The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu wrote, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." For some of us that first nursing step was many years ago; for others it was less than a year ago. Whenever that first step occurred, it's important to always consider the next step—the next place your nursing career will lead you. Many of my colleagues and students tell me that they went into nursing because of the wonderful choices the profession offers. The options for nurses are limitless. I started my career in mother-baby, continued in emergency/trauma, and am currently an educator and nurse practitioner. Each new step has offered its own challenges and rewards.
As you plan your next step, there are many things to consider. First, explore and understand your nursing talents and your professional passion. What excites you about your career? What things about your current position do you dislike? Which type of patients would you like to care for again and again? Think about not only what you want to be as a nurse, but also where in your career you want to be in 5, 10, or 20 years.
When planning your career steps, the "where" is just as important as the "how." If you were offered your dream job tomorrow, would you have the skills and education necessary to accept it? Explore those jobs that seem to call you. If you think you would like to become a nurse practitioner or nurse manager, spend a "share day" with one so you can get a feel for the role and whether it might be right for you.
Think about the timeline for your professional and personal life. The pressures of family, finances, and professional demands may pull you in many directions. A former nurse practitioner student joyfully and unexpectedly discovered that she was pregnant and unable to do clinical practicums two semesters before her planned graduation. She had a beautiful baby girl and finished her program 2 years later than her original timeline.
Be as flexible as you can as you plan your career steps. Keep up with the latest trends in nursing and healthcare. As healthcare reform is implemented, opportunities for healthcare professionals, especially nurses, will be changing and expanding. Read nursing journals and attend conferences to look for new and evolving roles. As you attend meetings and conferences, talk to nurses from other institutions and other areas of the country. They may give you information about research at their hospitals or universities that reflect major changes in healthcare.
Regardless of the path you choose next, be deliberate and thoughtful in your career moves. Remember why you chose nursing as a career in the first place and make it your successful career for life.