nursing professional goals

Breaking Down Professional Nursing Goals Using a SMART Format

In the ever-evolving world of nursing, professional goal setting is a key element of success. With medical knowledge and technology growing rapidly, it’s important for nurses to keep up with them. And with well-defined professional goals, nurses can not only shape their careers but also realize their complete potential as professionals.

But when it comes to choosing a career path, it can be overwhelming, especially with the amount of options nursing has. And even when you decide upon a path, effectively breaking down your long-term professional goals can be challenging. That’s why, we recommend doing it the SMART way!

What is SMART?

Before we get into the specifics, let’s see what SMART is.

Originally designed in 1981, by George T. Doran, the SMART framework was primarily meant to be a way to set goals for businesses. The present idea of SMART varies slightly from the one initially designed, but its concept has remained the same and can be used for both personal and professional goals.

The SMART framework breaks down goals into 5 components, with each letter symbolizing different aspects of a goal.

  • S: S stands for Specific. Instead of seeing a goal as an abstract idea, specify it in concrete terms.
  • M: M stands for Measurable. Break down your goals into quantifiable measurements. Once you visualize the actions you need to take, it become easier to tick things off your to do list.
  • A: A stands for Achievable. Your goal needs to be realistic. The more achievable your goal is the more willing you’ll be to act upon them.
  • R: R stands for Relevant. Make sure your chosen goals are relevant to what you’re aiming for. For instance, if your goal is to eat healthy, stocking up on ready-to-eat snacks will not make a difference at all.
  • T: T stands for Timely. Setting deadlines are the easiest way to get yourself moving in the right direction. Yes, they can be stressful but if you set realistic deadlines, they can give you the right push to get things done.

How can nurses use SMART for professional goals?

Nurses can use the SMART framework for different types of professional goals. It can be used for upskilling, improving your soft skills, and even making a career map. Because of how flexible this framework is, it can be used for both long-term and short-term goals.

Here are some instances of how SMART can be used by nurses for professional goal-setting:

Example 1: Upskilling

Let’s consider this – You’re a nurse who’s looking to get better at managing clinical records. To plan this goal SMARTly, here’s how you frame it.

Ask yourself, what specific steps can you take to get better at clinical recordkeeping. Do you need to become more efficient at it? Do you want to decrease recordkeeping errors? Or do you want to become more familiar with the recordkeeping software your facility uses?

Once you’ve identified that, set a measurable limit, like, ‘I will consider this goal achieved when I have made less than two errors in a span of a month.’

Then you need to consider how achievable this goal is – how frequently do you get the chance to practice this skill? Do you have access to resources that will help you improve?

Also make sure that the steps you take are relevant to your goal. For instance, if you want to know your way around the record keeping software, ask someone who’s skilled at it to show you the ropes.

And finally, set a deadline. Instead of an arbitrary ‘I want to get better at this,’ set a time that ‘I want to get better at clinical recordkeeping by 6 months.’ This will help you stay focused and motivated to keep working consistently towards your goal.

Example 2: Professional development

Let’s say you have just graduated from nursing school, and you eventually want to become an APRN. You can plan your career map using SMART as well.

Plan out your steps like this: by when do you want to pass your NCLEX, by when do you want to finish your MSN or by when do you want to get your certifications. What’s more you can also break down these steps into individual goals with the SMART format. You can plan your academics before the NCLEX or you can even plan your prerequisites before enrolling for an MSN program.

These steps can be broken down further by determining measurable benchmarks and setting deadlines. Here’s an example:

‘I want to pass the NCLEX with my first attempt. To do that I’ll will finish the main content areas and solve practice questions with 85% accuracy within 6 weeks.’

Also read: Top 10 Professional Nursing Values and Why They’re Important

Tips for setting SMART goals

While SMART can be a very effective framework, you mustn’t overwhelm yourself with unrealistic goals. Here are some tips for setting effective SMART goals you can actually achieve:

  1. Start small: It’s easy to overestimate your abilities when it comes to setting goals. And in doing so, you often set yourself up for failure. So it’s important that you start with easy and achievable goals
  2. Don’t get tunnel vision: If you hyperfixate on one very ambitious goal, its possible that you can miss out on other opportunities. That’s why, you need to be open to new developments that may take you on a detour temporarily, but will eventually lead to a better outcome.
  3. Be flexible: Nothing is set in stone, especially when it comes to long term goals. Life can throw curveballs at any point, so make sure you revisit your goals regularly.

Over to you

Nursing is a dynamic profession, that’s why to stay up-to-date with new developments, nurses must consistently upskill and aim for consistent professional development. Using the SMART framework, nurses can methodically plan their goals into actionable steps that help them improve as a professional. In the long term, this process will lead to job satisfaction and nurture a sense of fulfilment among them for reaching their full potential as nursing professionals.


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