SMART Goals in Nursing: 6 Steps to Level Up Your Career

Last Updated on May 30, 2024

nurse in blue scrubs and wearing blue stethoscope rejoicing after achieving nursing goals

We’ve all been there: January hits, and our journals are filled with big dreams and even bigger goals for the New Year. But after a month (or even a week), we lose sight of our nursing career goals. Most of the time, this isn’t because you just “didn’t work hard enough” — it’s likely because you needed a clearer goal. More specifically, a SMART nursing goal.

Let’s take a closer look at what SMART goals in nursing are, examples of SMART goals for healthcare professionals, and how you can set your for your career.

What are SMART Goals in Nursing?

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. When we set goals that meet these criteria, we can set ourselves up for success — and actually reach our goals in the new year.

Here’s a breakdown of each letter and examples of SMART goals for healthcare professionals and nurses:

S: Specific

Clearly define the goal. Be precise about what you want to achieve and specify what you need to do to reach your goal.

Think of it like throwing darts at a target. When the goal is general, you don’t know where to aim or throw. When it’s specific, you have a target, making it easy to map out your next steps forward.

  • Example: Instead of a general goal like “Improve patient care,” specific SMART goals in nursing might sound like “I’ll read one article each week to improve my patient care and increase patient satisfaction scores.”

M: Measurable

How will you know when you’ve finally reached your goal? Set a proper finish line and milestones to help track your progress.

  • Example: Rather than stating, “Increase knowledge about new medical procedures,” measurable SMART goals in nursing would be more like “Complete a relevant training course on new medical procedures.

A: Attainable

While you want to dream big, don’t set yourself up for failure. Make sure your goal is realistic and achievable with the available resources and limits you might have.

  • Example: Instead of setting an unrealistic goal like “Master all nursing specialties,” attainable SMART goals in nursing would be more like “Complete a certification course in a specialized area within the next six months.

Related: Don’t Miss 10 Nurse Advancement Opportunities to Make the Most Money!

R: Relevant

Look at the bigger picture. Where do you want your career to be in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? When setting SMART goals in nursing, make sure your goal aligns with the broader objectives and priorities of your role, career, and organization.

  • Example: Let’s say you want to become a nurse leader. That’s your long-term goal. Make it relevant by starting with your long-term goal and breaking it down into short-term goals, like “Volunteer for the next organization initiative.”

T: Time-Bound

We all work better with a deadline. Keep yourself accountable by setting a specific timeframe or deadline for achieving the goal.

  • Example: Instead of leaving the goal open-ended, time-bound SMART goals in nursing would sound like “Practice a self-care routine at least 3x/week to achieve a healthier work-life balance within the next three months.”

Why is Setting SMART Goals in Nursing Important?

Stay Committed to Your Goals with a Clear Plan

The start of a new year naturally brings a surge of motivation. SMART goals in nursing help harness this energy by providing a clear roadmap, making it easier to stay committed to your goals, even after January.

Measure Progress & Stay Accountable

SMART nursing goals come with built-in accountability. With clear metrics and deadlines, you can regularly assess your progress. Seeing how far you’ve come can help give you momentum and stay on track.

Make Your Efforts Count

SMART goals make sure your efforts go toward achievable, meaningful outcomes. By setting specific, measurable, and attainable goals, you can make the most of your time, energy, and resources as a nurse.

Examples of SMART Goals for Healthcare Professionals & Nurses

Let’s look at some examples of SMART goals for healthcare professionals and nurses:

General Goal: Improve Patient Communication

SMART Nursing Goal: “Improve my connection with patients by attending a communication workshop. Within the next three months, I’ll incorporate two new communication strategies from this workshop in my daily interactions.”

General Goal: Participate in Continuing Education

SMART Nursing Goal: “Stay current in my field by completing two online courses on the latest wound care procedures within the next six months. Aim for a minimum score of 90% on the assessments for each course to ensure a solid understanding.”

General Goal: Find Better Work-Life Balance

SMART Nursing Goal: “I will establish a more balanced work-life routine by scheduling dedicated ‘me-time,’ self-care, and family activities at least twice a week for the next three months.”

How to Set SMART Goals in Nursing

Now that we’ve examined examples of SMART goals for healthcare professionals and nurses, let’s write your own!

Step 1: Make Your Goal Specific.

Clearly articulate what you want to achieve. Visualize your success. Additionally, be specific about the who, what, where, when, and why of your SMART nursing goal. Ask yourself:

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where will this take place?
  • When do I want to achieve this?
  • Why is this goal important?

Pro Tip: Self-reflect on your nursing career thus far and explore where else you can go. The possibilities are limitless!

Step 2: Make Your Goal Measurable.

Determine how you will measure your progress and success. Ask yourself:

  • How will I know when the SMART nursing goal is accomplished?
  • What milestones can I hit along the way?

Step 3: Make Your Goal Attainable.

Additionally, assess whether your SMART nursing goal is realistic. Consider:

  • Do I have the necessary resources and support?
  • Is the goal within my control?
  • Can I realistically accomplish this?

Step 4: Make Your Goal Relevant.

Take a step back and see if your goal aligns with your broader professional and personal priorities. Ask yourself:

  • Does this SMART goal support my overall nursing career goals?
  • Does this goal support my personal values and needs?

Step 5: Make Your Goal Time-Bound.

Establish a clear timeframe for achieving your goal. Ask yourself:

  • When do I want to achieve this goal?
  • Is there a specific deadline that makes sense?

Step 6: Put it All Together.

Lastly, combine all the elements into a clear and concise statement. Start with the phrase “I will…” to give yourself extra motivation.

Reach Your SMART Nursing Career Goals

If your goal is to find a nursing job that takes your career to the next level, CareerStaff is here to help you map out your next steps. We can connect you with local, per diem, or travel nursing jobs nationwide to kickstart your SMART nursing goals.

See what nursing jobs are available now or fill out a quick application to get connected with a recruiter today!