Your Nursing Career Isn’t A Sprint; It’s A Marathon, The Nurse Keith Show, EPS 72

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil just ended this week, and it got me thinking about nursing careers in terms of track and field. Some of you may be laughing already, because you sprint all day at the hospital, or your home health nursing job feels like a never-ending marathon. I get that; however, I’m thinking more of the long-term aspect of your nursing career, not the day to day.

Your nursing career--marathon or sprint?

Your nursing career deserves a 360-degree view at all times; seeing your career from 10,000 feet allows you to take the long view, seeing the forest for the trees, so to speak. On episode 20 of this podcast, I talked about complacency, and while that’s not exactly what I’m getting at here, it’s a part of it.

The sprinter has a goal in mind, and that goal is more or less within their sights. The sprinter trains, of course, and everything is concentrated and distilled down into that moment when the gun goes off and the runners explode out of the starting gate with a flash of pent up energy and adrenaline. Sprinters go full steam ahead, damn the torpedoes, and they don’t stop until the finish line comes up beneath their feet.

On the other side of the track, the marathon runner trains for months or years, and finally running that marathon through the streets of New York or Boston is thrilling, even if he or she does it year after year. Fans are waving along the sidelines, and it’s intense athletic and psychological discipline that keep the marathon runner going mile after mile, despite the cramps, hunger, thirst, pain, and negative voices saying that it’s time to quit. The marathon is most like your career’s long trajectory: something you train for throughout your life; you slog through the mud and feces, even as the pain increases and the pleasure gets lost during your darkest moments of self doubt and loss of focus.

Here’s the thing: some nurses I speak with are solely focused on the here and now. Here are some examples:

  • How do I get out of this darn job?
  • How do I get through this nursing program without exploding?
  • What can I do to best prepare for this important interview?
  • How do I deal with a difficult colleague?

Meanwhile, other nurses are more intent on looking at the bigger picture, with some of the questions sometimes becoming almost existential in nature:

  • Where do I want to be in 10 years?
  • What do I want out of my career?
  • Who do I want to be as a nurse?
  • What is the meaning of my nursing career?
  • What would I like to have accomplished as I look back from retirement?

There are clear times for sprinting in the course of your career, like when you’re finishing a master’s degree program or preparing for a certification exam. However, if you find yourself always in sprint mode and never taking the time to slow down and broaden your vision to encompass the overall nursing career marathon, you may be missing some very crucial golden opportunities for deeper reflection.

The sprinter has to remain absolutely and resolutely focused on the task at hand. The sprint is 100 meters or 500 meters and then it’s over; there’s no room for pondering the bigger picture of the sprinter’s career when every ounce of attention and energy has to be laser focused on the here and now.

For the marathoner, even though the 26-mile course demands a great deal of attention, there may be some room for random thoughts, snippets of favorite songs, a review of what to buy for dinner on the way home, and other mental wanderings.

The marathon aspects of your nursing career lend themselves to reflection; the finish line may lie inexorably at the moment of your retirement, or you may foresee always working in some capacity, whether it’s as a nurse entrepreneur or a nurse consultant of some kind. When we say the word “marathon”, we picture a long, relatively slow and steady pace, not the pull-out-all-the-stops pace of the sprinter.

How you approach your nursing career in vis-a-vis the sprint and the marathon says a lot about how you see yourself as a nurse and the ways in which you want to feed and water your career over the long haul.


The episode of the Nurse Keith Show sponsored by StaffGarden, episode of The Nurse Keith Show is brought to you by my friends at StaffGarden, a unique digital healthcare company allowing nurses to create a private online ePortfolio that StaffGarden shares with high-quality employers (with your permission, of course) in order to connect you with the best facilities and positions.

StaffGarden partners with fantastic employers seeking the best candidates in the nursing profession; through powerful partnerships with the recruiters and talent acquisition professionals employed by these healthcare leaders, they deliver your ePortfolio directly to the people who are looking for nurses just like you.

Having a StaffGarden ePortfolio and landing a job with a partnering employer costs you nothing. However, your ePortfolio will get you noticed for positions that you would likely not have access to through traditional ads or job postings.

As a nurse, partnering with StaffGarden adds depth and breadth to your job search process, as well as your exposure to some of the most progressive healthcare employers in the country. Allow SG to work for you and connect you with some of the greatest job opportunities in 21st-century healthcare.


The NNBA and Networking Nurses

In the fall of 2015, I recorded episode 29 of the Nurse Keith Show from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I was glowing from a glorious time at the annual conference of the National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA). Well, from October 14th to 16th of this year, I’ll be back at the 2016 NNBA conference with bells on, and I’m super psyched that Kevin Ross and Elizabeth Scala—my partners in crime at RNFM Radio—will also be with me.

The National Nurses in Business Association 2016 annual conferenceJust as a heads up, the three of us from RNFM Radio will be putting on a pre-conference workshop where attendees will be able to learn the basics of podcasting, and actually go home with all of the information they need to actually launch a podcast on a shoestring. There are other great pre-conferences on the schedule, as well, but we obviously want you to come to ours because it’s going to be fantastic. Check it all out here.


The Nurse Keith Show is adroitly edited and produced by Tim Hallowell of The; social media and promotion are expertly handled by Mark Capispisan.

Please consider leaving a review of The Nurse Keith Show over on iTunes; this helps more nurses and healthcare professionals find the show and benefit from the information being shared. Just visit iTunes, click on the iTunes store, search for The Nurse Keith Show under podcasts, and leave a review, and voila. Thanks!

Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BCKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

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. Keith is also the resident nursing career expert at

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and currently writes for MultiViews News Service,, StaffGarden, and Working Nurse Magazine.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, 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.

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