As a child, I vividly remember the essential things our family needed as we embarked on every road trip. The atlas was all important. I can still remember that atlas: it was the size of an enormous magazine and had maps of every state in our glorious country. We would follow along with those pictures as we crossed from one side of a state to the other, from one highway to the next. We had no exact route planned, only the intention to arrive at our planned destination. Those were pre-GPS days. No voice-over to tell us to turn right in 500 feet or send us a message when we missed the turn.
I wish I had that same atlas now; I just wish it was created for my nursing career. It would be awesome to have a roadmap that told me 20 years ago to take this path, then take that road, then this highway to get to the big picture of career success. Ah, but only if that were so. As an NP with more than 30 years of nursing experience, I wish I had found that atlas at the beginning. I feel like I have wandered the roads trying to find that highway of success. I do believe what would have helped me along the way would have been determining my brand.
Branding in nursing is an interesting concept, isn’t it? I understand branding to be figuring out how you want to present yourself to the world as a professional. Do you want to be known as an expert clinician, a researcher, an educator, an administrator, or a leader? You may want to brand yourself as a combination of the above. The sky is the limit. It feels like being back in high school and figuring out where you want to go to college and what to major in all over again.
If I were to look back and create a road atlas for my career and brand, I would say the following things to my younger self: Have you taken the time to examine and develop who you are, or want to be, as a nurse? Start to draft your story. Nursing is not about what you do, it is about who you are and who you become and the difference you make along the way. For starters, figure out your mission statement. Why are you in nursing? What do you stand for? What do you want to be known for? What do you think nursing should be and what should you be in it?
Throughout the course of my career, I have interviewed many people for both nursing and non-nursing positions alike. I have also been interviewed many times for various positions. One of my favorite questions to ask is "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Have you thought about your future and where you want to be? Is this position just a brief rest stop along the road or will it be a permanent part of the route?
Next, now that you know where you want to go, what steps do you need to take? If you want to build a house, you need a solid foundation. If you want to be a nurse leader, you need to develop expertise. Learn the basics and learn them well. I have long been an advocate of the belief that I can learn something of value from everyone I meet each day. Health care revolves around the people who do the basics really well. The person who empties the trash with a smile can be the best medicine for a troubled patient or family member. The secretary who answers the phone can bolster a practice or send it crumbling into ruins. Learn from everyone around you.
Once you perfect the basics and you have that solid foundation, use your voice. Become an expert in your nursing specialty. Get that certification, read all that you can and apply that new knowledge to make useful changes. Attain your terminal degree and your speaking podium becomes taller and your voice becomes louder. Work well as a member of a team. Take direction when needed and share your expertise with others in a non-assuming manner. Then you will have a vantage point to lead and speak out and make meaningful change. Once you get to this level, you are still not done. You still have not reached your destination.
Acquire the skill of sharing your branding information with others. Share your accomplishments and applaud the accomplishments of others with equal enthusiasm. Applaud team efforts but do not be afraid to acknowledge your own contributions. Sometimes, if you do not sing your own song, no one will know the music is on. Update your resume regularly so you do not omit anything. That is your road sign and without it, you lose your direction.
Keep your knowledge current. If you are given the opportunity, join an expert panel, or be a member of a committee. Attend seminars and advance your skills in networking. Never stop learning. Talk to nurses in other parts of the country. Get active on social media professionally. Listen to others’ ideas. Your next opportunity may come from a chance meeting or conversation.
Lastly, leave the field of nursing better than you found it. Be a professional, support new colleagues, grow the next generation. Be a preceptor and encourage new nurses. Remember how tough it was to be a nurse fresh out of school and be determined that you are going to make that trip much easier for someone else. That is the atlas I wish I had shared with my younger self. That is the roadmap of experience that I now share with you. Those are the musings of how I developed my brand as a nurse and a nurse practitioner and a Doctor of Nursing practice. I feel I developed my brand on a rather rough terrain and I wish I had a better roadmap from the beginning. I certainly hope you do now!
How would you draw the roadmap to your career? Share important mile markers in the comments.
Dr. Karen Scanlon Henry is a nurse practitioner in medical oncology in Miami, Florida. She enjoys baking, long walks, reading, and philosophical discussions with her adult children. Writing has been a lifelong passion and hobby for her. Karen is a 2022–2023 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.
Illustration by April Brust