“I’m Not Drowning Anymore” – A Professional Development Plan For Nurses

by | Feb 12, 2024 | Podcasts, Professional Development for Nurses | 3 comments

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You’ve finally made it. You can clock ⏰ in with confidence and feel capable of handling most situations that come your way as a registered nurse. But you’re starting to get a little complacent. You are looking for a new challenge to embark upon, but you want it to make sense with your overall career goals. Let’s discuss a professional development plan for nurses!

Professional Development Plan For Nurses

Want to Listen to a Professional Development Plan For Nurses Instead?

Listen to this blog post on the FreshRN Podcast!

This podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, PlayerFM, iHeartRadio, Libsyn, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

Who You’ll Hear

Kati Kleber, MSN RN – Nurse educator, former cardiac med-surg/stepdown and neurocritical care nurse, author, and speaker.

Chelsea Klekamp, BSN RN – Experienced bedside nurse, Nurse Residency Program Coordinator. 

Amber Nibling, MSN, RN, NE-BC, NPD-BC, AMB-BC – Experienced bedside nurse, former Clinical Director of Education, current Senior Director of Clinical Learning at Orlando Health.

A Professional Development Plan For Nurses

To develop a customized professional development plan for nurses, consider what level of commitment you are looking to embark upon. Do you want to add a responsibility at work, or do you want to do something in your off-time to increase your knowledge? Are you in a season of life where you can really dig into something challenging, or do you want something that is less of a commitment but mixes things up a bit?

3 Beside Acute Care Options

Let’s discuss three ways you can increase your responsibility at work and experience a professional challenge. Two of these options will impact how you do your job each day but won’t change your work hours themselves, while one may require a time commitment outside your work hours.

Precept a Nurse New to Your Unit

Precepting essentially means that you would take on the responsibility of training a nurse new to your unit. It could be a new graduate or an experienced nurse who is new to your specialty. You will train them directly and sit in on formal performance reviews.

To do this, you likely will need to take a course at your organization to be considered competent to do so. We also have a full course called Preceptor Pro that will also prepare you to be successful with this responsibility. It’s not as straightforward as you might think!

This will force you to think of the why behind what you do each day, revisit policies and procedures, and require a different level of professionalism than simply clocking in and providing patient care does. Provided you do this successfully, you will soon have reliable and capable coworkers!

Mentor a Novice Nurse

Mentoring is quite different from precepting. You will not be responsible for the individual’s performance, nor will you evaluate them for leadership. A mentor is more informal and supports someone as they learn their new and complex role. Mentors are there to help the new nurse process situations from an outsider’s perspective and help them navigate their relationship with their preceptor to ensure optimal performance.

Critical point ➡️ A mentor and a preceptor are different and should not fill the same role for the new nurse, even if the preceptee and preceptor get along very well. Because the preceptor must evaluate the new nurse’s job performance objectively, a dual-relationship would be professionally inappropriate.

Become the Unit’s ✨ Favorite ✨ Charge Nurse

This role is similar to precepting in terms of complexity but different in terms of the day-to-day function. A charge nurse will be responsible for ensuring the unit functions well as a whole. They will facilitate admissions, transfers, and discharges while making patient assignments and responding to urgent and emergent situations and customer service needs.

If you like to be in charge or be a go-to person, this role will be ideal for you. Bedside nurses absolutely love it when there is a smart, capable, kind, assertive, and tactful person in charge of the unit. They trust that they will not get a lot of work dumped on them and that you’ll be near if things get crazy. Being an awesome charge nurse feels really great!

Like precepting, you’ll probably have to take a leadership course from your hospital. We also have an online course to help you prepare with managing personalities, making assignments, and being a good leader.

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2 At-Home Options

The previous list of options on our professional development plan for nurses involved supporting other people or the unit. These options will focus on supporting your individual growth. To complete these activities, you will not do these during work hours nor will they practically change your day-to-day functioning very much.

Earn a Speciality Certification

A specialty certification in nursing is a formal recognition provided to nurses who have achieved a certain level of expertise in a specific area of nursing practice. These certifications are granted by professional organizations and are meant to signify a nurse’s advanced knowledge, skills, and abilities in their chosen specialty. To obtain a specialty certification, nurses typically must meet eligibility criteria that include a combination of education, clinical experience, and successful completion of a certification examination.

