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Pursuing a nursing career requires plenty of discipline and effort. You have to learn how to care for a sick or injured person and comfort them when they feel at their weakest.
When pursuing a nursing career, your physical and mental health are put at risk. So it’s vital to develop skills that will help you stay organized and efficient to stay motivated and succeed at work – like creating SMART goals. Nursing becomes much more fulfilling when you know how you can achieve your aims.
What Are SMART Goals?
Most people create goals to help them achieve the desired outcome. But very few stick to them until the end. This is because they approach goal setting the wrong way.
Have a look at these two statements:
The first statement is a goal nursing students may typically set. The second one is a SMART goal. Other than stating what the goal is, a SMART goal also includes instructions on how to achieve it. This is the only way an action plan can work.
“SMART” stands for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.”
Here’s what each segment means in practice.
Being specific is crucial for achieving both short- and long-term goals. The questions your goal should answer are “What?” “Who?” “When?” “Where?” “Which?” and “Why?” Then, once you reach a specific milestone or the final deadline, you’ll be sure you achieved the goal.
Measurable goals have a precise time, amount, or another unit of measurement built into them. It’s easy to track your progress if the goal has metrics. For example, if the objective is to read 20 pages of a book each day or to spend 15 minutes doing yoga, it’s easy to measure how much of the activity you actually did.
Goals that aren’t attainable often lead to frustration. When creating a goal, examine your current life situation and aim for objectives that aren’t beyond your reach. Otherwise, failure can be discouraging.
Imagine setting a goal to get a nursing job in the most elite private hospital right after graduation. Although not impossible, it’s doubtful that a person can master everything it takes to become a highly skilled nurse practitioner so early in their career.
Relevant goals are about what you really need and want. Your goals should align with what you hold dear and value in life.
You probably have more than one goal in life. Focusing on all of them at once is highly unlikely to bring success. Instead, shift your attention to the goals that are most relevant to your current life situation.
Time-bound goals are about setting deadlines. When creating a goal, you want to set a target date to achieve it. When you look at your goal, the outcome should be clear. And as the deadline approaches, it will be visible whether or not you are on track to succeed.
An essential part of setting goals is the wording. You can achieve fantastic results when you focus on the right things. However, when you don’t, it’s only a matter of time before your motivation dies. This is why it’s best to shift your attention from the outcome goals to the process goals. You can learn more about the difference in this blog post.
And to learn more about SMART goals, check out this post.
Why SMART Goals Are Important for Nurses
According to the American Association of Colleges and Nursing (AACN), over 250,000 students are enrolled in a program preparing new registered nurses at the baccalaureate level. There was a surprising 5.6% increase in 2020.
To compete with your peers in nursing school or as a practitioner, you need to give your maximum to succeed. The best way of doing so is by setting goals that will keep you focused and motivated. Setting SMART goals will ensure you actually complete your objectives.
8 SMART Goal Examples for Nurses
1. Improve Communication Skills
To improve my communication skills, I will listen closely to what others are saying to me. If I can’t keep up, I will ask them to clarify. Finally, I will ask people whether they understood me after I’ve spoken. I should become a better communicator by the end of the year.
S: This goal explains precisely how to improve your communication skills.
M: By asking for clarity anytime you don’t understand something, you can measure your progress based on how often you have to ask in a given day or month.
A: This is a reasonable, attainable goal you can start doing anytime, anywhere.
R: The goal is relevant to becoming a better nurse since communication is vital in this field.
T: At the end of the year, you can compare your communication skills before starting this process-oriented goal.
2. Improve Time Management
I will document all tasks following a weekly timetable during my workday to balance my time and accomplish my duties more efficiently. I will do this for two weeks to improve my overall time management.
S: This goal explains precisely what you can do to improve your time management as a nurse.
M: You can measure the number of tasks you documented, as well as measure how much more efficient you’ve become by the extra time you have for other jobs.
A: This goal is attainable and straightforward.
R: Having strong time management skills is crucial when you’re a nurse. This goal is relevant to your nursing career.
T: You should document the tasks each week following the timetable. You can create an additional sense of urgency by deciding that you have to complete the documentation before returning to work. Two weeks is enough time to see if the strategy is working for you.
3. Be More Accurate
To become more accurate as a nurse, I will write all notes about my patient the moment I leave the room, while my memory is still fresh. Then, after one week, I should have more accurate notes.
S: Compared to “I want to be more accurate,” this is a rather specific goal describing how you can achieve it.
M: You can measure this goal in terms of how many notes you got down. It’s not good to skip a bunch of notes – the point is to get ALL of them down right away.
A: You can squeeze in a minute after leaving a patient room to take notes, so this goal is highly attainable.
R: This goal is relevant to you wanting to become more accurate at nursing.
T: The sense of urgency is created by “the moment I leave the room,” so you know you should act fast to complete your goal. In a week, you can see the difference this strategy makes in your accuracy.
