Developing your career in nursing
Nursing is a profession which offers multiple routes up the career ladder. In fact, the major challenge tends to be knowing which one to choose and quite how to pursue it. While there aren’t formal career paths mapped out – as, for example, in medicine – there are ways and means to explore the options and decide which direction you might like to take.
What are the main options available?
Initially, it can be helpful to think about whether you’re keen to continue clinical practice as your career progresses or whether you’re more interested in taking on a purely managerial role. If the former appeals, then working to become a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) may be the best route for you.
This would involve accumulating significant expertise in a specialty and gaining extra qualifications that enable you to carry out tasks which might traditionally have been performed by medics – ordering and interpreting tests and investigations, for instance, or prescribing medications.
While CNSs do manage services, they continue clinical practice too. If it’s just the first part of that which interests you, then you might consider working towards becoming a nurse manager instead. This would involve leading more junior members of staff, and at more senior levels would involve budgetary responsibilities. It could ultimately lead to a role as a divisional or overall director of nursing, or indeed to becoming a chief executive.
In a hospital, this path would generally involve moving from a registered general nurse post to a senior staff nurse, then perhaps to a ward manager role.
It’s worth considering too whether you might be interested in a career in education and research, or whether you’d be interested in pursuing these as aspects of a separate job.
How long does it take to move between bands?
How much experience is required to apply for a more senior nursing post can vary from role to role, and organisation to organisation. But generally:
- You’ll need at least a couple of years’ experience at band 5 before you can apply for band 6, and will need to be able to demonstrate some interest and involvement in leadership
- You’ll need several years’ experience to apply for band 7 or above
How do I go about progressing my career?
Thinking about career progression while continuing a full time job can feel challenging. But you might try:
- Setting aside a specific time each week to think about the next step in your career (this can be particularly helpful if you’re applying to jobs
- Finding a mentor or a coach, and seeking out shadowing opportunities. None of this needs to be especially formal, necessarily – it could just be as simple as finding a senior nurse whose career you think you might like to follow and asking for some advice.
- Making an effort to build and maintain your professional network. Think less of the dreaded word “networking” and more of just keeping up connections with people you’ve enjoyed working with and whose approach to the profession mirrors your own.