For example, the CCRN (Certified Critical Care Nurse) certification is targeted towards nurses who work in critical care settings such as ICUs (Intensive Care Units), cardiac care units, and trauma units. This certification, offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), demonstrates that a nurse possesses specialized knowledge and skills in caring for critically ill patients.

There are also add on certifications! For example, if you already have a CCRN, you can add on other certifications like Cardiac Surgery, Cardiac Medicine, and others.

The type of certification you pursue depends on your clinical area of expertise (med-surg, critical care, perioperative, NICU, and so forth). Once you successfully pass the exam, you can add more nursing credentials to your name!

Many hospitals will provide reimbursement for the exam, fees, and possibly even for study materials. Ask your nurse manager or educator!

I interviewed a nursing leader at the AACN about nursing certifications ➡️ Certifications, the What, Why, How, and When.

Climb That Clinical Ladder 🪜

The nursing clinical ladder is a structured system designed to provide career advancement opportunities for nurses within a healthcare organization. It encourages professional growth, recognizes clinical expertise, and rewards nurses for their contributions to patient care, education, and the nursing profession. The ladder typically consists of several levels or steps, each associated with specific criteria, responsibilities, and competencies that nurses must meet or demonstrate to advance.

Example Clinical Ladder

For this professional development plan for nurses, let’s dig into the details of what a sample clinical ladder looks like.

Level 1: Novice Nurse
  • Criteria: New graduate or nurse with less than one year of experience in the specialty area.
  • Expectations: Focuses on developing basic clinical skills, understanding unit policies, and integrating into the nursing team.
  • Support: Orientation, mentorship, and foundational training programs.
Level 2: Competent Nurse
  • Criteria: Nurse with 1-3 years of experience in the specialty area, demonstrating competence in clinical skills and patient care.
  • Expectations: Participates in unit-based quality improvement projects, begins to mentor novice nurses, and engages in professional development activities.
  • Support: Access to continuing education, specialty certification preparation, and leadership development workshops.
Level 3: Proficient Nurse
  • Criteria: Nurse with 3-5 years of experience, certified in the specialty area, and showing proficiency in complex patient care situations.
  • Expectations: Leads quality improvement projects, contributes to policy development, and actively mentors less experienced nurses. Engages in scholarly activities like research or publications. Has a BSN.
  • Support: Advanced education opportunities, leadership role preparation, and involvement in hospital committees.
Level 4: Expert Nurse
  • Criteria: Nurse with more than 5 years of experience, recognized as an expert in the field, with a track record of leadership in clinical excellence and professional development.
  • Expectations: Serves as a subject matter expert, leads interdisciplinary initiatives, develops and implements evidence-based practices, and participates in regional or national professional organizations. MSN preferred.
  • Support: Opportunities for advanced roles (e.g., nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist), funding for advanced degrees, and leadership positions within the organization.
Implementation of Clinical Ladder

Organizations typically use a formal application process for nurses to advance on the clinical ladder, requiring documentation of achievements, continuing education credits, and contributions to the nursing profession. A review committee assesses applications against predefined criteria to determine advancement eligibility. Typically, whenever a nurse moves up on the ladder, this results in a pay raise.

Go Back to School 🏫

Now, this is a big one because it’s quite a financial commitment as well as a time commitment. However, if you see yourself wanting to advance in your role as an RN in the future, you may consider getting more education to be qualified for those roles.

I didn’t go back to school for my MSN until I had been a nurse for over seven years. I wasn’t 100% on what I wanted to do and didn’t want to bear a financial burden and time commitment with young kids unless I was sure. With how expensive college is becoming, it’s critical to be intentional about what you will do with a degree before beginning to pursue it.

Pro-tip ➡️ If you work at a larger healthcare organization, they often will work with colleges and have discounted tuition for employees. You may also have tuition reimbursement as a benefit. Combining these can really reduce the cost. Explore these options as you look at schools! Do not simply pick the most expensive school and assume that will be the best option.

Shameless plug 🔌 I got my MSN from Capella and really enjoyed my experience, particularly because they have a self-paced 100% online option for an MSN in Nursing Education. (If you want to read about my MSN Journey, click here, and you can check out all of their available programs here, which include RN-to-BSN, MSN, and more.)