4. Develop Professionally
I will attend two nursing workshops or webinars per year to help my professional development.
S: Instead of saying, “I want to develop my career,” you state the exact activity that will help you do so.
M: The goal is to attend two events per year, so it’s easy to measure your progress.
A: Given that you may have to work more than usual this year, anything more than two webinars per year might be hard to achieve.
R: The goal is directly relevant to you advancing your nursing career.
T: The goal resets at the end of the year, so you want to plan your time wisely.
5. Explain Things to Patients
I will learn to use plain language so I can communicate better with my patients. Whenever I learn a new medical term in the next three months, I’ll find a simpler way to explain it.
S: This is a specific goal about changing how you explain things to your patients.
M: The goal progress can be measured by the number of new medical and laymen’s terms you learned.
A: This goal is attainable, and it’s a win-win both for you as a nurse and for your patients.
R: This is a highly relevant goal in anyone’s nursing career.
T: After three months, you’ll see a difference in how you communicate with your patients.
6. Stress Less
To combat stress at work, I will practice stress management. I will exercise, meditate, listen to music, or take some time off for myself every day for one hour. I’ll get more sleep in and talk to friends and family about what’s troubling me. Then, after two weeks, I’ll re-assess.
S: Instead of saying, “I want to stress less,” you can give specific details about how you can achieve that.
M: You can measure your progress by the number of hours you spent on self-care. Also, you can measure how doing these activities impact your response to stressful situations at work compared to before.
A: You may feel pushed for time, but an hour per day for yourself is not that much. If you can’t make it an hour straight, you can split the activities into two sessions of thirty minutes.
R: Doing what you love releases tension and stress you may feel at work, so it’s like performing a small reset after a tiresome workday. You’ll start fresh tomorrow, which is relevant to managing stress at work.
T: After two weeks, you can decide if your quality of life has improved.
7. Stay Healthy
To stay healthy, I will practice healthier habits. For the next month, I will work out every other day and meal prep in advance to ensure my diet is healthy and balanced. In addition, I will eat more raw foods and avoid sugars and soda.
S: This goal describes in detail what you can do to stay healthy.
M: You can measure the goal by how many workouts you got in or how many healthy meals you prepared over the week.
A: Working out can take as little as 15 minutes of your time, and meal prep can be done once for the rest of the week, so both goal segments won’t be too time-consuming.
R: Being a nurse in these hectic times is challenging. To keep your immune system up, you have to take extra care of your health.
T: Working out every other day means you need to find time off and squeeze in a workout long before it’s time for bed. Also, you can assess how you feel at the end of the month.
8. Be More Compassionate
To be more compassionate, I will spend two to five minutes asking each new patient about their lives and learning more about their interests. Then, I will discuss their interests with them to distract them from stressing out about their condition. By next week, I will be a more compassionate caregiver.
S: Instead of saying, “Be more compassionate,” you specify how exactly you can achieve that.
M: If you have never spent time discussing your patients’ interests before, doing so for two to five minutes is a way to measure your progress.
A: This goal takes just minutes to complete, and you can do so whenever you find it convenient.
R: This goal is relevant to you becoming a more compassionate nurse practitioner.
T: In just one week, you can decide if this strategy helped achieve your goal.
9. Avoid Burnout
To help avoid burnout, I will use my PTO to take time off for a mini vacation at least twice a year. I’ll practice stress reduction techniques, like meditation and yoga, at least three times a week. I’ll try to get enough sleep on my days off. I’ll practice deep breathing if I feel stressed during my shift. I’ll also practice a self-care activity, like getting a pedicure or massage, at least once every two weeks. After three months, I’ll reflect on what helped me feel less stressed and assess whether I have early signs of burnout.
S: This goal is specific because it describes exactly what you’ll do to decompress and reduce stress. The goal also specifies what self-care and stress reduction techniques you’ll try.
M: The goal is measurable because it states how often you’ll practice techniques to avoid burnout.
A: The goal is attainable because practicing yoga or meditation three times a week is easier than every day. You’ll likely be able to take at least a couple of PTO days twice a year, if not more.
R: The goal is relevant because burnout can easily happen to nurses, given the high stress and demands of the job.
T: The goal sets a timeframe of three months to evaluate how you’re doing and what’s worked to reduce stress and burnout risk.
10. Uplevel My Skillset
I will try to start at least ten IVs in the next two weeks. I’ll offer to insert IVs, catheters, or NG tubes for other nurses’ patients whenever there’s an opportunity for the next two months. I’ll practice recognizing a cardiac rhythm on telemetry once a shift and discuss my questions with the charge nurse. In three months, I’ll make a list of skills I’ve improved on and ones I want to practice more.
S: This goal gets very specific about what skills you want to practice — IVs, catheters, NG tubes, and reading telemetry.
M: The goal is measurable because you’ll reflect on what went well and where you want to improve after three months.
A: The goal is attainable because most other nurses are always grateful for a helping hand with many of these skills. If you work where there are telemetry patients, you’ll have plenty of rhythm strips to look at and senior nurses to learn from.
