How to Use SMART Goals in Nursing

How to Use SMART Goals in Nursing

In a career like nursing, your goals should mirror your daily practices: precise, orderly, and efficient. A method for making such goals, both short-term and long-term, is the SMART goals method.

SMART goals help keep you focused by providing you with a specific set of boundaries and actions that you can take to achieve a goal. To help you develop a roadmap for success in your nursing career, we outlined what SMART goals are and how they can be implemented, along with some examples to get you started.

What Are SMART Goals?

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Put simply, a SMART goal is a framework designed to guide you through the steps of making and reaching a goal.

Many people use this framework to help with career planning, academic planning, and team building. In the nursing field, you can use the SMART goals system in a variety of different ways to help you improve your patient care, learn hard skills, operate more efficiently, organize staff that reports to you, and so on.

The biggest benefit of making SMART goals is that the system focuses on results. For example, say you’re working toward a promotion as your end result. You can use a SMART goal worksheet or plan to create collaborative steps toward your next career move. 

This shows your supervisors that you’re proactive, and it’s a useful, actionable supplement you can add to annual or regular job performance evaluations to show exactly how you’re improving your performance and your career.

Below are each step of the SMART goals process and examples of how to apply them, so you can start making SMART goals for yourself.

Specific

First, your goal should be specific. For example, a recent nursing school graduate may want to obtain a job. But that goal is quite general. 

An example of a more specific goal is to obtain a full-time nursing role at an emergency room within a 30-minute commute. The more specific you are with your goals, the better.  

Here are some examples of other specific nursing goals:

  • Obtain a management position at the hospital I currently work in.
  • Earn my MSN degree to become a Certified Nurse Midwife.
  • Get hired at a private nursing facility within six months after graduation.

Measurable

As a nurse, you know all about the importance of metrics when it comes to health care procedures. Putting numbers to outcomes, treatments, or in documentation gives a much clearer view of any progress.

In that same way, SMART goals are measurable so you can track your own progress in achieving your goal. If your SMART goal is large, metrics can help you accomplish smaller steps along the way with the use of milestones.

For many people, it’s helpful to write the measurable element of your goal as a verb. Here are a few examples:

  • Read one nursing-related journal every morning before work.
  • Apply to 10 nursing jobs each week.
  • Attend one mentorship meeting once per month.

While meeting these metrics doesn’t guarantee success in the job search, they all create habits that significantly increase your chance of landing a role.

Attainable

A SMART goal is one you can achieve. Additionally, it’s a goal you can reframe. 

For example, if a new nurse can’t find a job within six months that meets their 30-minute commute criteria, they might consider expanding their search area, increasing the number of jobs they apply to per week, or accepting part-time or per diem work until they land a full-time job.

Realistic

Aim high, but not so high that it’s unattainable. Evaluate the end results you want as well as the steps involved to get there and make sure that the process and outcome are realistic. 

If a job-seeking nurse also has other obligations, such as another part-time job, parenting, or caregiving, is it realistic that they can apply to the number of jobs they’ve outlined? 

Realistic goals and milestones create forward momentum, so you don’t end up stuck on one step or losing motivation, because you can’t meet the metrics you’ve set for yourself. 

Timely

Finally, SMART goals have a set timeframe to prevent procrastination. Ask yourself if there’s a specific deadline for your success, and if not, use factors in your life to determine a date for your goal. 

Examples of timely goals include the following:

  • Get hired as a nurse at a hospital three months after graduation.
  • Obtain a certificate by the end of the month.
  • Advance my degree to a BSN in two years.

Bringing It All Together

In order to create a successful SMART goal, it must contain every element to give you the best chances of success. 

A goal that is specific, measurable, and timely is a good starting point, but it’s not a SMART goal. In order to make it a SMART goal, you must also consider if it is attainable and realistic, and then incorporate those components into your plan.

How to Write SMART Goals in the Nursing Field

When you’re ready to write your own SMART goals, set aside time to carefully evaluate where you are now, consider where you want to be, and determine the steps needed for you to achieve your dreams. 

Don’t feel pressured to come up with everything perfectly the first time. Write down any and all ideas as they come to you and test out a few before landing on a specific goal.

Finally, to help you create a SMART goal, ask yourself the following five questions, commonly known as the 5 Ws:

  1. Who should you involve when considering this goal? Whether you’re a nursing student, recent graduate, or a nursing manager, you’re going to need support to achieve your goals. Create a list of professional contacts, professors, or mentors who might be useful networking contacts.
  2. What specifically do you hope to accomplish? Narrow your goal as much as possible. You can always broaden your goal or approach if necessary. The more specific your vision is the better you’ll be able to plan to achieve it, as you can create measurable metrics to reach that goal.
  3. Where do you need to go to access resources for your goal? As a nursing student, you can identify key locations on campus where you can study, get resources, and seek help. Graduates, on the other hand, may look for specific conferences or conventions they can attend to advance their careers.
  4. When do you want to achieve your goal or see results? It’s easy to avoid a goal if you don’t have a deadline. Think specifically about where you want to be in a month, three months, six months, one year, and five years from now.
  5. Why do you need to accomplish this goal? Finally, and most importantly, carefully consider the reason you want or need to achieve this goal. What is your “Why?”

Examples of SMART Goals in Nursing

These examples will help you craft your own SMART goals:

  • I will obtain a nursing position in a hospital within 30 minutes of my home within three months of earning my BSN degree. I will apply to 10 positions each week and strive for one interview each week.
  • I will spend an extra five minutes with new patients who enter my ward to get to know them on a personal level. I will learn two or three unique things about them so I can open the door to future conversations.
  • I will earn my MSN degree by spring semester 2023 by enrolling in two classes each semester. During each semester, I will spend an additional hour each day reading nursing journals pertinent to my classes.

SMART is a useful tool in establishing goals for yourself and your career. By taking the time to use the system and set measurable, realistic expectations for yourself, you’re taking the time to set yourself up for success. 

Michelle Paul

Michelle Paul is an RN Content Specialist at Clipboard Health. She has worked with a variety of patient demographics, ranging from young adults in foreign countries, to elderly residents in skilled nursing facilities, to healthy blood donors in her community. Her experience in content creation gives her a unique perspective on communication within the healthcare field.

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