Tips for taking charge of your nursing career
Career Resources

5 Ways to Take Control of Your Nursing Career

Prior to becoming a nurse, achieving your dream probably seemed like a near impossibility. But you did it. You powered through the late night study sessions, showed up for every lab, stuck with clinicals even on the tough days and passed your NCLEX. Now what? Maybe you’ve been working for a few months or even a few years and found yourself on autopilot. Don’t worry. It’s never too late to take control of your nursing career and get yourself out of that rut. Check out these 5 tips from Vivian Health and get started on transforming your career today.

1. Know Your Worth

Regardless of what specialty you’re working in or how long you’ve been doing it, you must know your worth. Many nurses find themselves short-changed simply because they didn’t realize that their nurse salary should have been higher and later regret not doing their research and negotiating when necessary.

Start by using Vivian’s salary tool to calculate average pay rates. This tool is excellent for understanding where your nurse salary ranks locally and nationally against other nurses in your field. When utilizing the tool, consider your level of expertise and years of experience to help calculate whether you should be making more or less than the average.

If you find that your salary is way off base, it’s time to consider having a salary discussion with your management team during your next review. Just be sure to attend the meeting prepared with salary expectations and your reasons for deserving a raise. They must understand why losing you as part of their team would be detrimental and why the increased cost is worth it.

Tip: Be sure to record actual instances where you went above and beyond for patients. If you received written feedback, bring it along. If you accurately remember an event you took part in, write it down and share it with management. Often, the “above and beyond” is what really sets you apart from the crowd. Also, bring along salary research, including what you found on Vivian. Most importantly, always be polite in your approach.

2. Get Specialized

If you’re sure that you’ve found your calling, get specialized by earning professional certifications related to your field. Certified nurses who specialize have higher salaries and earn respect as top professionals in their field. Due to the requirements to renew their certifications, they stay up-to-date on advances in their areas of expertise, ensuring they continue to enhance their knowledge base and advance through their careers.

Get started by utilizing our certification resource to search for a relevant credential you’re interested in obtaining. This informative source details eligibility, education and experience requirements to pursue specific certifications and renewal requirements you can expect to maintain acquired certifications.

If you find that you’re not yet eligible to test for a particular certification, that’s okay. Start a checklist and work towards preparing yourself for the exam by ensuring that you’ve worked enough hours within the field, studying for the exam, and saving up for the exam fees.

Tip: Reach out to management or other team members to find out who in your organization currently holds the certification that you’re working towards obtaining. Ask if they’re willing to be a mentor to you. They might not have much time to devote to you, but graciously accept any advice or time they’re willing to give.

3. Start Traveling

The interesting thing about travel nursing is that it’s beneficial to everyone. If you’re a specialty nurse, there’s a place for you in the travel nurse industry. However, if you haven’t found your niche yet, there’s a place for you, too. It makes travel nursing a wonderful way to take charge of your nursing career.

You get to make the call on what you do and when and where you do it. You review the available options and accept contracts that fit your skills and interests. The bonus here is that you have the opportunity to work in different facilities and often in various specialty areas, allowing you to gain access to experiences that you won’t get if you’re always in the same place.

Traveling allows you to broaden your horizons, then when you find a place or specialty that really speaks to you, simply finish up your contract and go for the permanent position in a place you’ll love. With the nursing shortage showing no signs of letting up, RNs can find a plethora of travel options through Vivian’s travel nurse job listings. Be sure to compare and contrast what the agencies offer and find one that’s the perfect fit for you.

Note: Travel nursing doesn’t necessarily require long-range travel. In fact, many “travelers” never actually leave their local area, only taking contracts in hospitals and other facilities within a short distance from their homes. When deciding on an agency, ask if they offer assignments local to your area if that’s what you’re interested in doing.

Personally, I have worked for several agencies that offer local as well as more distant contracts, and Cross Country Staffing has been the best. They offer a wide range of options, from daily assignments to long-term gigs in just about any nursing field you can imagine. They also have options for daily pay or a more traditional biweekly setup, offer health benefits, and have absolutely top-notch schedulers on staff.

4. Take on Per Diem Jobs

Side gigs aren’t just for people who need a little extra cash. While that’s a wonderful benefit, you’ll likely find that the bigger benefit of taking on side gigs is the experience and knowledge you gain by stepping outside your groove. While unconventional, taking on side gigs is an exciting way to take control of and advance your career, as long as you do it right.

