Becoming a Nurse: Promoting Yourself and Your Career (page 2)
Finding Your Niche in Nursing
Some people enter their nursing program knowing their chosen career path, be it pediatrics, critical care, or psychiatric nursing. Most people, however, are unsure. Don't be concerned if you have no idea about what type of nursing career will work best for you. You'll figure it out when you're in school going through your clinical rotations, or you'll have a defining moment that you can help create. Encourage your student nurses association to bring in nurses from different specialties to do panel presentations. Talk to your instructors and ask them about their career history. Find out how they started and how their career path led to teaching. Many instructors practice; ask if you can shadow them for a day or two. Read, read, and read. Journal articles provide as much insight on careers as they do on nursing care.
To increase your chances of obtaining a job in your specialty area, get some experience before you graduate. Nursing clinical rotations are pretty standard. All have adult health (medical-surgical nursing), pediatrics, and women's health; most have psychiatric nursing; and BSN programs have community health and critical care. Some programs offer nursing specialty electives, especially perioperative nursing, disaster nursing, and holistic nursing. These electives may or may not have practicum experience, but every little bit helps. A didactic course in palliative care still makes you a more desirable employee than another graduate with no palliative care background. If your program offers your specialty of interest, take it. If not, get creative:
- If your program has options for independent study, ask to use it to get experience in the specialty that interests you.
- Do a Web search to see if another school offers an elective course in your specialty. Many universities offer these courses online. Just make sure the credits will transfer if you need them to graduate.
- Volunteer. If you want to work in pediatrics, volunteer at a day care center; if you want to work in palliative care, volunteer at a hospice.
- Work with faculty on their research projects or publications.
- Write your own articles. As a student, you already have enough knowledge to write a case study.
Every little bit helps because the bits become resume material. Nurse recruiters will see you as someone willing to do more than only what's needed to get by, and you will be a better nurse because you'll have more knowledge.
Promoting Yourself and Your Career
Nurses rarely think of promoting themselves, but recognition is critical for professional survival, especially if you plan on furthering your career. Self-promotion also allows you to reach more clients, especially if you enjoy client teaching.
Here are some helpful hints to get you started:
Build on your niche. Use your niche to give you something specific to promote.
Realize that self-promotion takes time, and budget it. Figure out how much time you want to devote to marketing yourself and mark it on your calendar.
Learn marketing skills. Marketing means more than providing hands-on care. You will need to develop your speaking and writing skills. Brush up on what you learned in Communication and Composition 101. Read consumer magazines to learn colloquial style, and listen to what your clients want to learn about when you teach and counsel them. You may want to consider taking an adult learning or continuing education course. Online companies, like www.ed2go, offer inexpensive, quick courses on communication, writing, and marketing skills.
Be accessible. Have a working answering machine or voice mail with a professional greeting, and an e-mail account. Fun e-mail addresses and greetings may be nice for friends and family, but not for business. If you still do not have a computer, set up an account where you work or at the local library. Invest in a cell phone with voice mail so you can make and receive calls practically anywhere. You can devote a pay-as-you-go cell phone to business purposes.
Focus. Market what you do best and are most passionate about, such as diabetic teaching, stress management, or parenting skills. Essentially, create a brand name for yourself. Generic packaging is not very appealing or memorable. Jane Doe, RN, will be better recognized as Jane Doe, RN, the wound, ostomy, and continence nurse. People do not care about what you do for a living; they care about what you do for them, and you can show off your credentials.
Get business cards that list your name, title, phone number, and e-mail address. Carry them with you at all times, and hand them out every chance you get. Keep the cards simple and professional. You can make them on your computer, purchase them at an office supply store, or buy them online at Web sites such as www.vistaprint.com.
Network. Join your state nurses association. Attend local as well as national conferences and nursing meetings. Get to know people, including the exhibitors, and let them know that you are available for speaking engagements, writing assignments, consultations, or referrals.
Volunteer your time. Volunteer at blood pressure screening clinics for the homeless. Speak at a PTA meeting, library event, or community meeting. Word-of-mouth advertising is a powerful marketing tool.
Write.. Send letters to the editor, write a column for your local paper, and submit clinical articles to professional journals. If you have good writing skills, consider writing for consumer magazines or even writing a book about your topic.
Create a website, blog, or MySpace page. Many Internet service providers have free, but limited, space that you can use. Better yet, contact a Web designer and get help creating a site that provides information for consumers and healthcare providers. Let readers know that you are available to speak on your topic.
Develop a newsletter. You can make a simple one with your word processing software and e-mail it to friends, family, and coworkers and ask them to promote it. Make it interactive, so that readers can contact you and be heard. People love to express their viewpoints, and providing them with a forum to do so will certainly help you get your name noticed.
Contact local radio and television stations. Pitch yourself and your focus topics to them. Send a brief biography and a photo (preferably a professionally photographed headshot), as well as a bulleted write-up about what you have to offer their audience. Learn to be comfortable in front of a camera and microphone, and learn to be as interesting as you are informative.
Look for tie-ins. If a new baby product store is opening, contact management to see if you can assist by talking to new mothers about infant care. Represent yourself to the media as an expert available for interviews when events occur that relate to your focus area.
Send out press releases. These should inform people of your achievements as well as your upcoming speaking events. Start with having passed NCLEX and gotten your license. An effective press release is one or two pages of double-spaced text with an attention-grabbing headline and lead paragraph. The lead paragraph should contain the "who, what, when, where, and how" of your achievement or event. Customize the release for the audience, and keep it interesting. Be sure to include your photo and contact information.
Be patient, but persistent.
Stay passionate. Marketing is not for everyone, but most nurses have the basic skills to get better recognition for themselves—and the profession. So get out and get noticed.
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