By Barbara Leach, MS, BSN, RN


Learning does not stop when you finish your degree. It must be a lifetime commitment for you to continue in your career no matter what path you choose.

Choosing to advance your career is a decision that requires significant planning. First and foremost, you need to identify your goals. Do you want to achieve a specific expertise in a certain area or do you want to move to an entirely different career path?  In this article, we look at how two nurses grew in their careers and what contributed to their advancement.

Barbara Leach

There was never anything else I was going to be other than a nurse.  I loved the idea, and I was so lucky to go directly into a nursing program right out of high school.  I had wonderful teachers, and they were such great examples showing me the road to take every opportunity to learn and take chances, and I’ve done that all of my career.

My first job was a pediatric staff nurse in the evening shift. In his role, I quickly became responsible for orienting new staff because I loved teaching and with this, I had to continue my learning.  When the opportunity came up to become a cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instructor and teach hospital staff, I jumped at it.  Through continued study, I worked my way up to becoming an instructor trainer.

That opportunity to teach CPR led to my first business venture outside the hospital, I established company that provided CPR training in the community.  I taught courses in parks, preschools, Dentist offices and other venues. That business flourished for over 20 years!  Soon after I was asked to teach CPR in the hospital, the opportunity opened for me to become the shift educator. In that role, I coordinated orientations for all shifts which included teaching the required pharmacology class to licensed vocational nurses (LVN’s) who were learning to give medications.  At this point, I realized I needed more education to hone my teaching skills.

I enrolled in a series of courses at the University of California Berkeley extension and obtained my Community College teaching credential. These classes were so influential on my success as a nurse and educator.  This program required me to teach in my area of work (nursing) to my classmates who were auto mechanics, photographers, artists, home economists etc.   As a result of this training, I had the chance to do education and administration on a full-time basis. This is just another example how courses that may not lead to a degree can provide a boost to your career.

When the first associate degree (AA) to bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program in the state began, I was first in line.  I knew having this BSN was an important credential that would open more doors and increase my success in achieving more advanced positions in Nursing.  I completed my BSN, and it wasn’t long until I was eligible for a Director position. This provided an incentive for me to my learning initiative. I continued my studies and achieved American Nursing Credentialing Certification (ANCC) as a Nurse Executive.

For several years, I held the role of Special Project coordinator.  This position offered a variety of learning and teaching opportunities.  I learned how to develop early versions of electronic health records (EHR’s) which encompassed order entry and charting.  I was also exposed to a variety of jobs.  I even had the opportunity to teach adult education for the local school district where I taught classes for Health Unit Coordinators.

The opportunity to move to case management became available, and I was ready for a change of pace. My hospital system needed a manager and leader for their case management department. The responsibilities included budgeting and staffing across 3 hospitals in our system.  In this new role, I realized I needed to learn more about case management (CM).  I joined professional organizations and took every CM education course I could find. Since CM was a totally new role for me, I knew I had to develop my expertise and obtain credentials to support that.   I did take the ANCC RN-BC and the ACM exams to establish my role as a leader in CM. As a result of my certification work, I was instrumental in developing system wide policies that offered rewards and benefits to certified staff in every department who earned their certifications.

After several years as the Director of Case Management I had an opportunity to move to the corporate education office.  The hospital system was needed someone to develop CME certification process and to support the ANCC programs. With my background in education and case management, I was a prime candidate for this position.  Here, I learned how to develop programs on a Learning Management System (LMS) platforms and influence education programs across the health system. This also allowed me to use my adult learning skills that I learned when I obtained my teaching credentials from the University of California

My advice is to take advantage of every education opportunity, even if it does not directly apply to your current position. The things you learn qualify you for tomorrow’s job or it may add a new idea for a better way to do today’s job.  You never know.