Spend just 15 minutes browsing PRN and per diem jobs and you’ll quickly realize there are tons of options open to you. Some require more commitment than others, so sit down and consider how much extra time you have to give. However, you’ll definitely be able to find something to fit your wish list with a little searching. Once you’ve done that, only consider gigs you’ll enjoy. This positive experience will be great for your resume, and it can raise your morale.

Tip: Now is the time to take on some challenging cases or new assignments. New skills or experiences you gain now will help you obtain future certifications and make you a better nurse overall.

5. Become a Nurse Manager

Deciding to move into nursing management isn’t something you should do lightly, but if you’re really looking for a way to take control of and advance your career, management is the way to go. It’s a big change from staff nursing and requires you to maintain your understanding of what it’s like “in the trenches” while looking at your unit/organization as a business. It also gives you the opportunity to advocate for and implement changes that you feel will improve staffing, efficiency or morale.

If you’re still not sure if you should become a nurse manager, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I love where I work and want to stay here long-term?
  • Do I want to be part of making changes to my workplace? 
  • Are my workplace relationships healthy?
  • Would I like to continue to advance further up the ranks in the future?
  • Am I willing to put in extra effort to advance?

Management might be the way to go, if you answered “yes” to these questions. The next step is to figure out how to make the move. Vivian offers a valuable guide for moving from nurse to nurse leadership that walks you through the process of becoming a nurse manager.

I highly recommend that you start there and prepare yourself for any necessary education or certification requirements. Also, let your current management team know that you’re interested in moving up. This knowledge ensures that they’ll think of you when openings occur, and that they’ll be watching for your managerial attributes.

Taking control of your career as an RN is both exciting and empowering. In fact, the flexibility in where to take your profession is part of the reason why many of us have worked so hard to enter the field. It’s freeing to know that there aren’t any real “ruts,” and with some effort, you can always make changes to improve or transform your nursing career.

Tammy McKinney, RN

Tammy McKinney, RN, ASN, earned her nursing degree from Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences and also holds a Business Administration degree. Her background includes infectious disease nursing, hospice care and agency nursing. As an RN medical writer and owner of the resource website, Tammy is focused on informing and positively impacting the nursing community.

Comments (6)

This is a great article. I saw that Tammy has specialty in Infectitious disease, how do you get that. Where do you start off from in terms of getting the job?


Thanks for reaching out! To become an Infection Control Nurse, an Associates Degree in Nursing is the standard minimum requirement, but many employers prefer ICNs to hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. As with most nursing specialties, before entering the specialized infection control field, you must first spend at least one year working as an RN to build a solid base of hands-on experience. Once you have the necessary education and training, take the Certified in Infection Control exam offered by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology. You can find more information about this certification on Vivian’s CIC certification page found here: Once you pass the certification exam, you’ll be ready to begin pursuing jobs as a Certified Infection Control RN. Browse our jobs marketplace ( to compare the current ICN job postings. Best of luck as you pursue this rewarding nursing career path!


It’s a blessing to read this article. A good encouragement of going back to work as a Home care RN. I think this is the right place to restart after a couple of years on standby as a Home care RN.
I hope to set myself up thru Vivian Agency since my daughter worked with Vivian for a few years and she referred me to Vivian if I want to work as a traveling Home Care RN.


Thanks for reaching out, Angelino! We’re so glad the article inspired you. As a jobs marketplace, Vivian can definitely help you find travel home care opportunities. Visit our jobs page found here: to begin your job search. Click on the “All disciplines and specialties” button and choose RN, then scroll down and check the box next to Home Health and click “See Results” to pull all currently available jobs. To see only travel jobs, click the bottom below “Travel contracts” to pull open travel jobs in home health. You can also narrow your search by including a location, if you know where you’d like to travel first. For questions about our website, please feel free to use the “Contact Vivian” option under the Resources tab to reach our 24/7 help desk. Best of luck in your job search!


I would like to join your team.

Thanks for reaching out, Amanda! Please browse our current job posts at to view and apply for current positions that interest you. If we don’t have anything listed that fits your needs now, please check back later as new jobs post regularly. Best of luck in your job search!

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