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“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” 

Benjamin Franklin had the right idea when he talked about using the knowledge you’ve earned and putting it to good use. As nurses, we have a desire for continual learning, especially with the ever-changing new practices and research in the health care profession. If you’re new to nursing and have been working for only a year or two, you may be wondering, “What path should I be taking?” or “How can I broaden my knowledge and skills?”

There are many ways you can develop your career as a new nurse with opportunities that are often within your area of employment.

1. Obtain a certification.

For as many different nursing specialties that exist, there are virtually as many certifications for each and every one of them. Many hospitals offer additional compensation for nurses who are “board-certified,” meaning you are recognized by a specialty association of nursing as an expert in that specific area of nursing.  There are other specific roles within your field of nursing that you may choose to be certified in such as becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator or a Certified Childbirth Educator.

2. Join a committee.

Many hospitals have committees for nurses called Shared Governance.  Shared Governance is a group of nurses working together to implement best practices on a hospital unit. These practices can range from work-related issues such as scheduling to practice-related issues such as updating a policy on the best way to monitor patients’ blood sugar. These unit-based councils may also collaborate with other hospital units within a specific department to address how to best work together and keep patients safe.

3. Find a nurse-residency program.

This is particularly for brand new nurses who are looking for their first job after nursing school. Many teaching hospitals offer a residency program for nurses to participate in for one year after the beginning of their employment. These programs meet monthly and are a way for new nurses to discuss struggles they may be having or learning issues they might be facing. Often there is a research project nurse residents complete specific to their area of practice. These programs are a great way to meet other new nurses and can often help ease the transition from being in school into working in nursing practice.

4. Participate in continuing education.

Many states require a certain number of CEU or continuing education unit hours to re-register as a licensed nurse. There are many local and national conferences nurses can go to for the latest topics in the nursing profession and within different specialty areas. Most hospitals, upon employment, allot nurses with a certain number of education hours they may use at their discretion and may reimburse for class or conference costs. 

5. Go back to school.

Making the choice to go back to school is a huge decision. While some nurses may already know, specifically, what area they want to focus on during their time in nursing school, others may need a few working years under their belt to get a feel for different kinds of nursing practice. Masters programs range from specializing as a nurse practitioner or nurse educator to forensic nursing or public health. Getting an advanced degree may broaden your career options and opportunities. Many nurses continue to work full-time while getting their degree with the great advantage of tuition reimbursement from their employer.

Advancing your existing nursing knowledge is a great way to become an expert in your nursing specialty or to explore other paths in nursing you may want to take. It’s well known that nursing is one of the most trusted professions and patients appreciate the knowledge and skills you bring to their care. Take the time to find out what career opportunities exist within your place of employment and in your community.

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Allison Flynn, BSN, RN, IBCLC

Allison currently works in a postpartum and newborn nursery and is getting her master’s in nursing education.

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