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Nursing Smart Goals: How to Set Smart Goals for Nursing

nursing smart goalsby Brook Jillings

Nursing SMART goals are valuable tools for monitoring your professional progress and laying the groundwork for career advancement. Just like any long-term project, managing your professional path requires a solid plan.  

Fortunately, the effectiveness of setting SMART goals for nursing success has already been established. If you aren't familiar with SMART nursing goals or you're unsure how to begin, learn how to set achievable goals and take control of your professional future.

What are Nursing SMART Goals? 

Nursing SMART goals are proven to help nurses stay focused on their career goals and map out the professional direction they want to take.  

They are, essentially, a guide to creating a nursing business plan. SMART is an acronym for the guidelines nurses should use when setting their goals:

  • Be specific. Setting broad nursing goals allows them to be open for interpretation. Sometimes goals for nursing will be long term, and your environment and personal views may change how you interpret the goal you've set. If your interpretation varies too much, it can derail your progress and force you to start over. Keep your nursing goals focused and detailed.
  • Keep it measurable. For goals to be effective, there must be some way to measure your progress. This provides the opportunity to celebrate your victories and maintain your motivation. Whatever measurement guide you choose, make sure you have clear milestones and a defined finish line.
  • Keep it attainable. Nursing goals should be challenging, but it's important to verify that they are not beyond your reach. If you lack the tools and resources you need to complete your goal, you may be setting yourself up for failure and threatening self-confidence in your ability to reach other goals. If you're considering a goal for nursing that requires several complicated preparatory steps to achieve, give yourself enough time or break it down into more manageable goals.
  • Be realistic. Make sure the nursing goals you set are not beyond your ability and skill set. Similar to attainability, setting goals beyond your capability has the potential to overwhelm you and kill your motivation. While shooting for the stars isn't wrong, try to keep your goals rooted on the ground to build your professional momentum through successes you achieve along the way.
  • Keep it timely. Setting goals won't have the maximum effect if they are not accompanied by deadlines. Creating a target time line for each goal and milestone will give you a better indication of your progress. Looming deadlines are also great motivators and can help you gauge whether your efforts need to be increased to reach your self-imposed cutoff point.

How to Set SMART Nursing Goals

The best way to begin setting SMART nursing goals is to look at the bigger career picture. Think of where you want to be in 10 years and determine what you need to accomplish to get there. 

Break those goals down into smaller, five-year goals and then again into one-year goals. You should consider the nursing SMART goals guidelines for each of these steps. 

This process will leave you with a 10-year, five-year and one-year plan. These SMART nursing goals can be broken down further into short-term goals or into milestones depending on their complexity. 

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It isn't necessary to stick to these time frames when developing your SMART goals for nursing. These are just suggestions, and you're free to make your goals as long- or short-term as you need. The point is to pick a time frame that works best for you. 

It's also important to note that your nursing SMART goals should be revisited on a regular basis. Over time, you may find that your plans evolve, requiring you to adjust your plans.  

You could discover new interests or decide that certain goals aren't worth the time and effort they take to achieve.  

Check in with your SMART nursing goals every so often to make sure you're still working toward the things that you truly want and are motivated to achieve.

Examples of SMART Goals for Nursing 

It can be easy to shortcut your goals in an effort to get them started, but it's important to stick with the SMART system to increase your chances of success.  

Here are a few examples to show you the difference between a professional idea and a nursing SMART goal. 

Example 1:

  • Simple goal: I want a position that makes more money.
  • SMART nursing goal: By November 30th, I will have a new position at an acute care facility that pays at least $28 per hour, including differential.

The first example is vague and open-ended. The second sets a deadline and identifies a specific goal with a measurable component.

Example 2:

  • Simple goal: I want to show more compassion and empathy to my patients.
  • SMART nursing goal: I will spend an extra five minutes with each new patient and ask questions about their lives to learn at least three interests we can discuss to distract them from stress about their condition.

In the first example, compassion and empathy can't be measured and there are no specifics. In the second, a time frame is set and specific actions are laid out to improve the patient's experience.

Example 3:

  • Simple goal: I want to complete my MSN.
  • SMART goal: I will complete my MSN within three years by completing online courses at a rate of at least six credit hours each semester.

Again, the second example has more detail and sets a specific time line to follow. It's also important to note the language difference. 

Making an "I will" statement is much more powerful than "I want." Taking the time to set your nursing SMART goals is all about setting yourself up for success. Give yourself goals that motivate you and keep you focused.

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