Nursing Career Satisfaction: A Moving Target

Whether you’re two years out of nursing school or in your fourth decade of being a nurse, your career satisfaction is not a stagnant entity; rather, it’s a continuum along which you move for the entirety of your nursing journey.

Developmental Career Stages

When you finish nursing school and enter the workforce for the first time, your career satisfaction may be justifiably rooted in the procurement of experience and knowledge, the learning of new skills, and the sharpening of skills that were previously learned but never mastered. Successfully navigating your first code, inserting a Foley catheter without assistance, or hanging your first transfusion are examples of moments of great satisfaction and achievement in a novice nurse’s career.

In mid-career, the mastery of new clinical skills may be superseded by other needs, including the power to influence policy, or perhaps the ability to see healthcare and nursing from another perspective, perhaps as an administrator or executive. This developmental stage of your nursing career may be less about skills and more about the bigger picture.

Meanwhile, in the “autumn” of your career when you’re moving in the direction of retirement, your satisfaction may come from mentoring younger nurses, teaching what you know, or otherwise passing your skills and institutional knowledge on to younger generations of nurses.

Satisfaction Front and Center

No matter where you are on your nursing career journey, your satisfaction needs to always remain front and center. Sometimes, we remain in positions because we’re afraid of change, or perhaps because we don’t know what other opportunities are out there waiting for us. We can unwittingly walk around with blinders on, missing out on chances to break out of the box or color outside the lines.

Acknowledging that your professional satisfaction is a moving target encourages you to remain consistently focused on being certain that you are where you need and want to be. Your ability to be the best nurse you can possibly be hinges to some degree on your happiness in your work; unhappiness breeds resentment, compassion fatigue, and burnout, so keeping your finger on the pulse of your own professional satisfaction is important.

Checking In

Periodically ask yourself if you’re happy in your work. Are you sufficiently challenged? Is the workplace culture positive and supportive? Is there room for advancement and growth as a person and as a professional? When you sense that you are not challenged enough or that your professional growth is stunted, it’s a call to action in the interest of change.

Falling into a career rut lends itself to dissatisfaction and a feeling of malaise; when you check in with yourself and honestly assess where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to go, you may realize that the target has moved and your career needs to adjust so that you remain fully engaged and present in your work.

Check in with yourself, ask questions that dig for your truth, and keep your eye on the moving target of your career satisfaction and happiness.

About Keith

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Keith Carlson is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist.

With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers.

Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms, as well as at