New Year, New Goals: 7 Steps to Make Your Nursing Dreams a Reality

catherine ryan gregory

Written and reported by:

Catherine Ryan Gregory

Contributing Writer

kathryn dailey-deaton wearing personal protection visor in hospital room
kathryn dailey-deaton wearing personal protection visor in hospital room

There’s a reason why making resolutions is so common this time of year.

“The new year symbolizes a rebirth—new year, new me,” explains Tanya Peterson, MS, OTR/L, a healthcare career consultant with Polish2Prosper. “We feel as though we get a new start, and it motivates us!”

That makes this an excellent opportunity to identify and work toward your nursing goals. Whether you’re dreaming of getting into a nursing program or envisioning your ideal first nursing job, taking these seven steps could start you on the path to making your nursing dreams come true.

1. Reverse Engineer Your Big Goal

When you have a big goal—whether that’s getting into your first-choice nursing program or landing your ideal job after graduation—it can feel nearly impossible to get from where you are now to that outcome. “My biggest piece of advice is reverse-engineering a track to get you to your big, audacious goal,” Peterson says. “Work backwards by setting small, action-based goals.”

So if you want to get into nursing school this year, write down a list (or use a digital tool such as Asana or the Todoist app) of all your smaller steps. Then break those down further—no step is too small! So instead of writing down take prerequisite courses, slice your to-dos even smaller.

For example:

  • Research prereqs for your desired schools
  • Sign up for one course
  • Make a study plan

2. Be Flexible in the ‘How’

“It’s easy to be so focused on your goal that you put blinders on,” Peterson says. In reality, though, there are many ways to get to your dream destination.

For example, you might not get into a nursing program right away. “Getting into nursing school is challenging,” explains Kathryn Dailey-Deaton, RN, a perinatal nurse in Portland, Oregon. “It’s OK to be on a waitlist or apply multiple years in a row. Just stay open to what’s possible and know there are a lot of ways to get into nursing.”

Stay open to what’s possible and know there are a lot of ways to get into nursing.

You might start by volunteering at a local health clinic or applying for a job in an allied health field such as a phlebotomy. The important thing is to not get so set on one path that you become paralyzed at the first roadblock.

3. Gain the Skills you Need for Your Goal

If you have an idea of the kind of nursing position you want, work on gaining the skills that “future you” will need. It’s never too early to start.

Dailey-Deaton knew she wanted to work in reproductive health from day one. So she set about gaining the experience and skills that would help get her into nursing school and, later, on the labor and delivery floor. She volunteered at Planned Parenthood, joined the Nursing Mothers Council, became a doula, and volunteered as a doula in a local hospital.

If you’re not sure what you need to do, “look at your dream job title on job boards and break apart the career path to get there,” Peterson suggests. Pay close attention to the qualifications and education sections of job postings. What can you do now to ensure you can fulfill each of those must-haves in the future? If you’re in nursing school now, make sure your class schedule, practicum placement, or extracurriculars align with those qualifications.

Look at your dream job title on job boards and break apart the career path to get there.

4. Build a Community of Support

You will inevitably face setbacks as you work toward your nursing goals. Make sure you have the support you need to bounce back.

“Having a group around you that supports you and lifts you up is one of the best strategies to get through tough times,” Peterson says. It’s especially important to find a crew going through what you’re going through. They’ll truly understand and be able to empathize. Then they’ll cheer you on as you try again.

5. Lean on Advising and Career Services

One huge takeaway: You don’t have to do this on your own. If you feel overwhelmed at everything you need to do, make an appointment with an academic advisor or career services expert at your community college, university, or nursing program.

“They’re experts and can help you prioritize and make a game plan,” Dailey-Deaton says. “They know how to get each piece done and when you need to start to be ready for next steps toward your goal.”

6. Join Nursing Organizations

Make a point of joining organizations, clubs, and other groups related to your nursing goals. The collective energy of everyone focusing on the same thing—whether that’s community health or equity in healthcare—supercharges your motivation.

Make a point of joining organizations, clubs, and other groups related to your nursing goals.

Membership will also open up opportunities. For example, Dailey-Deaton joined the nursing student union at her school. “I went to conferences and networked on a statewide and nationwide level,” she says. Bonus: Membership in relevant organizations looks great on your resume.

7. Build your Network Thoughtfully

You’ve heard the advice to network a million times by now. But chances are you might not have heard specific how-tos.

First of all, connect with people who are a little further along the path to a goal you both share. If you want to get into nursing school, reach out to someone who’s in their first year at the school you’re aiming for. If you’re already in a nursing program, connect with recent graduates. “Someone a little bit ahead of you has already blazed the trail,” Peterson explains. “Ask them for advice, especially what they’d have done differently.” That one question can reveal a gold mine of tips that can help you reach your nursing goals.

Connect with people who are a little further along the path to a goal you both share.

Secondly, expand your professional network. Find people working in the position of your dream job. “Generally, even people you don’t know in person are willing to help others in the healthcare field because we’re all in this together,” Peterson says.

She recommends a specific tactic to connecting with people you don’t know—cold emailing, in other words. After you briefly introduce yourself, “find and mention three levels of similarities,” Peterson says. Note how they went to the same nursing program you’re attending, that they work in the field you’re most interested in, and any contacts you have in common. You can even find out more personal details by looking at their LinkedIn or other social media profiles. (“I saw you own a rescue dog—I adopted my chihuahua from the animal shelter last year!”)

Finally, avoid the temptation to go straight into “how can you help me mode.” Start by asking them to tell their story, like how they got into nursing. “The best tool you have is active listening,” Peterson says. Look for ways you can apply their experience to your own path. As your relationship develops, it may become possible to shadow them in their job or even ask for a LinkedIn recommendation.

tanya peterson

With professional insight from:

Tanya Peterson, MS, OTR/L

Healthcare Career Consultant, Polish2Prosper

kathryn dailey

Kathryn Dailey-Deaton, RN

Perinatal Nurse

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