The New Year is a time when many of us take stock of ourselves and make resolutions for the year ahead. Perhaps it would be a good time to consider your career plans as well? Human resource experts and job coaches recommend having a career map that identifies an individual’s career goal for the next three to five years. They also recommend reviewing and revising the map annually. Career planning gives nurses control over their own professional path and increases job satisfaction (Hall et al. 2004 and Chang et al. 2006). The steps to making a career plan are not complicated and each is described in the next several paragraphs.
- Understand yourself. Begin by assessing and listing out your strengths and weaknesses. What are the things you like to do and do well? How do you like to work and what types of work environments do you thrive in? Using myself as an example-I do best in environments where I can predict or anticipate to some extent what the day will be like and I like to work quietly and at a steady pace. The emergency room is not a place for me and I have the experience to know it! I also know that I like to work autonomously and don’t appreciate close supervision. It can be harder to identify weaknesses accurately. A suggestion is to think about this as the areas of practice that you want to develop expertise in. One way to help do this is to use a tool like the American Nurses Association Scope and Standards of Professional Practice for correctional nurses, which lists competencies for each of the standards.Finally describe in writing the kind of nursing practice you want to have three to five years from now. Some authors have suggested that nurses think too narrowly about their career options. As a correctional nurse you already are experienced finding jobs off the beaten path. Answer these questions: What do I want that is different in my career? What would I be responsible for? What kind of hours, days off and commute do I want? What type of boss, co-workers and team do I want? What type of organization and culture do I want to work in? Where do I want to live and what salary and benefits are wanted? Answering these kinds of questions helps to concretize your career goal and make it more specific to your needs and desires.
- Know the job market. Now that you have a more specific goal and description of your career goal for the next few years begin looking for organizations and positions that are available. Nearly all job opportunities are on line now so it is possible to research possibilities worldwide from the comfort of your home. The internet is also a source of information about organizations you may be interested in and professional associations provide valuable information about specialty areas of practice. One author suggested using You Tube as a resource to explore non-traditional careers in nursing. Identify organizations and professional associations that are recognized for an area of nursing practice that you are interested in pursuing and use these resources to identify potential mentors, professional contacts and learning opportunities. You should know the job market and professional landscape in the area of practice you are interested in even if you are not actively looking for another position at the moment. You may know someone who would be a good fit for the job or you may come across an opportunity to expand your knowledge or skills that you wouldn’t otherwise know about.
- Draw a map of the path to your goal. Start with your career goal and then lay out the steps to get there. The contacts and resources you developed in Step 2 can help you identify those steps. Perhaps you want to be the Chief Nursing Officer at a correctional facility or the whole state prison system as in the one Washington is recruiting for now. The recruitment announcement itself lists the types of experience they are looking for. Talk about your career goal with someone you consider a mentor and ask them to help you identify the steps that will build your knowledge, skills and experience. Many nurses are overly modest about their experience and fear failure when considering change. A mentor can help identify skills and experience you have already that with only modest enhancement would move you toward your goal. There are lots of resources on line about how to map a career, just type Career Map in the search line. Here is one resource and here is an example that University of Colorado Hospital developed for its nurses to show paths to various positions within the organization and the development resources available. A career map is really just a set of strategic steps to move from today toward the goal. Steps should identify ways to develop skills and competencies that were identified in step 1. A career map may include things like identifying a mentor or coach, taking classes, joining an organization, volunteering for certain experiences, applying for a position that provides experience necessary for the next professional position, getting certified in a specialty (like correctional nursing or nursing administration), and building a network of colleagues who know and support your career plan. By building the career map you may identify opportunities to grow in your current position that you were not aware of that will move you incrementally forward. Without a plan, professional growth and development is chaotic and may not contribute to your goal
- Focus and target opportunities. Now you have a clear picture of the type of professional practice you want to have in the near future and know the steps you are going to take to get there. You also are familiar with the field of organizations and professional associations and so as opportunities come up that are consistent with your map you are ready to take advantage of them to progress toward that goal. Even if you are perfectly happy today with what you are doing professionally having a career plan ensures that three years from now you are still as happy with your work.
What advice do you have for correctional nurses who are interested in career growth? Please share your advice by responding in the comments section of this post. Also the people in the Washington DOC would love to hear from you if you are interested in the position!
For more about management and leadership positions, as well as professional development in correctional nursing see Chapters 17 and 19 in our book the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today! Happy New Year from both of us! Looking forward to new opportunities for all our blog post readers in the coming year!
References not hyperlinked in the blog post:
Chang P.L., Chou Y.C., Cheng F.C. Designing career development programs through understanding of nurses’ career needs. Journal of Nurses Staff Development 2006; 22 (5):246-253
Hall L.M., Waddell J., Donner G., Wheeler M.M. Outcomes of a career planning and development program for registered nurses. Nursing Economics 2004; 22 (5):231-238
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