.
"With the changing landscape of the healthcare industry, the amount of patients that are going to be seen by providers is going to increase in the near future," he says.
As the economy continues to show slight signs of improvement, many employees-including nurses-are considering whether it's time to make a career move.
These decisions aren't easy, but they can be extremely rewarding, says Diane Dennis, founder and president of Inspired Media Communications in Portland, Ore.
Dennis spent 20 years in the nursing field in a variety of roles: working floor, float, Assistant Director of Nurses for two skilled nursing care facilities, Director of Nurses of an Assisted Living Facility, and as a home health nurse.
She reached a point, she says, where "I was ready to move into another area of career interest." In her case, she changed careers, moving out of the nursing field to pursue her "creative side."
"I had dabbled in writing, communication, radio show production and hosting," she says. "I had become a part-time columnist for a newspaper and was enjoying the freedom, creative outlet and challenge of writing and communication in media." She started her company in 2005 and hasn't looked back.
While that move was right for Dennis, leaving the industry entirely may not be right for other nurses. It's a personal choice and a personal decision.
Self-assessment is critical.
Personal Choices & Decisions
Any job can become a burnout, acknowledges Dennis.
Nursing, in particular, is a high intensity and high stress role, she says: "The hours can be grueling and the stress high.
"The question a nurse should ask is: 'is this still a passion and is it meeting my purpose?'"
In her case, she says, "I felt my soul hunger to express and grow in another way that made my role as a nurse feel constricted and confining." Others may simply need new or different challenges.
Rae Ellen Douglas is the nursing practice leader with Kaye/Bassman International Corp in Dallas.
Nurses, says Douglas, "have to be really honest with themselves-it really starts with that." It's important she says that nurses take an introspective look at what they like: "Do I like leadership?" "Why?" "What parts of leadership do I like?"
Nancy Manister, DNS, FNP-BC, is an Assistant Professor at Fairfield University School of Nursing in Fairfield, Conn., and has been a nurse for 35 years and an NP for 14. She currently practices as an NP at Minute Clinic.
It's important for nurses to set career goals for themselves, says Manister, and to be proactive in considering where they want to be-and how they're going to get there-one, five or 10 years from now.
Career progression doesn't just "happen naturally," she says. "You really have to say 'what am I doing now to get me there?'" That, she says, might mean working on getting a certification in a specialty area this year, or going back to school to pursue a five-year goal, or working toward some leadership role that may be a 10-year goal.
Nurses who may feel dissatisfied in their current roles should know that making a move doesn't have to be so drastic that they involve a career change or a move to another organization. There may be opportunities for personal growth and satisfaction right where you are.
Moving Up, Not On
Nurses should also recognize that moving on may not mean moving to a different organization, but moving up in the one they're in notes Fulcher.
"Many nurses I have interviewed have been in the same role for many years," he says.
While they may feel stymied or even stuck in those roles, Fulcher says there are opportunities to move on, but it requires some focusing on professional development.
"The need to take additional education, training and CEUs is one of the fastest ways to advance in the nursing field," he says. "With a combination of experience, education and certifications, you can make yourself a much more desirable applicant for advancement."
Nick Angelis, MSN, CRNA, is the author of "How to Succeed in Anesthesia School (And RN, PA, or Med School)," (GG Press, 2012).
"It's difficult to compare two different work environments, even when you have access to salary and benefit differences," he says. "I worked as an agency nurse at 20 different facilities before becoming a nurse anesthetist and it would still take me a week or two to decide how much I liked a place."
Like Fulcher, Angelis suggests nurses may find the opportunities they're looking for right where they are.
"The key is to start expanding your skills and expertise at your own facility," Angelis says. "If you work in a hospital, volunteer for the float pool or indicate you're willing to work some shifts in a different unit or specialty."
Ultimately, he says, it's important to make an informed choice, and "speaking to other nurses helps." However, "to separate valuable insight from rumors and gossip, try to get information from nurses familiar with both your present workplace and the one you're considering."
Douglas suggests a number of things nurses can do to enhance their satisfaction in their current roles, and to help prepare them for future roles:
- Join nursing committees
- Volunteer for new assignments
- Find a new mentor or coach
- Read about best practices
- Join a nursing association
It's important for nurses to have conversations with their managers or directors about their career goals, Douglas adds: "We can't expect our directors or our CNOs to be mind readers."
This can be tricky terrain, but it really comes down to not so much what is said, but how it's said. Having these conversations with managers makes them alert to the types of opportunities staff desire.
If they're not able to provide those opportunities, and a nurse decides to move on, it then becomes less of an issue. "There's no ability for that manager to say 'I wish I would have known. Why didn't you tell me?"
Sometimes, says Douglas, there is a tendency for nurses, as well as people in other professions, to stay in a position too long.
Even those who are satisfied with their current organizations and their current positions, she says, should keep their eyes and ears open and should be thinking about what drives them, what they enjoy and the kind of environment they prefer to work in.
The challenge, it seems, is in strategically assessing which opportunities are right for you.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer.