The “Shoulds” and “Coulds” of Your Nursing Career

From Nurse Keith’s Digital Doorway

In the world of nurses and nursing, it can feel like we are told what we “should” do with our careers much more often than what we “could” do. While the difference can seem subtle, it is actually something that can have a serious impact on the career path we choose and the subsequent satisfaction that we derive from our choices.

The “Shoulds” of Nursing

When we’re in nursing school or just starting our nursing careers, it can sometimes feel like everyone is just “shoulding” all over us:

  • “You should work in the hospital for at least two years or you won’t ever be a real nurse.”
  • “You should never work nights.”
  • “You shouldn’t think about starting a business; nurses aren’t entrepreneurs.”

There are plenty of things we’re told we should or shouldn’t do or think as nurses; so many people seem to want to control how we view our careers and what choices we make along the way. Why can’t we just make our own choices without their unsolicited input?

For some reason, everyone else can appear to have an opinion about what you’re supposed to do next; maybe they feel that the television shows they watched taught them enough about what nurses do that they can advise you on your career. Or perhaps they are nurses themselves, and they simply couldn’t bear it if you did something outside the traditional box; it would make them uncomfortable.

The fact is, you need to conduct your professional journey according to your own desires and aspirations, and your plan may be completely contrary to the vision that others hold for you. Be that as it may, it’s not your job to please others; it’s your job to create the career that you want.

The “Coulds” of Nursing

When you consider what you could do – not what you should do – the tenor of the conversation changes. The notion of “could” does not hold an intrinsic imperative; rather, it holds an exciting sense of potential and the varying courses of action that can be chosen based on their merit and attractiveness:

  • “You could study business and become a nurse entrepreneur.”
  • “You could go back to school and advance your education.”
  • “You could forget about Medical/Surgical and choose home health instead.”
  • “You could completely change nursing specialties and turn your career on its head.”

Considering what you could do opens your mind to possibility; rather than feeling constricted, considering a variety of possible paths can feel expansive and freeing to your nurse’s spirit.

What Would You Do?

The writer Mary Oliver once said, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” We can ask a similar question about your nursing career.

So, given your druthers, what would you do? What kind of nurse would you be? What types of patients would you serve? Would you even serve patients at all? You can start a business, be a freelance nurse writer, launch a podcast, become a researcher, do private duty nursing, leave the profession to open a wine bar – there is no end to what you might do with your wild and precious career.

Nurses, consider the possibilities, which are endless; reject those who “should” all over you, and welcome those who fill your mind and heart with “coulds”. You have some potentially fruitful and productive years ahead of you, and your runway is of your own making; what will you make of this golden opportunity?

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is co-host of, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century,” and has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.