Finding your calling as a nurse

Working as a nurse can be an incredibly fulfilling career with a wide range of roles to choose from. Finding the right path that best suits you can sometimes be a challenge. By aligning your passions and interests with your professional goals, you can discover your true calling as a nurse in order to deliver maximum benefit to patients and society, as well as find a job that brings you professional satisfaction.

Finding your passion

For many nurses, their career is a vocation. To them, it’s more than just a way to earn a living. Nursing is a way of life, a passion that defines them, and a central pillar of their existence. Not everyone feels that way, of course, but to some extent, a passion for nursing is essential if you’re going to thrive in your role. Nursing is a demanding career, and not everyone is cut out for it, but if you are, then all the sacrifices and hard work are more than worth it.

Finding your calling as a nurse

Nursing is a career in which helping people and making a difference is key. For this reason, the job inspires great passion and meaning. Nursing is one of the most rewarding career choices that you can make. But every job has bad days and stretches of boredom. Some nursing roles require lots of hands-on work, while other roles require spending much of your time doing administrative work, updating patient records, billing, and coding. Whatever your skills and preferences, there will be a role in nursing for you.

If you find that you are struggling to find a balance between direct care and filing tasks, and your enthusiasm for your role is waning., it might be time to look for a different specialty in nursing that will reignite your fire.

Different roles

The ability to choose from so many different roles is one of the best qualities of a career in nursing and is one of many great reasons to become a nurse. Changing roles might mean going back to school for a while, but courses such as the online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Rockhurst University’s Saint Luke’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences make training as a nurse accessible while still tending to other responsibilities. The college also offers flexible online master’s degrees in nursing and nursing leadership, as well as post-master’s courses, that allow you to balance study and work.

Reminding yourself why you chose to be a nurse in the first place is a good way to identify what your passions and key interests are. What aspects of nursing made you decide to take it up as a career? What is it in your own personality, background, or life experience that drew you towards nursing? Following your passion to find a nursing role that’s perfect for you is entirely possible with just a bit of effort and a certain amount of courage to make that leap.

A professional plan

The best way to begin making major career decisions is to create a professional development plan. This involves setting yourself both short-term and long-term goals and placing these along a rough timeline of when you want and need to achieve them. In doing this, you’ll find that one goal leads naturally to another. Certain steps will need to be taken in order to reach a long-term target, but these small steps will all feel like achievements in their own right.

Creating a professional development plan like this gives clarity to your ambitions, bringing the actions that you need to take into focus. It gives you a realistic road map of how you can proceed to live out your dreams and the strategies you can adopt to make this happen.

Setting career goals

Setting career goals helps you to concentrate your attention and lets you use your time more effectively. If you know what you want and what you need to do to get there, then you’ll maximize every opportunity to work on your professional development.

Having a plan in place can be useful at any stage in your career. It’s certainly never too early to start planning. You can set out a plan in high school, starting with a list of the qualifications and experience you need in order to become a practicing nurse. Perhaps the most important time to create a plan, though, is when you graduate, gain your license, and begin your nursing career properly. Where do you want it to take you? What specialist areas are you most interested in working in?

Finding your focus

Remember that a professional development plan isn’t set in stone. The earlier in your career that you make one, the easier it is to revise and adapt it as you go along. As we get older, the things we want for ourselves can change. The choices we make necessarily narrow the number of options open to us. This can be a good thing, as it increases our focus on what’s achievable and what we consider desirable.

Earlier in your career, you may try out lots of different fields to see which ones feel right for you. It might be that the path you imagined yourself following when you were younger doesn’t feel like the right thing for you at all when you actually start working at it. Conversely, a field or specialty that you never really thought about before might just click when you give it a go.

These early years of experimentation are extremely valuable in terms of character-building, getting to know yourself, and discovering what you’re capable of. Eventually, you’ll find a path through nursing that resonates with you more than others. This is the time to hone your professional development plan so that you can proceed as rapidly as possible in the direction you’ve identified, ticking off your goals and milestones as you go.

Where do you want to work?

Besides specialist areas, several other aspects of your career are worth considering when putting a professional development plan together. For instance, where do you want to work? Are you happiest staying in your local area, or would you like to relocate to another part of the country or even travel across the world?

One of the great advantages of being a qualified nurse is that you’ll always be in demand wherever you go. One option is to become a travel nurse, working on short-term contracts in different towns, cities, or states, as needed. Many individuals love the variety and opportunities to work in new places that this role offers, although of course, it’s not for everybody.

Another question worth considering is your work setting. Although many nurses work in hospitals, others are employed in smaller health centers, schools, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, private businesses, and many other institutions. Think about the types of patients you’re drawn to working with the most, for example, children, the elderly, or a wide cross-section of the population.

Reflections and observations

As well as setting out your future goals, you might find it helpful to keep a journal of your professional experiences. Record your feelings, expectations, reflections, and observations about your work. Especially early on in your career, these will help you to discover what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and what you really want to do. Ultimately, these notes will guide you in deciding what direction you want to go in next.

In addition, conduct outside research and talk to your colleagues and those working in different fields. Make a note of any important findings or insights that result from these conversations. All of this information will help you to make your goals more realistic and attainable.