Consider your ideal professional situation and then look at degrees and programs that will enable you to be qualified for those roles. Don’t just go back to school and take on debt without clear intentions. This is how people have student loans in retirement! We don’t want that!

Hospital Committees Nurses Can Join

One often overlooked yet highly impactful avenue for such development is participating in hospital committees. Honestly, it can feel great to get paid but not have the responsibility of patient care on your shoulders! These committees can expand your understanding of patient care beyond the bedside, which can be very enlightening. Let’s go through some examples.

Falls Committee

Meet with other nurses and nurse leaders to discuss innovative ways to reduce falls and injuries. You can learn about what other people are doing, why falls matter so much, and major missteps to avoid.

Chart Audit Committee

This group will audit charts to ensure the documentation matches regulatory requirements. I think every new nurse should review charts so that they are aware of what to chart (so they’re not over-charting) and also why certain things must be charted.

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Peer Review

The peer review committee reviews sentinel events and tries to identify the missed steps, if any systemic failures contributed to it, and what can be done to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

Quality and Safety Committee

A Quality and Safety Committee within a hospital is a critical entity tasked with overseeing and enhancing the standards of patient care and safety across the institution. This committee operates as a multidisciplinary team, including healthcare professionals from various backgrounds, with nurses playing an integral role.

Nurses, with their direct patient care experience and comprehensive understanding of the healthcare environment, bring invaluable insights to the Quality and Safety Committee. As committee members, nurses contribute by identifying trends in patient care issues, suggesting evidence-based interventions, and actively participating in the development and execution of quality improvement projects. They serve as the liaison between the committee’s objectives and the nursing staff, ensuring that the strategies for enhancing patient care and safety are effectively communicated and implemented at the bedside.

Shared Governance

Joining Shared Governance as a nurse offers a structured pathway for professional development and leadership within your hospital. This model allows you to represent your colleagues and address unit-specific issues, offering various levels of involvement and responsibility. Starting as a unit representative, you can progress to more influential roles, including co-chairing or chairing sub-committees focused on aspects like professional practice and safety. These positions involve organizing meetings, setting agendas, and leading discussions. Additionally, involvement can extend to participating in or chairing the facility-wide shared governance council, coordinating hospital-wide initiatives with administration members.

For instance, my journey in Shared Governance began in 2013 as a unit representative, quickly advancing to co-chair and then chair of the Professional Practice and Development Committee. Eventually, I ascended to leadership roles in the Facility Shared Governance, culminating as the chair. This progression not only enhanced my leadership skills but also allowed me to adjust my work schedule to dedicate time to governance activities, facilitating meaningful contributions to hospital operations. Through these roles, I built a valuable network of nurse leaders, enriching my professional references and connections.

Final Thoughts on Professional Development Plan for Nurses

You will get to a point in which your day-to-day gets monotonous. That’s a normal progression of development. The key is to identify that and say yes to what interests you and kindly decline commitments that you will dread or regret.

If you’re an RN who has participated in various professional development activities, share your experience in the comments!

More Resources on Professional Development Plans for Nurses

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    Learn More

    Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

    Hi, I’m Kati.

    Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

    Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


    1. Anthony Mbui

      Great content Katie! I find your information quite useful and you help me grow professionally in so many ways. Keep up the good work! (And the jokes!)

    2. Eva Williams

      It sounds great! I just finished my studies and wondered how I should proceed. I got a job at a ketamine addiction clinic, and I think this will not be a bad start for me. But now I think I need to go further, looking at your paths. Thank you for the article!

    3. Heidi

      I’ve been reading your posts, reviewing the courses you offer, etc since early this morning. I’ve been a nurse for 27 years and like yourself worked in cardiothoracic ICU, neuro ICU, CCU, Cath lab and decided to travel. I was mandated for overtime in the Cath lab which led to 16+ hour shifts. I literally burned out from the best job in my career. I never thought about returning to school for my BSN because I was just completely exhausted! Then in 2006 I was laid off from a position in a brand new Cath lab because I was per Diem and we were not doing many cases. I then went into home care and reapplied at the same hospital back in the Cath lab but it was then that NY state started requiring nurses to have a BSN I thought I could get a position and return to school with the hospital tuition reimbursement…no luck.
      I’m looking forward to reading your article on the career path options. And plan on signing up for a few of your other courses
      I SERIOUSLY wish I found you sooner! Thank you!


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