SMART Goals for Nursing: 5 Steps to Success

by | Jan 11, 2022 | Professional Development for Nurses | 0 comments

Maybe you’re getting ready for your annual performance review, and you need to have a few specific goals in mind to share. Or, maybe you’re precepting a new nurse and not sure how to create goals that will actually move their orientation forward in a meaningful way.

No matter the reason, goal setting is one of those behaviors that will enable you to move the needle and grow professionally. (Or just finish your assignment!) So let’s discuss SMART goals for nursing – with examples!

SMART Goals Examples for Nurses

What are SMART Goals for Nursing?

SMART goals are a structured approach to setting objectives that are clear and attainable. The acronym “SMART” stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable (or Achievable), Relevant, and Time-bound. By adhering to these criteria, goals become more concrete and achievable, providing a clear roadmap for success.

Let’s break down each component of SMART goals for nursing.


Goals should be clear and specific to avoid ambiguity. This involves answering the “what, why, and how” of your goal. Instead of setting a goal to “improve nursing skills,” a specific goal would be “to improve IV insertion skills.”


A goal must have criteria for measuring progress and success. This makes it possible to track your advancement and know when the goal has been achieved. For example, “achieve a 90% success rate in IV insertions within 3 months” is measurable.

Actionable (or Achievable)

Goals need to be realistic and attainable to be successful. This means setting goals that are challenging yet within your ability to achieve, ensuring you have or can develop the skills and resources needed to achieve them. An achievable goal might be “to attend a specialized IV insertion workshop by the end of next month.” One that wouldn’t be considered actional or achievable would be “successfully insert all IVs on the first attempt.”


Your goals should be relevant to your broader objectives and align with your values and long-term plans. This ensures that each goal contributes meaningfully to your overarching ambitions. A relevant goal for a nurse specializing in critical care might be “to complete a critical care nursing certification (CCRN) within the year.”


Goals should have a clearly defined timeframe to create a sense of urgency and prompt action. Setting deadlines helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals. For instance, “register for the CCRN exam by next week” makes the goal time-bound.

By utilizing SMART goals, you can create a focused and effective plan for personal and professional development, ensuring your efforts are directed toward meaningful and achievable outcomes.

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How to Write SMART Goals for Nursing

In plain language, before trying to make it sound perfect, answer these questions:

  1. What is it you want to get better at or make better?
    • More knowledge, an improved specific skill, better unit data (fewer CLABSI’s)
  2. How will you know it got better?
    • More letters after your name, completed a specific workshop/training/conference, a deliverable is created (a report, paper, poster), a task was completed.
  3. What specific actions will you take to make it happen?
    • Sign up for a conference, apply for graduate school, register for a certification exam, schedule a time to meet with someone, perform/practice a certain skill, study something, etc.
  4. Is this goal something that actually relates to what you’re doing as a nurse or student right now?
    • Nursing school goals should be relevant to becoming a competent nurse, and professional nursing goals should be related to your current role. For example, do not write a goal about becoming a CRNA when you’re a new grad med-surg nurse. Focus on goals that are specific to your current professional situation.
  5. How long will this take?
    • Provide a reasonable time frame. If your goal will take years, you need to re-write it and develop something smaller and more short-term. SMART goals are about progress now, not big long-term future goals. It should take days, weeks, or months.

Pro-tip ➡️ Write it out in plain informal language first to make sure you know what you’re trying to say, then make it look fancy.

Why SMART Goals For Nursing Are Important

They Force You to Focus

SMART goals for nursing force you to focus on what’s important. You can’t achieve everything at once, so you have to prioritize and figure out what you need to do to make progress. This type of thinking can help you better manage your time, and it can also help you identify the steps that you need to take to reach a particular goal.

Instead of some vague statements like, “I want to become a better nurse,” or “I want to grow professionally,” you can focus on specific steps to take that will actually enable you to become better (or whatever your goal might be) and minimize distractions.

Enhance Professional Development

SMART goals for nursing provide a structured framework for nurses to identify and pursue opportunities for professional growth. By setting specific and achievable targets, nurses can systematically work towards acquiring new competencies and certifications or advancing in their career paths, thus ensuring continuous professional development in a highly dynamic healthcare environment.

Improve Patient Care

SMART goals for nursing encourage setting and achieving objectives that directly impact the quality of patient care. By aiming for specific improvements in care delivery, such as reducing medication errors or enhancing patient education, nurses can directly contribute to better patient outcomes, increased satisfaction, and overall healthcare quality.

Increase Accountability

Setting SMART goals creates a clear benchmark for performance and achievement. This accountability ensures that nurses are responsible for meeting their objectives within a specified timeframe, encouraging consistency, diligence, and a high standard of practice. It also facilitates feedback and evaluation, allowing for adjustments and recognition of accomplishments.

