Report cards can be a measurement of performance, communication, talent, intelligence, diligence, attention to detail, time management, relationships, and many other categories. In some schools, letter grades are the norm, while in some alternative schools, there aren't any grades at all. Sometimes, our report cards are pass\fail, and we either make the cut or we don't. And sometimes those grades just don't seem fair.
The Nurse's Report Card
The nurse's career report card can look different for everyone, and there are various classifications we can use to measure a nurse's success. What do you think you excel in and what could use a boost?
If we're looking at clinical performance, we can examine and assign a grade to different types of assessment skills (neuro, psych, cardiac, respiratory, etc). Clinically, nurses also need to do well in the areas of collaboration, communication, documentation, and patient relationships. And those nurses who work in non-clinical roles (like yours truly) need an entirely different measure of their skill sets and responsibilities.
While I don't use any clinical skills in my current career manifestation (except with friends, family, neighbors, and the occasional stranger on the street), I still think of myself as a nurse and have judgments about where my greatest and weakest skills manifest.
Do you play well with others? Do you readily share your toys? Do you hand in your homework on time? What would your nursing report card say?
What's On Your Nursing Career Report Card?
Aside from evaluating and assigning a value to your clinical skills, let's examine your career itself. For those of you familiar with my blog or podcast, some of these will be familiar since I talk about them ad nauseum. Nevertheless, it's important to take a few moments to assess yourself in a new way. Shall we?
Your career toolbox:
I've written and podcasted about the nursing career toolbox before, so let's review what that means. Inside your nursing career toolbox is your basic resume, skeleton cover letter and thank you letter; your LinkedIn profile and LinkedIn strategy; your business card (yes, you need one); apps and tools that make your life easier; your professional network; and whatever else moves the needle for you.
If you were to give yourself a grade on the state of your career toolbox, would you get an A? Where could you lean in a little bit more?
Time management can be a bear for anyone living in the 21st century. Since nurses are more apt to take on the burden of caring for their neighbors, friends, family, and even strangers, we can be hard pressed to find time for some aspects of our lives that should receive at least a little attention.
What kind of a grade would you get for your time management skills? How often are you late for appointments? How many often do you get home from work much later than you'd like? How badly are you challenged in terms of managing your time in your professional capacity, and how does that impact your family and personal life?
Self-care and wellness:
Self-care and personal wellness can be inextricably connected to time management since we can easily let go of our self-care when time just slips through our fingers. Get to the gym? "Impossible!" Take a leisurely bath? "Are you kidding me?" Go to a movie? "How indulgent!"
How badly are you falling down on the job of self-care, nurses? What would it take to reprioritize it once again and get it back on the calendar? Is it solely a time management issue, or do we need to give you a D in prioritizing your own health and well-being?
Collaboration, teamwork, and relationships:
Teamwork and collaboration are about how you get along with others in the sandbox. Collaboration is key in most sectors of nursing and healthcare, and some of us are better at it than others. Is working on a team hard for you? Do you chafe at sitting through committee meetings? (I know, I know; meetings are usually deadly boring.)
If you work in home health, you need to collaborate with the therapists, case managers, schedulers, and aides. In med/surg, you're talking with doctors, surgeons, RTs, interventional radiologists, and other nurses. It's a circus of personalities and ways of being.
Teamwork, collaboration, and professional development are so important; how are you doing in this regard? Is there something that needs to change so that you develop yourself in this career area?
Speaking of relationships, readers of this blog or listeners of my podcast know that I'm big on networking. Heck, I even wrote a book on the subject.
Many nurses wait to do assiduous networking until they've lost a job and are in the job market, desperate to find work. If you're not consistently and actively building your network and nurturing professional relationships, you'll likely get a D or F in this category.
Happiness and satisfaction:
Being happy in your personal and professional lives should be something that's measured on your career report card. Maybe you do all the "right" things but you're still miserable; in that case, something has to give.
Your resume may be awesome and your nursing skills could be through the roof, but if you're in the dumps every day about the direction your career is heading, it's time for a change.
What is it that makes you tick? Where do you find satisfaction? How do you manifest joy in your life?
How would you grade your personal and professional happiness and satisfaction? Be honest!
It's easy to fall into stagnation in your nursing career. We've likely all done it at times, and this type of complacency can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and downright unhappiness and misery.
Career development means different things to different nurses, and it can all depend on where you are in your nursing career.
For you, it might mean earning a BSN, MSN, PhD, or DNP. For someone else, it's volunteering and meeting new people. For yet another nurse, it might entail becoming an EHR super-user or joining a QA committee at work. You might join your state nursing association and learn how to lobby your legislators about important public health bills under consideration. Career development is a personal journey, and how you develop your nursing career is as idiosyncratic as it is important.
Meanwhile, we acknowledge that there are times when doing anything at all about our careers is the furthest thing from our minds. When a baby has been born, a parent is ill, or a spouse is disabled or out of work, the personal understandably takes precedent over the professional. But when the dust clears and life is more or less on an even keel, it's time to lean in once again.
Make The Grade
Nurses, no one but you issues your career report card, unless you engage with a career coach or other professional to help you raise your grades. Sure, I can tutor you in resume-writing, LinkedIn, interview skills, and networking, but the final grade is really up to you.
If you're playing well with others but aren't getting enough recess, would you like to change that calculation?
If you stay up to date on evidence-based nursing research but haven't upgraded your resume in a while, is that an area worthy of your focus and attention?
Have you made your own well-being so low on the priority list that your health has suffered? Are you OK with that?
Making the grade is all about you, what you want, and where you're going in your nursing career. It's not about the pressure coming from others about what they think you should do. In reality, it's all about what will bring you the most joy, health, satisfaction, and professional success that you desire to create for yourself.
Your Career Homework
Review the seven categories listed above and give yourself a grade between A+ and F. To review, they are:
- Your career toolbox
- Time management
- Self-care and wellness
- Collaboration, teamwork, and relationships
- Happiness and satisfaction
- Career/professional development
Once you've done that, decide which areas you're going to tackle, a timeline for doing so, and a set of actionable, measurable, and achievable steps to bring that grade up next "semester". If you need a tutor and a cheerleader in that process, email me and we can work together on bringing your report card up to speed.
Manifesting the nursing careers you want isn't always easy. Measuring your relative success and taking inspired action can also be a challenge. But in the interest of your career and your calling as a nurse, you couldn't choose a better way to focus your energy in order to create the life and career you really want and deserve.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.
Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of "Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century," and has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org, MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online publications.