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How to Stay on Track With Your Nursing Career Goals

As you progress through your nursing career, taking the time to establish professional goals -- and to some extent, personal goals -- is a key factor in maintaining your educational and career development, not to mention your well-being and contentment. Thoughtful goal-setting allows you to identify and define well-constructed goals unique to your situation while simultaneously employing tactics to ensure you stay the course.

What Are Some Popular Nursing Career Goals?

While goal-setting is a highly individualized process, there are several common goals, both personal and professional, that often emerge for nurses:

  • Obtaining employment following graduation from nursing school.
  • Finding a position that complements an existing or newly obtained skill set.
  • Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
  • Pursuing additional certifications.
  • Improving interpersonal and/or written communication skills.
  • Achieving a better work-life balance.

Nurse career coach, Keith Carlson, says many of these same goals are voiced by his clients. "Clients come to me with a wide variety of concerns and goals," he said. "I also work with nurses who want to sharpen their resumes, learn to write more effective cover letters or learn networking skills or the use of LinkedIn and social media for career development."

How Do Nurses Identify and Define Goals?

Although many nurses have similar ambitions, each nurse must drill down into the specifics of their own situation to determine goals as well as the intent and reasoning behind each one. If your goals are too ambiguous, impractical or based largely on outside influences, the odds of success are diminished.

"Setting goals based on what other people think you need to do holds the potential of compromising your personal vision and mission," said Carlson. "[G]oals must come from one's true desires and motivations and should be based on your individual life journey."

Carlson recommends developing S.M.A.R.T. goals that align with the following guidelines:

  • Specific: Detail the goal in clear and unambiguous terms.
  • Measurable: Establish concrete objectives against which progress is measured.
  • Achievable: Set goals that are realistic and obtainable based on current or anticipated future circumstances.
  • Relevant: Ensure that each goal is worthwhile and contributes to both short- and long-term plans.
  • Time-bound: Pinpoint a date by which the goal is completed.

How Can Nurses Stay on Track With Goals?

Beyond crafting well-defined and appropriate goals, staying the course is the next biggest hurdle. According to a 2017 Statistic Brain survey, only 9.2 percent of people who set a New Year's goal actually achieve it. Whether you are creating goals applicable to your career, education or personal life, adopting three strategies increases the likelihood of success:

  1. Break it down. If you are facing a substantial goal, particularly one that will take months or years to complete, breaking it down into manageable steps, or sub-goals, helps maintain motivation and forward momentum. For students enrolled in an online RN to BSN program, for example, choosing to focus on completing just one semester, class or assignment at a time often lowers stress levels and makes the overall goal feel more attainable.
  2. Have an accountability partner. Discussing your goals with others and seeking their support is an effective method to keep you on the right path. "Being held accountable for moving toward your goals is important. Other than a [career] coach, having a friend or colleague as an accountability buddy will keep you focused and on the right track," said Carlson.
  3. Balance your perspective. Too often, getting bogged down by the details or overwhelmed by the big picture hinders progress. To avoid this pitfall, it is important to keep a balanced perspective and put in the necessary work -- create S.M.A.R.T. goals, define sub-goals, and team up for extra security and accountability. Let go of the rest and allow the process to take its course.

Goal-Setting 101

When implemented properly, goal-setting is a valuable method of helping you reach personal, professional and educational objectives. Between establishing clear goals that are tailored to your unique circumstances and implementing tracking techniques such as a specific time-frame, achieving your goals becomes a much more realistic endeavor.

Learn more about Purdue University Northwest's RN to BSN online nursing program.


Carlson, K. (2017, November 6). Email interview. Play It SMART When Setting Goals This Year

Statistic Brain: New Year's Resolution Statistics

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