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Setting goals for your future is a key way to stay on track and advance in almost any profession. In the field of nursing, however, where subspecialties, managerial positions, and opportunities for travel can abound, goal-setting may be necessary to achieve everything you want from your career.

Nursing skills and goals are vast and varied. Many may choose to pursue specialized certifications, others advanced education, and some specific placements in their ideal facilities.

Whatever your ultimate dream is as a nurse, setting realistic professional nursing goals and sticking to a plan to achieve them can help turn your aspirations into reality. In this guide, we cover the importance of setting goals for nurses, different kinds of career goals to aspire to, and how you can take the next steps to move closer to your nursing dream.

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Why Should You Have Nursing Goals?

Having career goals can help nurses maintain focus and routine as they develop skills that can take years to master. Additionally, goals can help nurses break down daunting tasks into more approachable and understandable processes.

Goal-setting can be particularly important for career-oriented individuals who want to climb the nursing ladder. This is because qualifying for many advanced roles in the discipline can require:

  • Extensive experience – For higher clinical positions, such as Nurse Practitioner (NP) and other similar roles, employers may require a storied history of diverse experiences. Beyond these lofty aspirations, however, even qualifying to write certain certification exams, such as the Certified Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) exam, can require satisfying a minimum of clinical practice hours.1
  • Years of education – Nursing degrees run the gamut from an associate degree in nursing (ADN) to a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to a master of science of nursing (MSN), and all the way up to doctor of philosophy in nursing (PhD). Attaining such levels of education can take the better part of a decade or more, but what can you do with a nursing degree? If you want to become a nurse researcher or nurse educator, or acquire a similar position, advanced degrees might be a prerequisite for the job.2
  • Specialized certification – There’s a plethora of different credentials and certifications nurses can acquire depending on the subspecialties they’d like to pursue. As mentioned, many of these can have a minimum of clinical experience hours or other prerequisites that nurses need to satisfy before they can qualify to write certain certification exams.3

All this is to say that it can take a long while to reach your ultimate aspirations as a nurse. Setting goals can transform these tasks into more manageable steps and help you make measured progress toward your ultimate nursing career goals.

4 Types of Nursing Goals

As mentioned, the variety of specialties and positions available to nurses means many potential paths to follow and various goals to set. From finishing a college application to taking charge of an entire healthcare facility, nursing goals are as varied as the diverse individuals who make up the field. 

To get a better understanding of the different types of goals nurses can set for themselves, we’ll break them down by timeline and purpose.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Goals

For some nurses, such as those hoping to acquire a PhD, their goals may take many years to achieve. For others, such as nurses aiming to obtain certain certifications, they could finish in a matter of days or hours, depending on their qualifications to write the necessary exams.

Ultimately, there are no cut-and-dry guidelines for what defines the distinction between short-term and long-term goals. Often, the difference can vary based on a nurse’s own perspective and attitude. In general, however, some achievements that might be included in the short-term category include:

  • Preparing to sit for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing – Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) and secure licensure
  • Applying for and obtaining your first nursing job
  • Learning to use unfamiliar equipment, deal with new conditions, or generally acquire new knowledge outside of a formal nursing education setting

Furthermore, long-term goals are oftentimes a series of shorter-term goals. Getting a PhD, for example, can require first getting an MSN—which itself may require a bachelor's degree. This can be further broken down into smaller goals, such as applying for school, completing an assignment, or passing a test.

Other long-term goals are more abstract and multi-faceted, such as aiming to improve your quality of health care and garner better patient outcomes. Whatever your nursing goal is, it can be helpful to keep the big picture in mind while still working on the steps you can take in the immediate future.

Personal vs. Professional Goals

Nursing can be a complex profession, and its demands may often spill past the confines of the clinic and creep into nurses’ personal lives. Still, it can be pertinent to maintain a solid work-life balance whenever possible—and that can be particularly true when it comes to setting a career goal.

