How to Achieve Your Long-Term Nursing Goals

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A nurse wearing a face mask checks an IV.Where do you see yourself in five years? This is not only a question employers ask to assess your drive and interests but also a question all professional nurses should ask themselves. Many registered nurses are seeking ways to set themselves apart in this growing field, and one way to do that is to advance your career as a professional nurse. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is a great move to do just that while immersing yourself in a nursing specialty that interests you most.

To determine where you might be in five years, you’ll need to set long-term nursing goals and establish objectives to guide you throughout your nursing career. Consider taking the following four steps on the road to achieving your long-term nursing goals:

1. Have a Clear Vision

What were your initial motivations for wanting to be a nurse? What career aspirations did you have when you first began your nursing career? If your current role seems like a springboard to something else, what can you do to get to where you want to be? These considerations will help form your goals and provide a clear career road map. For example, if you want to gain more expertise in specialized areas, what steps must you take to hit this target?

If you’re not sure what you want to do, you can still create actionable goals to advance your career. Some people prefer to write down these benchmarks to stay organized and on track. Listing your goals will help you find your interests and strengths and align your objectives with those specific traits. Your goals should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

An example of a SMART goal in nursing is learning how to use an intravenous fusion pump in a week. Specificity anchors your goals to a particular time frame and can make them more easily achievable.

2. Differentiate Yourself

To achieve your long-term nursing goals and open up future career opportunities, set yourself apart from your peers. One way is to become trusted and well respected in your current job. Individuals who deliver excellent service and consistently work hard are highly sought after and often earn recognition from their superiors. These characteristics can help you become a leading candidate for new opportunities that arise.

Building a solid network will be essential to helping you stand out and further your goals. Nursing professionals should look to foster as many positive relationships as possible. These connections can be forged within your facility as well as within communities and national associations designed to connect nurses. Teaming up with a more experienced mentor will help you grow and learn the necessary skills to keep up with emerging techniques. A mentor can also be a key ally when applying for a new position.

Specialization in a field can also help you move closer toward long-term goals. If you have a specialty in mind, find out what type of training and skills are necessary to get into that practice area. Using mentors and connections in that field can reveal what steps must be taken and any advice needed to reach your objective.

3. Earn Your MSN Degree

A bachelor’s degree can open the door for entry-level positions, but an MSN can provide a number of opportunities to grow in your career. In fact, many unit management and supervisory jobs require an MSN degree. Obtaining this degree can yield significant benefits and help you reach your long-term nursing goals.

An MSN grants a wide array of career options. Once you’re on the job, an MSN can demonstrate that you can work with less supervision and are capable of making critical decisions. Earning an MSN may grant you additional benefits outside of reaching your long-term nursing goals. For example, nurses with an MSN can usually expect an increase in their base salary or the possibility of bonuses.

Registered nurse professionals should look into MSN programs to learn how they can improve their skills and meet future needs. In fact, it may someday be required for registered nurses to work toward an MSN degree to retain their licenses. There are also more program options than ever, enabling nurses to obtain their degrees while still working.

Setting your long-term nursing goals can be a major motivator for your career prospects. By establishing a clear vision, looking into certifications, differentiating yourself and pursuing an MSN degree, you’ll take a significant step toward your objectives. Look for opportunities to learn and challenge yourself to keep up on new patient care techniques. This lifelong mindset of expanding knowledge will provide a precedent for constant improvement and goal advancement.

Reaching your long-term nursing goals doesn’t stop at earning your MSN. As a nurse, part of your job is continuous learning, so earning your MSN is just one step in that process.

4. Look Into Certifications

Becoming certified demonstrates you have expert knowledge in a particular field and can help to improve patient satisfaction and lower error rates across the board. As the number of registered nurses with certifications increases, it will be important to obtain these credentials to fill specialty needs, remain competitive and meet long-term nursing goals.

While the concentrations offered may vary from one program to the next, below are popular options for those pursuing an advanced nursing degree to consider.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Focused on the care of adult patients, adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AGACNPs) oversee the delivery of acute, chronic and preventive health care services for patients as soon as they reach adulthood and throughout the rest of their lives. In many cases, AGACNP certified nurses work with patients managing chronic illness or help them cultivate a healthier lifestyle. AGACNPs can also refer patients to other specialists.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) give general care, working with patients of all ages and in a variety of settings. For many practitioners, a long-term nursing goal is to serve as a primary care provider, following patients throughout the stages of their lives while building a lasting rapport.

Many states permit nurses with an advanced education and certification to provide primary patient care services with full practice authority. In the majority of these states, nurses can prescribe medication without a physician’s supervision.

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

In this nursing specialization, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) focus on the mental health and well-being of patients. Seeing physical and mental health as intrinsically linked, PMHNPs are trained to provide assessment, diagnosis, counseling and treatment to address patients’ mental or psychiatric issues.

Executive Nurse Leadership and Healthcare Management

Some practitioners’ long-term nursing goals involve leadership in the business aspects of nursing, stepping away from bedside care to positively impact policy, management and procedure. Executive nurse leadership and health care management prepares future nurse leaders to handle the administrative side of health care organizations, guiding them on ways to implement programs that positively influence the lives of patients and fellow nurses.

Forensic Nursing

The compassion, understanding and training required to treat patients who’ve been victims of abuse is complex and nuanced. Forensic nurses are skilled nursing professionals trained to handle cases of abuse, neglect, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and other instances of intentional injury. Equipped to collect evidence and provide testimony in a court of law, forensic nurses are a vital resource for those pursuing legal action against their abusers. Forensic nurses often work as anti-violence advocates.

Nurse Education and Faculty Role

A nurse education and faculty role specialization prepares nurses to understand current trends and innovations in nursing to best serve future generations of students. Career outcomes include clinical faculty member, online educator, lab director and higher education faculty members. The certifying body is the Certification for Nurse Educators – National League for Nursing.

Pursuing certification will help you gain the skills necessary for a specialty and open up new career opportunities.

Reach Your Long-Term Nursing Goals

Every day, skilled nurses supply much-needed care to patients across the country. As the demand for specialized nurses rises, earning additional certifications has become a long-term nursing goal for many nurses working on advancing their careers. With specialization, nurses can focus their career goals on the care areas they’re most passionate about. They can gain advanced knowledge and skills to help them achieve the best possible outcomes for their patients.

For motivated nurses looking to take the next step in their careers, the online MSN offered by Duquesne University can be a fantastic opportunity for a future they can be passionate about. A fully online program featuring one-on-one faculty mentorship and the choice of an MSN track that fits student goals, the university’s program was created to help students succeed.

Discover how you can make a real difference with an advanced degree in nursing.

Recommended Reading

MSN vs. DNP: Degree Options for a Family Nurse Practitioner

Nine Leadership Qualities in Nursing

Trends in Nursing Education: What to Expect for the Future


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Fact Sheet

Incredible Health, Professional Development & SMART Nursing Goals

Indeed, 15 Nursing Professional Goals (With Tips)

Indeed, Nursing Career: 11 Examples of Professional Goals for Nurses

International Association of Forensic Nurses, Forensic Nursing