Education and training

Divide your targets into short-term goals that you hope to reach within the next twelve months, and long-term goals that you’ll aim to achieve in the coming years. Look into what further education and training you’ll need to achieve each step: How long will it take you to gain the qualifications you’ll require? Are there online or hybrid courses that will let you study part-time while continuing to work?

Research other skills that will help you to progress towards your goals and work out how to develop these. While in some cases you might need to take specific courses or training, in other situations you might be able to work on your skills through other means. Alternatively, there may be skills that you can develop further in your current role, for instance by taking on more responsibilities and focusing on better communication skills with patients and their families who come from different walks of life.

Keep learning while you work

Taking classes outside of the nursing field can also help you to make progress. If you hope to work abroad, then you may need to learn a new language. And even if you’re not taking a formal course of study, as a nurse you should never stop learning. Make sure that you keep up to date with the latest technology that’s having an impact on nursing and patient care as this will put you ahead of the curve of change.

Read around your profession so that you’re familiar with the latest theories on how nurses should conduct themselves and the direction the profession is heading in. Join professional bodies and organizations and subscribe to journals and newsletters. Opportunities in some specialties may be growing due to societal changes, while opportunities in other areas may be shrinking. There will even be new specialties being created that you might be able to get into early. Nursing is one of the oldest professions in the world, but it’s also one that’s constantly changing.

Choosing a specialty

There are many different specialties in nursing. A comprehensive list would include over 100 categories, with more being added all the time. As technology improves and becomes more integrated into our lives, new nursing specialties evolve to either meet new challenges or to take advantage of the medical possibilities offered by new technology.

Social changes such as the rise of new professions, new leisure activities, and new fields of research or activity, can sometimes prompt the creation of new nursing roles. An example from the last 70 years might be the specialty of space nurse, providing nursing care to astronauts at NASA, or private ventures such as Space-X. A space nurse will vet potential astronauts for physical and mental fitness according to the specific criteria for going into space, as well as providing treatment and monitoring both during training and before and after missions.

While there are too many nursing roles to discuss in detail in this article, below are some of the more common roles, and their responsibilities and features.

  • Registered nurses

When most people think of a nurse, the image in their mind is most likely to be of a registered nurse, or RN. To become an RN, you need to complete a recognized and accredited nursing program to gain either an associated degree or, preferably, a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN). You then need to acquire a nursing license at the national and state level which will involve taking the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Registered nurses combine clinical and administrative roles. These include bedside care, monitoring patient progress through tests and readings, and assisting physicians in their duties. They will maintain patient records, contribute to creating a care plan, administer medication, dress wounds, and communicate with patients and family members about treatment, after-care, and future prospects.

  • Nurse practitioners

A registered nurse can go on to complete a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing to become a fully qualified nurse practitioner (NP). As an NP, you can take full responsibility for a patient’s care. In addition to performing all of the duties of a registered nurse, nurse practitioners can diagnose illnesses and prescribe treatments.

As primary care providers, nurse practitioners are in many ways the equal of physicians. Becoming a nurse practitioner also opens the door to further specialization. Some examples of this include family nurse practitioner (FNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), or adult gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP).

  • Nursing assistants

For those wanting to start work as a nurse before they complete their education, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) help patients to perform basic chores such as washing themselves, getting about, or eating. You can become a CNA by completing a training program and a competency exam, both of which are usually available at a local community college.

A licensed practical nurse or licensed vocational nurse works under the supervision of a senior nurse and again can start work following a training program and examination after finishing high school. These roles let you get a feel for nursing so that you can decide whether or not to commit to studying for a full degree.

  • Advanced practice nurses

Advanced practice roles for nurses, which usually require a master’s degree, include becoming a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Clinical nurse specialists work with a specific type of patient and are often employed as consultants or educators. Areas a CNS might work in include critical care, adult acute care, pediatrics, gynecology, oncology, or cardiovascular care.

Two other major roles for advanced practice nurses are certified nurse-midwife (CNM) and forensic nursing. The latter career combines nursing with forensic science and legal training. As a forensic nurse, you’ll care for the victims of violent crime, looking after their mental, emotional, and psychiatric needs through counseling and therapy, as well as tending to their physical injuries.

While providing medical care you’ll also be looking out for and collecting evidence that may be used by either the prosecution or the defense in legal proceedings that might arise as a result of violent crime. Forensic nurses are frequently called upon to testify in court, drawing on their experience and specialist knowledge to act as professional or expert witnesses.

Final thoughts

It’s impossible to outline all of the different nursing specialties here, but rest assured that there will be a role for you out there that combines your personal interests and aptitudes with a promising career path. Choosing a nursing practice that aligns with your passion is a matter of focusing on what it is about nursing that you truly love, and then finding a way to make that the central feature of your career.

Sometimes it may be necessary to choose between your passion and the paycheck. That is, you may have to leave a well-paid post in order to start over again on the bottom rung of a specialty that means more to you. The only one who can make that decision is you, but by following your heart you’ll find a more fulfilling career and will more than likely work your way back up to a salary that’s equivalent to, or better, than the one you left behind.

You will always do better at a job that you love than at a job where you feel stuck in a rut. The best nurses are passionate about their calling. If you’re feeling down about your current role, remember what it was that made you want to become a nurse in the first place. By tending to and feeding that fire, you’ll become the nurse you always dreamed of being.

By Percy