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Midcareer nursing advancement

By: Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

Reflect, be objective, and tap into your network.

Many career advancement tools and techniques are available, but they need to be used with conscious intention, curiosity, and diligent effort. If you’ve been a nurse who essentially coasts on the winds of happenstance—or if you’ve focused on a path suggested by others who think they know what’s best for you—now is the time to seize the day (carpe diem).

When you take your career reins, you use your powers of critical thinking to dive deep­ly into your strengths, weaknesses, desires, and opportunities. You may need to rule out career paths that have no appeal (knowing what you don’t want is as important as identifying what you do want) and think beyond limitations imposed by others.

As a midcareer nurse, the world is ostensibly your oyster if you have the temerity and ambition to seek your chosen path. And if “carpe diem” becomes your rallying cry, the pearl in the oyster will likely reveal itself in time.

1 Reflect on your journey so far

Some people enter nursing with an ink­ling of what they might want but have doubts about what the best choice is. Many new grads find that what lit their fire during school no longer provides inspiration. Instead, new interests may emerge that supersede what previously seemed a promising path. Take the time to reflect on where you started, the career you’ve pursued so far, and what you envision for your future. (See Question yourself.)

Question yourself

Reflecting on what prompted your entry into nursing and how you’ve changed and grown personally and professionally can help you develop plans for the future you want.

  • What initially drew me to nursing?
  • Have I fulfilled my initial desires and goals?
  • What obstacles have I overcome, and what have I learned about myself?
  • Is there something I previously wanted that no longer seems alluring?
  • Do I have new areas of interest?
  • Am I satisfied with what I’ve accomplished?
  • What do I really want from my career?
  • Have I had an opportunity to discover what my personal mission in life might be?
  • How does my workstyle mesh with my desired lifestyle?
  • How does this career impact my family or my plans for a family?
  • How can I have more of what I want in my life and career?
  • How do I proactively make my career happen rather than just letting it happen to me?
  • What are key strategies to propel me forward and measure my success?

2 Perform a SWOT analysis 

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is crucial to making the most of your career. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis is a simple but useful self-reflection technique. SWOT is most commonly used in business, but it can be applied to any situation requiring critical thinking and a bird’s-eye view. The following questions can help you formulate your own SWOT analysis.


  • What activities do you excel at and enjoy?
  • What relevant knowledge, experience, or capability do you bring to your current role or to a role you wish to pursue?
  • What are your main strengths, passions, and interests?
  • What would trusted colleagues identify as your strengths?
  • Which strengths are required for success in the roles you may pursue?


  • In what areas could you improve?
  • What are your perceived limitations?
  • Which tasks or activities are in apparent conflict with your natural style?
  • What would others say are your weaknesses?
  • What tasks or responsibilities do you generally dread or avoid, and why?


  • How can you turn your strengths into opportunities?
  • What new knowledge or experiences could address your weaknesses?
  • What resources could increase your capacity to take inspired action?
  • How can you leverage your personal and professional networks?
  • Who makes up your “brain trust” of friends, colleagues, family members, peers, and mentors?
  • Who do you most admire, respect, and hope to emulate?
  • What data can you access about projected job growth and opportunities in your areas of interest?


  • What perceived or known trends might hinder you?
  • To what threats do your weaknesses expose you?
  • Are forces at play that you may not be able to control or overcome?
  • What risks might you be taking in the pursuit of your interests, passions, and goals?
  • Are the biggest threats external or internal?

You can learn a lot by periodically engaging in this process and tracking the experience. Keep copies of your SWOT analyses so you can compare and contrast them over time. You can download the SWOT analysis here.

3 Access your personal brain trust

Your professional and personal networks are your very own brain trust. Focusing on creating and nurturing valuable collegial relationships throughout your career is a smart use of your time and energy. Use some of these strategies to ensure networking success.

  • Attend local, regional, and state nursing organization meetings.
  • Become an active member of several organizations or associations.
  • Attend national and international conferences related to your interests.
  • Volunteer and participate in community service.
  • Leverage networking tools, especially Linked­In, to meet like-minded professionals.
  • Use social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to connect with thought leaders in your areas of interest.
  • Nurture relationships with nurse colleagues in your specialty and other areas that interest you, as well as specialists and thought leaders in the wider nursing community. (See Building a network.)
  • Be a giver in your professional relationships. People respond more positively to peers and colleagues who are generous with their time, energy, and attention.
  • Be authentic and transparent (to your comfort level) in your professional relationships to build rapport and feel connected. For example, an emergency department nurse who feels burned out reaches out to a colleague who works in an ambulatory care center and shares how her current situation is affecting her personal happiness, making it clear that she’s looking for an opportunity to rediscover her joy of nursing. This small amount of transparency can elicit empathy from the listener and lead to a more authentic connection.

Building a network

You network should be deep, well rounded, and include nurses, physicians, educators, allied health professionals, healthcare executives and leaders, researchers, and those outside of healthcare (such as lawyers, writers, journalists, and scientists). A deep network provides you with the wherewithal to dig into it when you need it most in a variety of personal and professional circumstances. Use phone, video chats, email, and in-person meetings when possible. Connections throughout the country and around the world can lead to surprising and satisfying situations (for example, traveling to Europe on vacation and having lunch with a Swiss nurse researcher you met on LinkedIn or seeking a job in another state and tapping your network for introductions, which leads to making a new friend who connects you with her hiring manager).

Tying it all together

Your career is a moving target. Resting on your laurels and ignoring the potential for growth is a recipe for boredom or burnout, so dedicate yourself to learning and development.

A satisfying career is fed by work-life balance. A nurse who knows how to work hard, play hard, and rest hard understands that a satisfying personal life is crucial to true professional success. To paraphrase John Lennon, life essentially is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Allowing for serendipity and personal and professional evolution is central to your ultimate success.

If you’re a midcareer nurse in search of your next chapter, a deep look within is a powerful place to begin, whether or not you use a SWOT analysis or other tool. Socrates is thought to be the first philosopher to have advised his fellow humans to “know thyself.” If you’re willing to boldly look in the mirror and assess what you see using critical thinking, relative objectivity, and self-compassion, you’re already on your way.

You can indeed make bold choices to create an exciting future as a nurse. Evolution can’t happen without some risk (and a little trial and error). If you’re willing to dive deep, your courage will be rewarded with an abundance of personal and professional treasures.

Keith Carlson is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, and author. He also is a Nurse Influencer for American Nurse Journal


The views and opinions expressed by My Nurse Influencer contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

1 Comment. Leave new

  • Piero Pantaleo
    December 12, 2020 1:59 pm

    Look around you, observe your professional experience, take the time to reflect, imagine your future… Choose your personal and professional growth. Identify specific training and acquire skills! Be honest with yourself in your choice.

    Piero Pantaleo
    RN, Oncology Clinical and Palliative Care Nurse


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