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How to set and achieve nursing career goals

Published on: 22 Mar 2024

Setting the right goals can help you take your career to the next level. RCN careers coach Julie Watkins offers her advice. 

Setting goals can further your nursing career by helping you find ways to create your ideal career pathway in your current nursing job, or in a new nursing role.

How to set and achieve your nursing career goals

Whether your goal is to complete your master’s degree, obtain a senior-level nursing job or fit in more time for self-care to help you cope with work-related stress, setting and achieving realistic goals can help take you to the next stage of your career. 

Start by spending some time considering how you feel about your current job or course of study. Think about your career to date, and your dreams and aspirations for the future, says RCN careers coach Julie Watkins.  Where would you like to be in five or ten years' time, and how can you achieve that.

‘It’s good to start with some reflection before setting career goals,’ she says. ‘Ask questions such as “Who am I?” and think about what you’ve enjoyed about your nursing career to date.’

Identify what has worked, what has felt rewarding and any feedback you have received. What do you enjoy doing as a nurse, and how can you shape your nursing career so you end up doing more of it.

‘This can help you understand what your strengths and values are, and how these will align with your potential career aspirations,’ says Ms Watkins. 

The next step is to think about timescales.

‘It can be useful to set short-term and long-term goals,’ says Ms Watkins. Depending on what you want to achieve, short term may be the next few months to a year, while long term may be anything from one to ten years in the future.

A big goal, such as aspiring to be a chief nurse, may take ten years or more, but you can set out steps along the way. The important thing is to know that you are taking the right steps and keep your goals in mind when you have annual appraisals with your manager. Sharing some of your aspirations with your manager may lead to opportunities to gain experience in the area you wish to focus on. 

Take your career to the next level

RCN careers coach Julie Watkins offers her advice. 

This is an abridged version of the article Nursing career goals: how to stay focused and reach the next step which was first published in Nursing Standard. Read the full article to learn more about setting achievable objectives, with tips on SMART goals, staying on track, and finding a coach or mentor. 

Read more careers articles on Nursing Standard