Promote Time Management

With the time-bound element of SMART goals for nursing, we are encouraged to develop efficient time management strategies. Who wants to spend more time ⏰ doing something than they need to? By establishing deadlines, nurses can prioritize tasks, manage their workload more effectively, and reduce the risk of burnout. This aspect of SMART goals is especially crucial in the fast-paced and often unpredictable nursing environment, where effective use of time can make a significant difference in patient care and personal well-being.

Examples of SMART Nursing Goals

Let’s go through different types of nursing goals and examples of each.

SMART Goal Examples for Nursing – Professional Development

Let’s review examples of SMART goals for nursing that you might use on an annual performance review.

  • “I will attend two professional nursing conferences related to critical care within the next year (one virtual, one in person) to stay updated on best practices and innovations in patient care and write a summary of what I learned to present at a staff meeting.”
  • “To contribute to improving our unit’s patient satisfaction scores, I will lead a quality improvement project focused on enhancing communication with patients and their families over the next nine months.”
  • “I will earn my Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification within the next four months to better respond to cardiac emergencies and improve patient outcomes.”
  • “Over the next year, I commit to conducting a monthly study group for new nurses on our unit to discuss case studies and share experiences, aiming to foster a supportive learning environment and improve team cohesion.”
  • “To enhance my leadership skills, I will enroll in and complete the charge nurse training workshop within the next five months, aiming to apply for a charge nurse position in the upcoming year.”
  • “Within the next six months, I will submit my application for clinical ladder to the review board to facilitate my professional growth.”
  • “I will take the preceptor training course at the hospital and an online precepting course and train a new nurse within the next six months.”
  • “I want my patients to report feeling supported by me in my feedback surveys. To achieve this, I will read two books on empathy and communication and leverage reflective listening during patient encounters. I will ask my colleague to observe 3-5 interactions and provide direct feedback before and after I learn specific techniques to assess for improvement. I will do this over the next two months.”

SMART Goal Examples for Nursing Students

If you are in nursing school, here are some ideas for possible SMART goals. Think about specific things you are uncomfortable with and want to improve upon. Do not worry about sounding silly or basic – you are in school, and it is expected that you are a beginner!

  • “I will improve my pharmacology knowledge by dedicating 3 hours per week to study drug mechanisms, side effects, and patient education points, aiming to score at least 90% on my next pharmacology exam in 2 months.”
  • “I plan to complete and submit my application for a summer nursing internship at a local hospital by the deadline in 4 weeks to gain practical nursing experience and apply my theoretical knowledge in a real-world setting.”
  • “To prepare for my role as a future nurse, I will complete a 30-hour volunteer service in a healthcare setting within the next three months to gain additional hands-on experience and improve my patient interaction skills.” (Side note ➡️ This would look phenomenal on a resume.)

SMART Goals for Nursing Students During Preceptorship Examples

Goals for nursing school courses differ from those in the nursing school clinical setting. Let’s go over some goals specific to clinical.

A goal should be measurable so that you can track your progress and determine whether or not you are making any headway. This also helps to hold you accountable since you can check in on your goal regularly. A goal such as “I will improve my assessment skills” is difficult to measure, but a goal such as “I will complete three nursing assessments during my next clinical” is much easier to track.

  • “To enhance my clinical skills, I commit to practicing IV insertions and blood draws on simulation models twice a week for the next four months to successfully perform these procedures on patients under supervision by the end of this period.”
  • “To become more proficient at giving nursing report on the med-surg unit, I will take an online course, practice giving report to my preceptor, and listen to at least five different off-going RNs give report and practice writing down pertinent patient information so that in the next three weeks I will be able to give report to the off-going RN with little to no assistance.”
  • “To complete my competency of giving a bed bath independently, I will observe and assist at least three different nursing assistants and practice 4-6 times to be able to pass my competency by the end of next week.”
  • To pass my patient assessment competency, I will observe at least two RNs perform head-to-toe assessments, perform an assessment for 2-3 RNs and request feedback, and complete 5-7 practice assessments during clinical over the next two weeks.”

Consider the tasks that are scary or that you avoid and ask yourself how you can practically improve in that area so that it doesn’t cause any anxiety. Those are the areas that are the best ones to write goals about.

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Final Thoughts on SMART Goals for Nursing

Now that you know more than you needed to about SMART goals for nursing, it’s time to sit down and get started on creating your own! Remember to make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound for the best results.And don’t forget to revise and update your goals as needed so they always reflect your current aspirations and goals.

What did you come up with? Comment and let us know, maybe we can help refine it!

More Resources for SMART Goals for Nursing

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.


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