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Goal Setting for Nursing Learners: Learning the Art of S.M.A.R.T. Goals

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Learners at Nightingale have one common goal—to graduate from nursing school and become a licensed nurse, which is a big accomplishment. Before jumping to the final goal and possibly underestimating what it takes to complete such an ambitious endeavor, establishing milestones and a set time frame for each milestone have shown to help improve the likelihood of achieving your goal. Breaking your main goal into smaller steps will help you stay on track and more importantly, understand the elements that make up the end goal you have set for yourself.

Don’t forget to download and complete our S.M.A.R.T. Goals Worksheet or to use it as a basis for learning to set the right goal that can be accomplished.

What milestones can learners set that together work towards achieving the final goal?

Making a goal to finish your schoolwork on a specific day, sticking to a specific study schedule, getting a certain score on a test or in a course, practicing something at clinicals, and similar day-to-day activities are milestones that you can set to help progress in the right direction. These day-to-day activities are not only milestones of the grander goal of becoming a licensed nurse, but can be individual goals with milestones of their own.

What is the set time frame that is needed for each milestone?

Make a timeline that starts with today, then a goal for next week, next month, 6 months from now, 1 year, or however long you believe is needed to master a specific milestone. The time frame is unique to each person, so take the time to create one that is exclusive to you, your milestones and goals. One of the greatest ways to set a goal is to remember to be S.M.A.R.T. about it, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Each goal and milestone you set should fit the five categories of S.M.A.R.T. goal setting.

Here are some tips to help you think S.M.A.R.T. about setting your goals.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Be Specific. Goals that are too broad are hard to define and even harder to accomplish because the goal is not specific enough to be reached. Be as detailed as possible. What do you want to achieve? The more details you have, the easier it is to plan and the easier it is to know what you are working towards.

Keep it Measurable. How do you determine success that you have successfully met your goal? Without measurement of some kind, you may doubt whether you have achieved your goal or milestone. Make sure your goals are measurable. The vaguer you set the goals and milestones, the less you will be able to envision them.

Keep it Attainable. Working towards a goal that is not attainable is not a smart route. Take a moment to determine all the elements associated with the goal and whether you have the resources available to complete it. When resources are scarce, visualize another direction to get to the goal or reframe the way you’ve set the goal. A few quick tweaks here and there may do the trick to make your goal and milestones attainable. Remember to not overwhelm yourself, but do try and challenge yourself with your milestones and goals. Challenge brings growth. You want to be able to succeed, so make sure it is a challenge that is attainable.

Be Realistic. Set your goal on what you believe you can do. Much like keeping your goal and milestones attainable, if the goal you have set is not realistic then determine whether it is worth the time and effort that is needed to accomplish it. Several factors that make a goal less realistic are not difficult to determine. Such factors can be current situations in your personal or family life, finances, time, available resources, and so forth. Be realistic with your current situation and honest with yourself. Setting goals that are not realistic will have you looking for ways to jump off the train before even getting started and will deter your determination to achieve the milestones and goal. Focus on what has worked for you in the past and what you are willing to work on and for in the future.

Keep it Timely. A set goal and milestones are rarely accomplished when you do not hold yourself to a specific time schedule. Establishing and keeping the deadlines for your milestones and goals continuously help you stay committed to fulfilling the tasks and goal. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment when you complete a milestone or goal. Even the smallest milestones should be celebrated if you were able to complete it on time. Set a date for your goal and each milestone to be achieved. Make sure you give yourself enough time to complete your goal, but not too much time which can lead to procrastination.

The sweet taste of success and accomplishment accompanies hard work, diligence, and dedication. The strategy of goal setting can be helpful in all aspects of life, not just in nursing school. Discovering what you want to accomplish and creating S.M.A.R.T. milestones to reach the goal will help you continuously improve and grow. Nurses are constantly required to adapt to new changes, and learn new concepts and skills. Determine what goals (and milestones) you want to set for yourself while in nursing school, but don’t forget to look ahead and decide what goals you have for your nursing career. Whatever comes your way, start by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals and milestones—the stepping stones that will help guide you to achieving the goal with less stress and make it a rewarding journey.

Download our S.M.A.R.T. Goals Worksheet and get started on setting your goals (and maybe New Year’s resolutions) by clicking the button below.