Monday, June 06, 2022

The "Shoulds" and "Coulds" of Your Nursing Career

In the world of nurses and nursing, it can feel like we are told what we “should” do with our careers much more often than what we “could” do. While the difference can seem subtle, it is actually something that can have a serious impact on the career path we choose and the subsequent satisfaction that we derive from our choices.

The “Shoulds” of Nursing

When we’re in nursing school or just starting our nursing careers, it can sometimes feel like everyone is just “shoulding” all over us:    
  •  You should work in the hospital for at least two years or you won’t ever be a real nurse.”
  • You should never work nights.”
  • You shouldn’t think about starting a business — nurses aren’t entrepreneurs.
There are plenty of things we’re told we should or shouldn’t do or think as nurses — so many people seem to want to control how we view our careers and what choices we make. Why can’t we just make our own choices without unsolicited input?

      For some reason, everyone else can seem to have an opinion about what you’re supposed to do next —  maybe they feel that the television shows they watched taught them enough about what nurses do that they can advise you on your nursing career. Or perhaps they're nurses themselves and they simply couldn’t bear it if you did something outside the traditional box as it would make them uncomfortable.

The fact is, you need to conduct your professional journey according to your own desires and aspirations, and your plan may be completely contrary to the vision that others hold for you. Be that as it may, it’s not your job to please others —  it’s your job to create the career that you want.

The "Coulds" of Nursing

When you consider what you could do – not what you should do – the tenor of the conversation changes. The notion of  “could” does not hold an intrinsic imperative; rather, it holds an exciting sense of potential and the varying courses of action that can be chosen based on their merit and attractiveness:
  • You could study business and become a nurse entrepreneur.” 
  •  You could go back to school and advance your education.”
  • You could forget about Medical/Surgical and choose home health instead.”
  • You could completely change nursing specialties and turn your career on its head."
Considering what you could do opens your mind to possibility. Rather than feeling constricted, considering a variety of possible paths can feel expansive and freeing to your nurse’s spirit.

What Would You Do? 

The writer Mary Oliver once said, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” We can ask a similar question about your nursing career.

So, given your druthers, what would you do? What kind of nurse would you be? What types of patients would you serve? Would you even serve patients at all? You can start a business, be a freelance nurse writer, launch a podcast, become a researcher, do private duty nursing, leave the profession to open a wine bar – there is no end to what you might do with your wild and precious career.

Donsider the possibilities, which are endless. Reject those who “should” all over you, and welcome those who fill your mind and heart with “coulds”. You have some potentially fruitful and productive years ahead of you and your runway is of your own making — what will you make of this golden opportunity? 

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at

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. written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University,, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, 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. 

Living in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, Keith shares a magical life with his partner, Shada McKenzie, a gifted, empathic, and highly skilled traditional astrologer and reader of the tarot. They regularly cavort with their remarkably adorable animal companions, George, Buck, and Lorca. You can find George the Cat on Instagram by using the hashtag #georgethecatsantafe. You can find Buck and Lorca wherever tasty treats and fun walks can be found.

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