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How to set supervisor-approved nurse education goals

How to set nursing educational goals–and get supervisor buy-in

Female nurse with tablet discussing patient recommendations with nurse manager.

Nursing and professional development go hand-in-hand. Not only is there a significant amount of education required to work as a nurse but the field has an expectation for its professionals to stay up-to-date with the latest research developments and to be continually honing their skills to deliver top-quality care.

But there’s a difference between stopping by last-minute lunch-and-learns because you have to, and setting intentional educational goals to improve your nursing practice and potentially earn a raise or increase your responsibilities. Of course, it’s also easier to be excited about professional development when your boss supports you and sees the benefits of investing in your education. In this blog, we’ll cover both what to consider when, and examples for, setting educational goals and how to present them to your supervisor to earn their buy-in as well.

Identifying your nursing education goals

When you start to set goals, whether for your personal direction or from professional necessity, it can be tempting to just latch onto what you’ve heard others are writing about. But you’d be doing a disservice to yourself if you don’t take the time to think critically about what things you could do to really feel successful.

Self-assessment

To avoid putting effort into goals that aren’t meaningful to you, start by doing a self-assessment. You could even start with some baseline questions:

  • Are you happy in your current role?
  • Do you like the environment you work in?
  • What types of things would need to change for you to feel happier?
  • Which of those things are within your power to change?

Reflect on your current skills and knowledge Identifying areas for improvement.

  • Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do?
  • Would you like to gain confidence in performing certain tasks?
  • Do you need to revisit skills you haven’t used in a while?

Take note of the initial thoughts you have when answering these questions. Record any challenges or barriers you anticipate getting in the way.

Professional aspirations

Once you’ve gotten a general idea of how you’re feeling, consider your goals in terms of your career timeline. You should make both short-term and long-term career goals. Short term goals might include exploring nursing specialization options to see which resonates with you, while the long-term goal attached to that would be returning to school to earn certification or a degree in the specialization you’re interested in.

When setting professional goals it’s ok to be frank about what’s important to you. Your goals could relate to reaching a certain salary, earning a promotion, or working in a role that allows a certain schedule. It’s your career, you get to decide what matters most.

Alignment with organizational goals

Now comes the part when you need to transition from looking inward to observing outwardly. Identifying how your goals contribute to the organization's success is key to supervisor buy-in. Ultimately both you and your boss work for a larger business, which has its own priorities.

All organizations: health systems, hospitals, individual medical teams and departments, typically have goals that are shared with employees. You can also revisit your organization's mission and vision to hone in on a sense of purpose and direction. If you don’t know where to find this information, ask your manager. This will show that you’re thinking about how to improve the organization as well as work on your career.

SMART goals for nursing education

Once you have a general idea of the goals you want to achieve, you’ll want to put them into a more actionable format. SMART goals are a commonly used format for making sure set goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART). SMART goals help you make sure you’re including the who, what, where, when, why, and how to all of your ideas. Let’s walk through how to take a goal from simple to SMART with the example of improving cultural competency.

Specific goals

Imagine one of your general goals is to improve your cultural competency. The goal ‘improve cultural competence in our clinic’ is vague which both makes it harder for you to work toward and more difficult for your manager to believe that it will come to fruition.

To make this goal more specific you might decide that you’ll learn more about a specific cultural group or include the method you would like to employ to improve your competency. For example you could decide that you’ll focus on increasing your cultural understanding specifically of Native American patients or by taking a class offered by Indian Health Service (IHS), the Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Measurable progress

The second step to improving your goal is to include a measurable aspect to keep in mind so you know you’re making progress. It’s how you’ll know your goal is complete. The measurable aspect of your goal doesn’t have to be explicitly stated within your goal but needs to be a part of the plan.

In our example, if your clinic has received low patient satisfaction scores in cultural sensitivity, you could decide to measure your improved cultural competence by the scores you earn in patient surveys. If you plan to take a class or workshop, you could measure your progress by your grades or satisfactory completion.

Achievable objectives

Making achievable goals may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to overlook what’s really in our control. You don’t want to set goals that are based on the actions of others who you’re not responsible for (unless you’re making goals for a whole team), or that take complex steps to achieve. If you set a goal to earn a new degree, be realistic about how much time it will take you to both apply to and complete the program, and consider breaking up those steps.

For our example, is it really possible for you to improve the cultural competency of the whole clinic or should you just focus on yourself? Also consider whether it’s an ongoing process that should be broken down into more goals.

Relevant to your role and organization

Goals that are relevant to your organization will be more appealing to your supervisors. If you need any investment of time, money, or other resources from your employer, you’re more likely to get them if your end objective is beneficial to your organization as well. Additionally, while it’s good to learn new skills and expand your horizons, it might be difficult to invest a lot of time into learning about caring for premature babies if you work in the ER or if your hospital doesn’t have a NICU.

Once again, relevancy doesn’t have to be explicitly stated within the goal, but it should be inherently understood. In the cultural competence example, learning about Indigenous Americans would be highly relevant in a state like Oklahoma where there are many reservations and a large population of indigenous people. It might be less immediately relevant (though still very interesting and valuable) to work on cultural familiarity with a group like Hmong people, of whom there aren’t a large number in the state.

Time-bound milestones

The last detail to move your professional development goals from good to great is to make them time-bound. That means you need to give key dates by which time you’ll have achieved all or part of the goal. You might decide to earn your MSN by the end of 2026 or, for our example, you’ll check on patient satisfaction scores on a quarterly basis for a year and then reevaluate if your methods are working.

Gaining supervisor approval

Getting supervisor buy-in for your nursing goals is crucial for your professional development because it often dictates the resources you’ll have access to in order to reach your goals. Start by scheduling a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor, preferably at a time when they are not too busy. In this meeting, clearly articulate your SMART goals, emphasizing how they align with the organization's objectives and can benefit patient care. Provide evidence or examples that demonstrate how your pursuit of these goals can positively impact the team and the organization as a whole. If your boss has any hangups, be receptive to feedback and open to adjustments, showing that you value their input. Engaging in a constructive dialogue and showcasing your commitment to your role and patients can significantly increase your chances of gaining their support. Remember, demonstrating the value of your goals and how they contribute to the success of the organization is key to getting your supervisor on board with your nursing aspirations.

When you’re ready to hit your next education goal choose the Kramer School of Nursing

Earning an advanced degree is often a part of nurses’ educational goals. At the Kramer School of Nursing you’ll not only learn critical lessons in patient care and leadership but you'll also have the opportunity to network with other nurses and open up new career opportunities.

At Oklahoma City University, you can even complete your entire degree online with no in-person commitments so you can continue to work on your personal goals as well. We offer 100% online programs for the RN-BSN, MSN and RN-MSN, each led by our expert nursing faculty. To learn more about how a degree can help you meet professional development goals, schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor.

Oklahoma City University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.

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Oklahoma City University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.