While our careers may take up a large deal of our lives, they don’t necessarily define us. Beyond career aspirations, nurses may also have personal goals regarding:

  • Where they want to live, travel, and retire
  • The kind of family they want to start
  • The type of lifestyle they want to lead
  • Other important personal matters

While these kinds of goals may be entirely separate from a nurse’s professional aspirations, the lives they lead are not. Thus, it can be crucial for nurses with lofty personal ambitions to find roles that help support their hopes and dreams. To make the most out of their lives and their careers, nurses can try:

  • Applying to be a travel nurse to get the chance to see more places (and potentially find the one they enjoy the most)
  • Working with a large nationally or internationally established healthcare company that offers opportunities for relocation
  • Seeking jobs with the necessary benefits—including maternity or paternity leave—to support the type of family they want to have
  • Finding roles that promote flexibility and allow time for the hobbies they enjoy

All in all, while personal and professional goals are separate aspirations, they’re two sides of the same coin. The right role(s) can help nurses achieve their life goals while still progressing toward a rewarding professional nursing career.

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Crafting Your Nursing Goals

Everyone’s goals are different, and no one should pick your aspirations for you. That said, there may be a proven method to help nurses more easily outline their ambitions. Below, we’ll examine how SMART goals in nursing can help you stay on the path toward your ultimate nursing objectives.

The SMART Approach

The SMART approach to goal-setting can make the overwhelming task of outlining a plan to achieve your ambitions more manageable. SMART is an acronym that stands for:4

  • Specific – Goals should have a determined and easily understandable final outcome. For nurses, this can mean getting an advanced certification is better stated as getting a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) certification, or whatever other credentials they’re interested in pursuing.
  • Measurable – Measurable ambitions have quantifiable data to back them up. While not every nursing aspiration fits so neatly into this category, goals like discharging X% of patients with a favorable outcome or taking 20 minutes a day to learn a new skill are easy to calculate and stick to.
  • Achievable – Every nurse might love to earn their PhD., cure every patient they encounter, and still have time to partake in their personal pastimes. Overly ambitious goals, however, can be bound to fail. On the other hand, taking realistic steps that you’re confident you can complete can be a far more effective method of advancing toward your ultimate aspirations.
  • Relevant – A nurse’s goals should follow a logical path that supports their central aspirations and ambitions. Nurses hoping to acquire a PhD, for instance, should choose relevant goals such as getting a bachelor's and master’s degree, rather than less pertinent objectives like acquiring large amounts of work experience. 
  • Time-bound – All runners should have a finish line to race toward. Whether it’s giving yourself a decade to complete your education or giving yourself a month to figure out how to pass the NCLEX, putting an end date on your aspirations can help you stay on track, take action at the moment, and avoid procrastinating.

With this criterion guiding your goal-setting, you can more effectively work toward attaining your personal and professional aspirations. And, if those involve acquiring a BSN or MSN, Alliant International University can help you achieve them sooner. 

Achieve Success in Nursing at Alliant International University

Whether you’re just beginning your nursing career or are looking to enhance your credentials with an advanced degree, Alliant International University has a program for you.

Let’s begin with the BSN. For many nurses, this is the foundational degree upon which they build their careers. Acquiring a bachelor's degree is especially important for nurses who hope to pursue further education, as it may be necessary for acceptance into advanced programs. When you study for your BSN at Alliant, you can learn:

  • How to be a leader and facilitate teamwork in nursing
  • The effective communication and critical thinking skills necessary to work in a high-pressure clinical position
  • Effective strategizing, including more about how to set future goals for yourself

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject but aim to break into the world of nursing, Alliant can help you as well. The master’s of science in nursing direct entry (MSN-DE) lets you jump headfirst into the field without having to start from the beginning. For individuals hoping to obtain an MHA vs. MSN or a higher advanced nursing degree, this can be the perfect opportunity to get your foot in the door.

If you’re searching for nursing programs in Phoenix, AZ that support your personal and professional goals, apply to Alliant and get moving toward your aspirations. 


  1. Gallagher, Meghan. “10 Nursing Certifications to Consider.” Forbes, June 7, 2023.…. Accessed September 16, 2023.
  2.   Writers, Staff. “What Is a Phd in Nursing? - Salary, Jobs, & Specialties.” August 24, 2023. Accessed September 16, 2023.
  3.   Gallagher, Meghan. “10 Nursing Certifications to.”
  4. Leonard, Kimberlee. “The Ultimate Guide to S.M.A.R.T. Goals.” Forbes, May 11, 2022. Accessed September 16, 2023.

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