The secret to getting ahead is getting started ~ Mark Twain
As nurses, there are many different roads we take on our journey to where we are now professionally. We all have different starting points and are currently at different places on this professional road. Similarly, there is immense variation in how we set and achieve our goals. There are volumes of literature on goal setting and achievement and the methods are not a one-size-fits-all formula. The key to successful goal management is figuring out what works for you, being honest with yourself about what your current and future goals are and coming up with a plan to achieve what you set out to do. Personality, life circumstances, and family-work balance all play roles in how we set and achieve goals, as well as our motivation to accomplish them.
Personally, I began my professional career in medical research with a degree in the sciences. I quickly determined that I wanted to interact with patients rather than study them from inside a room (my project involved taking measurements on carotid arteries [recorded loops on VHS] – in a dark room – as part of a cardiovascular research project). When I came to this realization, I organized my first five-year plan with a goal of becoming a nurse. I applied to and was accepted to a nursing program. I went on to receive my BSN and subsequently my MSN, which I completed in 2001 with the help of a National Health Service Corp Scholarship. I began working at a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center as a Family Nurse Practitioner. and after fulfilling my commitment to the scholarship, I was able to do a loan repayment program at the same health center. Within five years, I had all of my undergraduate and nursing loans payed off. Using the five-year framework allows for short and long-term goal setting with some flexibility factored in for the unexpected. While I personally work better with this flexibility, others may find more success with a stricter plan; this is where we need to be honest with ourselves and come up with a method that works best.
Fast forward eight years. Following a job transition, I was offered a position working in an ICU as a nurse practitioner. Although this was not in my original plans, and well out of my comfort zone, the opportunity was one that I could not pass up and presented an exciting new challenge. Around this same time, the Consensus model for APRN regulation: Licensure, accreditation, certification, and education
(APRN Consensus Work Group, 2008) was released. This landmark publication for NP practice essentially recommended that NPs practice in the discipline/setting for which they were educated and certified. Although this seems straight forward, NP history is one whose roots began in primary care with evolution to the acute care setting. Educational programs for acute care NPs were introduced later in the historical timeline, and the fact is that there are many primary care NPs practicing in hospitals. So now, with no plans to leave the ICU, my current five-year plan includes completion of a post-master’s program to become certified as an adult-gerontological acute care nurse practitioner. This was an adjustment I needed to make, but it is a great opportunity to improve my skills and my job performance.
I mentioned the flexibility to my plans earlier. There was an approximately five-year period in my life (i.e. when my children were infants) when I struggled to keep up with my plan, or rather, I had no plan! Memories of these years include crunching to find online CME and overnight expressing my license applications and sometimes struggles to just get through the day. For me, despite being a competent nurse at work, I found it overwhelming trying to figure out parenting and how to be a working mom. The learning curve of parenting and navigating the work-life balance was steep. Eventually, I was able to get back on track. Moving forward, I have reset my five-year plan once again (it’s a moving target). I hope to complete the acute care NP program in December 2016 then take and pass (fingers crossed) the exam in the spring of 2017. After that, I may try to teach, or possibly consider a DNP or PhD program.
I have not done extensive research from an academic or literature perspective on goal setting, but I do know that there are many successful methods for those that have difficulty with a flexible plan or prefer a more established format. For myself, it has been immensely helpful to take time, every so often, to reflect on where I am and where I would like to be. NursingCenter’s blog post, My Nursing Care Plan for 2016
, provides an excellent resource for some of our requirements to keep up our professional obligations. Because in addition to our professional goal, there are tasks that we need to complete to stay current and licensed.
How do you like to set and achieve your goals? Has anyone found a more standard goal setting process that works for you? Please share your experiences with us!