Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda in Nursing

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda as a Nurse

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda as a Nurse

New Year. New Nurse. New You.

Yup, it’s that time of year again. Holiday seasons are upon us and just around the corner is the new year. The fresh start. A time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future.

Don’t let this next year continue on with the coulda, shoulda, woulda in your nursing career. If you have a dream- go for it. If there has been a goal that is weighing heavy on your mind- take action.

So often we think about what we want and then we talk ourselves out of it because of one excuse or another. And that’s all that those “reasons” are. They are excuses. Plain and simple!

If you can think it- then you can do it, if you want to. You just need to break it down, take one action step at a time, and be patient as you reach your goals.

Missed Opportunities in Nursing

Maybe this will give you the kick in the behind that you needed. A few months ago, I asked my nursing tribe on social media:

“Nurses, Is there anything you wish you’d done differently when you began your nursing career?”

And boy- did nurses respond! I will now share with you, word for word, what people wrote to me. And here’s to hoping that some of these missed opportunities will inspire you to go for your nursing career goals!

  • I wish I had been more confident. I ‘played it small’ for years, not appreciating the value of what I knew and could do.
  • Worked on associates degree straight out of high school and continue with ADN to BSN track… and continue some more…
  • Thanking my mentors, peers, and leaders who kept guiding me and encouraging me to get up and keep going.
  • I wish I’d found a mentor who loved what they did. It could have dramatically shifted my perspective earlier, and saved me some angst.
  • I wish I would’ve gotten 1 year of acute care experience right away and started traveling nursing immediately after. I’ll never become a staff nurse again- unless I absolutely have to.
  • I would have assessed and educated myself on career options available in the Nursing profession vs. just following what’s comfortable.
  • I wish I went back to school right away- but I am back now!
  • I held out for 15 years before going back to school. I would go back right away.
  • I wish I would have completed my master’s degree way back when, and by now I would have my doctorate. I always though next year, next year. When it comes to higher education, never put it off!!!

Nurses & Goals

Reading over the comments above, I realize that there were a few themes. Nurses play the coulda, woulda, shoulda game when it comes to education, changing jobs, and having the confidence in themselves.

Regarding education- when will be the “right” time? As I talked with nursing colleagues about this, I realized that time is simply that. It is time.

We can use it to come home from work and sit on the couch, watching TV. Or we can know that for a finite period time we will have to participate in class, turn in homework, and read textbooks. Once you start in school… the clock is ticking and you will eventually graduate and be done with it! So, why not start now!?!

Pertaining to job changes and decisions regarding specialty or shift- that is something that may require a bit more thought. I often encourage nurses to think about what they do not want to do in nursing and then flip those over to the exact opposite. You need to be extremely clear of your heartfelt desires, deepest dreams, and true passions when it comes to your nursing career. Otherwise, you may make a career change and realize quickly that it was the wrong one!

And confidence. Oh boy! This one takes time, patience, and dedication. For some, it comes naturally. For the rest of us, you have to work at it and be gentle with yourself as you will make strides in the right direction.

In order to believe in yourself you will have to do the inner work to shift historical thinking and beliefs. Trust me, from someone who has needed a lot of help in this particular area– it IS possible. Just know that it will not change overnight and you will have to put some elbow grease in to make those confidence muscles grow.

Let’s hear from you! What is your coulda, shoulda, woulda in nursing? What goals will you set for your nursing career going forward and how will you make sure that these happen? Share in the comments below! And feel free to pass this post along…

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p1050390About the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week program, The Art of Nursing, Elizabeth supports nursing organizations in celebrating and recognizing their staff in a meaningful way. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.



  1. LOVE this!
    My husband just said yesterday that I should do something WAAAY out of my comfort zone…. scares the pants off me- but that’s how we grooooow!

    Sharing with my network!

  2. I almost talked myself out of applying to CRNA school. I took non-matriculated courses, sat for the GRE and I had about a year of CVICU experience. My biggest excuse was that I wasn’t smart enough to do it! I’m glad I decided to muster up the confidence to apply, because although it was difficult, I was accepted my first time! Now my biggest “coulda, shoulda, woulda” was not continuing my blog once I was accepted, but it’s a huge passion for me to share my knowledge and experience with others. Thanks for this post, it came just in time!

    1. Wonderful news!! I am glad that you did it and now you are taking the next step further in your education and career. So glad that you enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing your experiences with our readers. Congratulations!!!!

  3. From the comments you received, it looks like more people regret actions not taken than actions taken. So if your thinking about it, go for it!

  4. To give my whole journey in nursing would take to much time. But here are the basics. I’m 57, been a nurse for 36 years all at the bedside except for two years I was a manager. I loved my time as a manager. However, once I discovered that I was being undermined by other managers & CEO I had no choice but to resign. Fast forward 9.5 years more at the bedside. Currently I am on an 8 week mental health leave. I never understood the concept of burn out until recently. I’m not sure what to do or even go to figure out what is next. All I know is that I need to make a change. Your book “The Next Shift” arrived today. I’m hoping that reading this will help me gain the courage & confidence I used to have as a person & a nurse. I will take any advice on how to use the next 8 weeks to figure out my next “shift”. Thank you

    1. So sorry to hear of your recent nursing career challenges, Deb. And way to take action for making your shifts happen! I hope that you enjoy the book and receive one tool that you can use going forward. Let us know how it turns out and if there is anything that we can help you with. Thanks for sharing your experiences with the blog!! Happy New Year.

    2. Deb,
      Don’t give up! Your experience at the bedside and anything you learned as a manager is invaluable to those young nurses!! Teach!!! We need you!! Don’t let managers and CEOs take away all that knowledge and expertise or you’ve let them win!! You are a nurse!! You are strong!! Find your passion and follow it!! We NEED you!!

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