Nursing Career Advancement: 8 Ways to Stand Out in Your Scrubs

female nurse smiling

You’re a nurse because you care about your patients and improving the lives of people around you. You also care about your own career satisfaction—you’re committed to moving forward, increasing your earning potential and gaining new skills.

Whether you’re a nurse hopeful intent on standing out or a nursing veteran ready to change things up, there are always things you can be doing to progress in your profession.

“The one factor that consistently made a difference in my career was my willingness to accept the fear of the unknown and take the leap,” says Nicole Nash-Arnold, founder of Nurse Manager HQ. “My mantra was, what's the worst that can happen?”

Nursing career advancement can be both thrilling and overwhelming, and it definitely takes courage to decide to make a change. Where do you start? What can you add to your already-pretty-full plate that will make a genuine difference in your career and happiness? We enlisted some veteran nurses to help us identify eight ideas for achieving your nursing advancement goals.

8 Tips for taking the next step in your nursing career

Whether you’re an established nurse looking for a new challenge or a nurse-to-be seeking out career advice for future planning, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled 8 tips—both big and small—that could potentially affect your nursing career plans.

1. Find a mentor

Nurses experience some tricky situations that people in the average 9-5 world might not understand. Seeking guidance from a nurse with more experience can be extremely valuable.

“The biggest factor in my own career was having strong mentors and sponsors to help guide my career choices,” says Catherine Burger, BSN and brand specialist for “The mentors provide insight and help me professionally grow and mature while the sponsors are my cheerleaders behind the closed doors of the executive suite.”

Finding executives who believed and invested in her was also essential for Arnold-Nash. “It proved to be a wonderful partnership as I deployed my natural aptitude for some areas of leadership, while my mentors helped me develop the areas that needed support.”

Having people in your corner who can provide a professional reference or connect you with a resource is an invaluable asset. 

2. Consider a specialization

Maybe the key to taking your career to the next step is to narrow your focus. The nursing profession offers many specializations and ways to capitalize on the aspects of your job that you like best.

“Becoming certified in your specialty area will help advance your career and often your paycheck, particularly if certification is through a reputable association,” says Nancy Brook, MSN, RN.

Different specialties require different qualifications, experiences or levels of education. Peruse a few of these exciting nursing specialties to see some of the opportunities out there!

3. Follow nursing blogs

We don’t often think about it, but thousands of resources from other nurses or nursing organizations are available with the simple click of a mouse. What if you took advantage of these resources to keep a pulse on industry news?

Sometimes demonstrating leadership and industry-awareness begins with just being really informed. You can also learn cutting-edge ideas in nursing practice from seasoned experts, understand more about how healthcare systems work and have a laugh with entertaining posts about the profession.

Check out our list of nursing blogs you need to follow to get started.

4. Join a professional organization

There are many perks to joining a professional nursing organization or association. Not only will you be joining the ranks of dedicated and passionate nursing professionals like yourself, but you’ll also have access to a whole new world of nursing connections. Hello networking!

Nurses in professional organizations may receive invitations or discounts on nursing or healthcare conventions or continuing education courses. Employment assistance and resources from these organizations can also supplement your job search.

5. Talk about your ambitions

“An important way to stand out is to let your supervisor know that you are interested in a promotion or a different role,” Burger says. “If no one knows that you are interested in a change, no one can help keep an eye out for great opportunities.”

You can also ask to be placed on committees within the organization to get to know nurses from different departments, Burger suggests. This will help you learn about other roles that might be interesting.

6. Experience different nursing units

Soak up all of the nursing experience you can by working in as many units as possible. This will help you acquire a taste for what you like and dislike. It will also make you more marketable in the job market, according to Brad Sherp of Nurses Alert.

“Nurses who have experience in multiple units are considered more valuable to hospitals because they can fill needs as the daily census changes,” Sherp explains. He adds that the diverse experience also makes you a more attractive candidate for management positions.

7. Look into continuing education opportunities

The healthcare industry is constantly evolving and staying up to date is an important part of any nursing career. Continuing education that covers new advancements, techniques and practices for nurses might be mandatory. Many states have specific continuing education requirements for nurses upon license renewal. But you don’t have to limit yourself to the minimum.

“A high level of clinical expertise will help you stand out, but decision-makers are looking for nurses who can transition their mindset and are ready to hold new challenges with vigor,” Nash-Arnold says. “Completing some professional development around non-clinical areas (for example, leadership, education skills, communication, conflict management) will really send that message that you're ready for the challenge of this new frontier.”

“I invested in my own professional development in areas I could see were not a natural fit for me,” Nash-Arnold says. When needed, she looked to professionals outside of nursing as well.

8. Take the next step in college education

Whether you are already working as a nurse, or hoping to do so someday soon, taking another look at your degree credentials can be a way to potentially earn a higher salary, change your job opportunities or specialize in the work you really love to do. Common educational advancement paths include:

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Nurses working in the field have likely been hearing about the ‘BSN in 10’ initiative for a while now. It’s no news that a BSN has the reputation of opening doors and becoming a professional imperative.

When it comes to nursing career advancement, earning your BSN could be a critical move to boost your employment and advancement prospects. For licensed RNs, a BSN can be earned online in relatively short order through an RN-to-BSN offering.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

An MSN can be a powerful tool in any nurse’s career plan. Nurses who earn their MSN degrees are better-qualified for leadership and managerial positions. An MSN is also a frequent requirement for nurse midwives and research positions.

Additionally, have you ever thought about shifting gears and pursuing a teaching role within nursing? Having an MSN under your name is common qualification for working as nursing school faculty.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Going back to school to become a DNP is certainly a time investment—but the change it offers to your career options might be dramatic. Advanced practice nursing careers like nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist and clinical nurse specialist commonly require doctorate-level education.

The DNP degree can also be the launch point for nurses who want to influence high-level policy changes in healthcare, at both state and national levels—and for nurses who want to measure outcomes in healthcare and impact change at their institution.

“While education is an essential component of many executive nursing positions, the best nurse leaders do not always have a long list of credentials behind their name,” Burger emphasizes, adding that strong leaders ask questions of their team and exhibit excellence in their own work.

Does considering nursing career advancement inspire you?

If these options are a little overwhelming—never fear! Nursing career advancement is a process that can span your entire career. Even doing one extra thing or researching one new option is a step into your nursing future. But if you’re feeling some inspiration about something you’d like to do to make your job better, run with that energy!

Continue striving to be the best nurse you can be with these nursing career advancement tips. And if you’re considering elevating your career with education, check out the Rasmussen University Nursing degree program page to get more information on the nursing degree of your choice.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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