nursing student goals

How to Set SMART Goals in Nursing + Examples

Written by: Kristine Thorndyke

Why are we still talking about SMART goals in 2024? Well, to put it simply – because they work! Setting SMART goals can help you to define a goal that is possible within a given time frame because you have set out a plan to reach milestones within a timeline that is realistic and attainable.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. SMART goals can be used for both professional as well as personal goals, as the clear objectives and milestones help to eliminate the chance of falling off track.

Setting SMART goals are also an integral part of the care planning process necessary for meeting clinical requirements while in nursing school and for professional nurses in the care of patients.

It’s no surprise that setting SMART goals is an extremely important skill for nurses and nursing students – so we put together more details on how to set SMART goals as well as provide detailed examples that can help you in the nursing field.

How to Set SMART Goals

smart goals in nursing

We’re going to learn how to set SMART goals in nursing that will actually help you achieve success in the field. Using the SMART method, we’ll work through real-life examples that can be applied in nursing school, passing the NCLEX, providing professional patient care, and more!

1. Specific

specific smart goals

Many people find their goals difficult to achieve because they’re too vague.  You should make your goal as narrow as possible.

Answer these questions:

What do you want to achieve?
When do you want to achieve it?
Why do you want to achieve this?
What are the steps to achieve this goal?

Being specific can also help the nursing student set specific goals for the patient. This can be accomplished by setting specific criteria for the patient to meet based on a nursing diagnosis.

2. Measurable

measurable smart goals

A goal needs to be measurable if you want to track your progress.  You might say, “I want to be kinder to patients,” but how do you measure that?  What evidence will you have for how well you’re doing?

If you’re a nursing student, you can easily track your progress by looking at your grades, your projects, and the number of assignments you’ve completed. If you’re trying to budget, you could look at how well you’re able to fall under your budget for the month. Learn how to make more money with these 17 best jobs for nursing students.

If you are developing a plan of care for a patient, you will need to have measurable criteria to track the patient’s goal progress.

3. Attainable


SMART goals in nursing should be attainable – if you don’t feel like you can achieve your goal, you’ll become discouraged.

When caring for patients, you will want to have long term and short term goals. An unattainable short term goal for a patient may be for them to be infection free within 2 hours if they just began their day 1 of 10 antibiotics. On the contrary, an attainable long term goal for that same patient may be to have the patient infection free after the 10-day course of antibiotic therapy.

4. Realistic


Your SMART goals should be realistic, and they should relate to your environment. 

In a patient care setting, the goal must be realistic to what the patient can achieve. A patient who has had a limb amputation will not be able to walk without a prosthetic device. A goal related to the patient safely ambulating out of bed will not be realistic in this scenario.

5. Time-Bound


The most measurable SMART nursing goals examples are time-bound.  Rather than being open-ended, they have a concrete finish line.

Short-term goals may be achieved by the end of the month. Long-term goals might have a time frame of up to a year.


Short-term goal: by the end of the month
Long-term goal: by March of next year

Related: A Guide to Subjective vs Objective Data in Nursing

15 Smart Goals Examples for Nurses & Nursing Students

smart nursing goals

Let’s take a look at some simple goals, along with better examples of SMART goals in nursing professionals as well as for nursing students.

Patient Care SMART Goals

nurse goals

1. Short term goal: Patient will breath better

Smart goal: The patient will increase the oxygenation saturation from 85% to 95% by using effective breathing techniques within the next 8 hours. 

2. Long term goal: Patient will have improved skin.

Smart goal: The patient’s pressure ulcer will decrease from a stage 3 to a stage 1 by increasing diet in protein and by adhering to a strict turning schedule over the next 2 months. 

3. Short term goal: Patient will have less pain.

Smart goal: The patient’s pain level will decrease from a level 10 to a level 3 by the next shift through the adherence of a strict medication schedule.

4. Long term goal: Patient will be compliant with hypertensive medications.

Smart goal: The patient will demonstrate compliance with hypertensive medication by using a medication organizer and verbalizing the consumption of daily medications.

5. Simple goal: I want to get better at listening.

Smart goal: I will pay close attention to what my patients and coworkers tell me.  If I do not understand, I will ask them to clarify.  I will focus on them instead of thinking about what I want to say next.

6. Simple goal: I want to get better at explaining things to patients.

Smart goal: I will learn the layman’s terms for complicated medical jargon so that I can communicate more easily with patients.  Instead of using technical language, I will explain things in terms people can understand.

7. Simple goal: I want to be more culturally sensitive.

Smart goal: I will ask each patient whether I need to be aware of any cultural beliefs or norms while in charge of their care.  I will also seek feedback from coworkers regarding cultural sensitivity.

8. Simple goal: I want to make my patients happy.

Smart goal: I will work to put my patients at ease by finding out what helps them to relax.  I will make sure that I meet certain parameters in offering them care each time I speak with them.

Professional Development SMART Goals

Examples of SMART goals in healthcare can also be utilized to help you develop as a medical professional. Below are a few examples of what we’d call a “simple goal” as well as examples of how to make this into a SMART nursing goal.


