Whether you're a nursing educator, researcher, nurse entrepreneur, or nurse clinician, creating a nursing career legacy is both recommended and essential. No matter your place in the nursing ecosystem, leaving something behind that has meaning for you will suffuse your career with a sense of accomplishment.
A Relational Legacy
For many nurse clinicians, the nurse-patient relationship is at the center of their nursing work. Some nurses keenly focus on relational and emotional intelligence throughout their careers, and their raison d'etre can be largely driven by creating strong, healthy therapeutic relationships with patients and their families.
As a nurse working in the clinical space, you may find yourself wholly satisfied by the excellent relationships you develop with your patients. Being a loving and compassionate guide to women undergoing breast cancer treatment may be the pinnacle of your work as a nurse -- there may be nothing else you want to do and nowhere else you'd like to be.
The level of satisfaction that can be derived from walking patients through their journey may be all you need to feel you've lived a life worth living -- your heart may be filled by the fact that your patients carry a piece of you with them as they move into a world beyond treatment and hospitals. That is certainly a worthy nursing legacy.
Apart from patient care, professional relationships can also be a place where you want to stake the claim of your nursing legacy. Perhaps you love mentoring new nurses, serving as a preceptor, or otherwise supporting other nurses and clinicians. Some of us thrive on our professional relationships, and part of your legacy may be the positive impact you have on your colleagues over the years.
A Clinical Legacy
In the clinical world, patient care and nurse-patient relationships are the central focus for some. There are also nurses whose bold thinking and action occur in relation to clinical outcomes and clinical practice. You may me an astute clinician whose understanding of pathophysiology or pharmacology is a source of knowledge for your peers, or you may be an advanced practice nurse who thrives on clinical puzzles and their resolution.
A clinical legacy has to do with having an impact in the clinical space in relation to what we nurses actually do. For instance, you may be a nurse clinician who thrives on finding innovative methods for improving workflow. You may be a deep thinker in areas related to nursing interventions, clinical outcomes, or daily operations on a nursing unit.
Your clinical legacy may come in the form of clinical research, drafting white papers, creating new workflow patterns, or even inventing products that make nurses' lives easier.
Nursing science innovation isn't created by other people for nurses -- it's created by nurses. Some nurses' legacies may come in the form of seeing a problem, coming up with a viable solution, and then watching as that solution actually impacts nursing practice in positive ways. From the nurse inventor of Nabee Socks to the nurse behind Gripsors Bandage Scissors, some nurses create a legacy that is a physical tool or object that nurses actually use.
Your clinical legacy may impact your unit and a small group of nurses, or perhaps you'll make a mark on the entire nursing profession. The sky's the limit.
The Legacy of Nursing Leadership
Leadership is relational, but it deserves its own category in terms of your nursing legacy. The power of a nurse leader's legacy can be multifaceted and far-reaching, with ripples forming a widening circle of influence.
As a nurse leader, you may focus on your unit or facility, using your influence to impact those with whom you work closely or within your organization.
On the other hand, some nurse leaders branch further afield, spreading their influence much more widely. Some nurse theorists use their intellectual prowess to create entirely new movements within the profession (consider Jean Watson). And some nurse leaders forge new pathways for nurses to pursue their dreams and passions (consider Barbara Dossey's work in creating the new Board Certified Nurse Coach professional pathway).
Leadership can have influence close to home, and also an outsize influence worldwide. Florence Nightingale comes to mind as a nurse leader whose impact continues through the centuries. Your legacy doesn't have to be half the size of Nightingale's to be important -- it just needs to be important to you and those who are positively influenced by it.
Informational and Educational Legacies
The nursing profession would never have risen to its current level of recognition and professional accomplishment without nurses who were dedicated to educating others. Nursing education is the heart of our efforts to expand and enrich the profession, and it is essential to our profession producing the next generation of nurse leaders and clinicians.
The potential impact of the legacy of an effective nurse educator cannot be overstated. If you're a nursing professor who spends decades educating and inspiring nursing students to embrace their chosen profession with dedication and the highest level of professionalism, that is indeed a legacy with legs.
Nurse journalists, writers, vloggers, bloggers, and podcasters educate nurses and non-nurses in a plethora of ways. Many nurse bloggers and vloggers capture their professional life in the interest of inspiring both nurses and the general public alike, and nurse journalists contribute to the body of literature at the heart of how nurses are represented by the printed (or digital) word. Books, magazine articles, blog posts, videos, and podcasts by nurses are all part of the informational legacy of the profession.
Some nurses remain an integral part of an organization for years, becoming an increasingly important facet of what that organization represents in the world.
Your nursing legacy may spring from your contributions to the life of the place where your work each day. Whether you take part in research, patient care, nurse education, information technology, or administration or executive leadership, you can also leave an organizational legacy. Whether you pass through a healthcare facility or agency for one year or twenty years, the significance of your impact could be immeasurable.
Your Career, Your Legacy
The tenor and color of your nursing career legacy is yours to create. Your legacy may have more to do with patients than with other nurses, or more with research and theory than clinical practice. The what and how are entirely up to you.
Every career can have a legacy, although some are more quiet than others in terms of the splash they make and the ripples that that splash creates. Your legacy can be fed and watered throughout your nursing career, so consider what you would like to create and set about putting the pieces in place to leave the legacy that means the most to you.
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 the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AUSMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, American Nurse Today, NursingCE.com, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and their adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George. (You can find George on Instagram by using the hashtag #georgethecatsantafe.)