R: This goal is relevant because technical skills are always in demand in the field of nursing, although it depends somewhat on where you work. If you do work at the bedside, improving your skills will also help you better care for patients.
T: The goal sets a timeframe to get in as much practice as you can, as well as when to re-assess.
11. Be a Team Player
Whenever I’m caught up with my own work, I’ll offer to help coworkers with transferring patients or giving medications. I’ll be kind in all my interactions with doctors, therapists, social workers, and other nurses. Every month, I’ll reflect on any feedback I’ve gotten from supervisors or coworkers.
S: The goal here is to be mindful of your interactions with coworkers. It also talks about which tasks you’ll help others with.
M: By thinking about constructive feedback, you’ll be able to measure how well you’re working with your team.
A: The goal is attainable since it states that you’ll offer to lend a hand whenever you’re caught up on your own work.
R: Being a great team player is an integral part of being a nurse.
T: The goal sets a monthly timeframe for reflecting on how you’re doing as a team member.
12. Improve Workflow
I’ll come to my shift ten to fifteen minutes early so I can review my patient assignments before starting my shift. I’ll make a list of the main tasks I need to complete and which patients I need to see first. I’ll try to get the most difficult tasks done early in my shift. Each week, I’ll write down what went well and what could be better. After three weeks, I’ll re-assess and think about ways to be even more efficient.
S: Here, you’re setting a goal to be at work ten or fifteen minutes early to have time to prepare. Prioritizing tasks and making a schedule for your shift are specific ways to improve workflow.
M: A weekly list of things that did or didn’t work can help you measure your workflow and see how you can improve.
A: The goal is attainable since you’ll already need to do some preparation for work and complete tasks.
R: The goal is relevant because a better workflow will improve efficiency and time management, which will help your day or night run smoothly!
T: Reassessing your progress after three weeks makes for a good time-bound goal.
13. Ace Nursing Job Interviews
I will apply for at least three jobs I’m interested in each week and follow up if I haven’t heard back in one week. Two days before my interview, I’ll research the company and review ten common interview questions online to feel more prepared. I’ll also choose what I’ll wear and think of three questions to ask the interviewer a day ahead of time.
S: The goal details exactly what you’ll do to secure a job interview and get prepared. It also mentions how many questions you’ll have ready to ask the company.
M: The goal specifies three questions to have ready and how many potential interview questions you’ll prepare for. You can also measure your success by whether you get the job!
A: Looking up interview questions online and preparing a day ahead of time are all attainable goals.
R: If you’re on the hunt for your perfect nursing job, acing the interview is an important part of the process.
T: This goal puts a timeframe on when you’ll follow up with a potential employer and start preparing for your interview.
14. Be More Thorough
I’ll perform a head-to-toe assessment on each of my patients within two hours of starting my shift, sooner if they’re more critical. I’ll come to work ten minutes early so I can review my patient’s chart before seeing them. I’ll make a list of each body system to make sure I cover everything in report. I’ll re-assess where I could improve in a month.
S: This goal mentions what you’ll do to ensure you’re being thorough, like doing full assessments.
M: The goal is measurable by re-assessing areas for improvement in a month and making sure you’ve covered each body system in report.
A: Doing a full assessment is likely a part of your workflow anyway. Coming in a little before your shift gives you some time to review details in their chart.
R: Being thorough is good practice as a nurse since it helps stop problems before they start.
T: The goal is time-bound because it sets the bar at two hours for when to have patient assessments done, as well as a monthly reflection period.
15. Improve Patient Outcomes
I will provide printed instructions to patients on discharge and ask them to repeat back what I tell them to ensure they understand. I’ll do thorough assessments each shift. I’ll make sure my patients get all their questions answered before they leave.
S: This goal talks about just a couple of ways to help patients have better outcomes — making sure they have detailed instructions they understand how to follow.
M: Having patients repeat back what they heard is a way to measure their understanding.
A: If you discharge patients, you’ll have to spend time going over discharge instructions anyway. Thinking about the best ways to do it might help improve their outcomes.
R: Many of us enter nursing because we want to help people. This goal is relevant because nurses are a huge part of patient success!
T: The goal is time-bound because you’re making sure all questions are answered before the patient discharges. Depending on where you work, you may even set reminders to follow up with outpatients and see how they’re doing long term.
Final Thoughts on SMART goals for Your Nursing Career
Regardless of where you are in your life right now, you can always rely on SMART goals. Nursing doesn’t have to be so challenging when breaking each challenge into smaller objectives and facing them one at a time.
Plus, you can use this free printable SMART goals worksheet to make your goal-planning even more straightforward.
And if you want more SMART goal ideas and examples, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 9 Examples of SMART Goals for Occupational Therapy
- 5 SMART Goals Examples to Improve Workplace Teamwork
- 7 SMART Goals Examples for Improving Your Listening Skills
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.