As a qualified learning disability nurse you already have some experience of the role – but how do you further your career? Heike Guilford, Managing Director of The Coaching Nurse, shares the advice that has seen her successfully progress her own career from support worker to head of nursing services and beyond.
1. Understand your organisation
If you want to move up the ladder in learning disability nursing and care, it’s important to think beyond your role and understand your organisation as a business delivering a service in exchange for payment.
‘How could your service become even better? Have you got any thoughts and ideas? If you were in charge what would you do to turn your organisation into a centre of excellence?’ asks Heike. ‘These are the kind of questions you should be thinking about.’
2. Think of the big picture
To reach the next level, you need to show that you’re capable of bigger picture thinking and have an understanding of the current strategy for your service.
Heike says: ‘You can achieve this by considering clinical needs, such as management of challenging behavior, introduction of new care planning tools, safeguarding processes, etc.
‘For operational needs, you may consider things like finding ways to reduce the need for agency staff, processes to support staff returning to work following long periods of sickness/absence, and reducing stress related sickness/absence.
‘Managerial needs may include performance management, appraisal and supervision, competency and skills frameworks, leadership of a team, and having communication strategies in place to engage with staff on all levels.’
3. Build a professional portfolio
It might seem like a big investment of your time, but keeping a journal of your achievements, skills and knowledge (in three key areas of clinical, operational and managerial) will pay off when you’re looking for a more senior role.
‘As you complete the application form for the next step, be sure to refer to your journal and communicate your key achievements – this will demonstrate to your line managers an in-depth understanding of your service as a business,’ says Heike.
4. Become a specialist
Consider how you can share your expertise internally within your workplace to support workforce development, as well as outside the service to build a larger network.
‘For instance, are there any specific topics within learning disability nursing and care you are really interested in? Have you got a lot of experience and expertise working with particular client groups?’ asks Heike.
5. Promote yourself outside of the service
Research opportunities to promote your work and expertise outside the service. For example, offer to write a guest blog for one of the LD Nursing groups, host a LD twitter chat, put in an abstract for a presentation at a practice forum or a poster presentation.
‘Obviously, you should liaise with your line manager once you have found an opportunity,’ says Heike. ‘Think about how it would strengthen the organisation’s reputation, benefit networking opportunities and expand the reach of your service.’
6. Find a role model
Do you know someone who already does the job you want? If they are willing to give you an hour of their time, ask them to join you for a coffee.
‘Ask them what life is like doing the job,’ says Heike. ‘What do they know now that they wish they’d known when they were starting out? What was the one thing they learned that really helped them? How did they build good working relationships within the team? How do they handle opposition and bounce back from challenges? Find out as much as you can.’
7. Take care of yourself
Even the most successful nurses have faced setbacks along the way. Thinking about how you will avoid burnout and cope with knock-backs will help you to remain resilient.
‘What or who supports you? How do you stay balanced and handle day-to-day pressures and stress? Make sure you invest in yourself,’ says Heike.
8. Know what motivates you and others
Once you reach a management position, you will need to help foster good morale and motivate your team – but this isn’t always a skill that comes naturally.
Heike says: ‘Think of times you really wanted to do something and you followed through. What inspired you? What was your goal? When you reflect on this, consider the staff team you would be leading in the future. Do you know what inspires them? What motivates them to show up for work every day? What dreams have they got for their future? What can you offer to support their dreams and strengthen staff retention within your organisation?’
9. Be a mentor to others
If you have students coming to you for placements, perhaps there is something you can do to support and mentor them?
Heike says: ‘Consider how building strong bonds with students and the university could support your career. Would it help the goals of your organisation or build a workforce for the future within your service?
‘Think about when you were in their shoes. What challenged you? What would have helped you at that time? Consider how you can be of service to them.’
10. Focus on your dream job now
Don’t wait for your dream job to be advertised – start preparing for your next role now.
‘Ask for a job description and read it at least once a month, considering what skills, knowledge and experience you already have for the job. What do you still need? How could you develop it? Who would be good to talk to?’ asks Heike.
‘Work on a plan how to meet the requirements of the job description and commit yourself to follow through consistently.’