9. Simple goal: I want to get promoted.

Smart goal: I will go above and beyond in my job duties.  If a better position opens up, I will apply for it.  I will make my interest in further responsibilities known to my supervisors.

10. Simple goal: I want a raise.

Smart goal: I will perform my tasks to the best of my abilities.  I will make my workplace more efficient and increase the quality of patient care.  If I have not been considered for a raise after six months, I will put together a case and present it to my supervisor.

11. Simple goal: I want to be better at my job.

Smart goal: I will keep checklists to make sure I do my duties during every shift.  I will check in with coworkers and ask for feedback when needed.

Related: Get more experience (and extra income) with these 15 best nurse side hustles.

12. Simple goal: I want to learn from my coworkers at my new job.

Smart goal: I will ask a more experienced coworker if they would be willing to mentor me.  I will ask about what I should know while working here.  I will talk to my supervisor about how I can observe more closely.

Related: 20 Positive Nurse Affirmations for a Growth Mindset

Nursing School SMART Goals

Utilizing proper SMART goals in nursing school can really elevate your academic success by making your goals actionable. These types of SMART goals examples can work in nursing school or any other academic area you may be focusing on.

nursing student goals

13. Simple goal: I want to finish my assignments on time.

Smart goal: I will do my assignments when they’re first given.  For long-term projects, I will create a timeline and work steadily on them until they are complete.  I will keep track of my assignments using to-do lists and schedules.

Keep track more easily with our favorite planners for nurses

14. Simple goal: I want to pass all my exams.

Smart goal: I will create a study schedule to review all the relevant material prior to my exams.  I will create study materials.  I will reread my assignments and make use of faculty office hours if needed. 

Speaking of exams, pass the NCLEX the first time with this 5-week NCLEX Study Schedule

15. Simple goal: I want to remember important information without wasting time.

Smart goal: I will create flashcards that have key terms and concepts from the reading.  I will frequently use these to quiz myself so that I know I remember the most important points.

16. Simple goal: I want to be more social.

Smart goal: I will look up campus events, join a study group, and make an effort to interact with more people.  I will answer questions in class and participate in discussions with my classmates.

Related: What’s a Passing NCLEX Score?

Workplace Efficiency SMART Goals

Nursing performance goals could be set using the SMART goal method – have a look at a few examples of SMART nursing goals that involve being more efficient, and, therefore, more effective, at your job:

17. Simple goal: I want to decrease patient wait time.

Smart goal: I will complete patient intake procedures in a timely manner.  I will be efficient when weighing patients and asking them preliminary questions.  I will try to see them quickly without making them feel rushed.

18. Simple goal: I want to do more hands-on procedures.

Smart goal: I will complete a certain number of specific procedures in the next two months.  I will volunteer to do these procedures whenever possible, and I will ask my coworkers to help me get more experience.

19. Simple goal: I want to get more done during a shift.

Smart goal: I will put my down time to better use by sorting patient files.  I will make lists of tasks to complete and work on them when I’m not seeing patients.  I will create a system to streamline the intake and recording process for patients.

Related: How-To Guide for Why I Want to Be a Nurse Essay

Other SMART Goal Tips

1. Write them down.

Whether you write them in a journal or an online document, writing your SMART nursing goals out makes it easier to track them. We’ve put together a list of the best nursing school planners that help you to keep track of personal and professional goals, academic deadlines, as well as other calendar events.

If you’re already out of nursing school, then you can check out our 6 picks for nurse planners.

2. Keep track.

Get in the habit of updating your progress.  You can even use tracking apps to make sure you’re on schedule. Here are some apps to help you do that.

3. Celebrate micro-wins.

Even small amounts of progress are progress!  Let yourself celebrate each new step, even if it’s just a single procedure or patient. Read more on how to create micro wins in your life here.

4. Focus on your own goals, not other people’s.

You’re not competing with other people.  You’re competing with yourself.  Keep the focus on you and don’t get distracted by those surrounding you.

A big component of clinical requirements while in nursing school, is to develop careplans for patients. In this instance, the student is focusing on the goal of the patient, not theirs. 

The same goes for the nurse when care planning for the patient. The are focusing on the goals of the patient, not theirs.

5. Remember what motivates you.

Why did you set these goals in the first place?  Because you want to become a better practitioner, right?  Keep that in mind as you work to stay motivated. Remember to celebrate success and achievement, as you don’t want to burnout with constant ambition.

Related: 7 Examples of Nursing Strengths and Weaknesses for Interviews


The best way to create SMART goals in nursing is to ask yourself what you want to accomplish.  Then you’ll look for attainable ways to do that.  It’s important that the goal be measurable, and that it’s not so difficult you get frustrated.

You’ll notice that in the SMART nursing goals examples, the biggest drawback is vagueness.  The more specific you are, the easier it will be to measure your progress!

Do you have a better idea now of your future goals?  What are your plans?  Let us know in the comments below!