I need some advice on changing specialites after being a psych nurse for 16 years.

By | 2022-02-15T17:57:14-05:00 April 3rd, 2012|0 Comments


Dear Donna,

I am interested in changing specialties. I am 51 and have been a psych RN for 16 years. While I enjoy my job, the nature of the industry has changed so much; sometimes I feel my personal safety is at risk due to short staffing. I have applied for numerous jobs in different specialties and seem to be facing two problems. One is concerning hospital jobs; I have no med/surg experience. I have indicated I do not expect a salary commensurate with my years of experience and if there is any training required to be considered as a candidate, I am willing to do that on my own time. If a recruiter even calls, I end up talking to some 20-something who can’t seem to understand why I would want to do anything different, having been in psych so many years. I have gone to the HR or recruitment office to see if I can talk to a recruiter face-to-face. Only one would talk to me, and clearly she wasn’t interested in helping me. The other problem I face is when I apply at home health agencies. I know I interview well and make it clear I am looking to make a permanent career switch. Without seeming desperate, I let them know I am willing to get any certifications they want, on my time. I follow-up, send notes and call, only to be told they hired the candidate with experience. I am at the end of my rope. I have had my resume polished to focus on the universal aspect that translates to any kind of nursing and highlighted the extra tasks that were management related. I always research any company I interview with and present well. Any thoughts would be appreciated.


Dear Donna repiies:

Dear Suzanne,

The job market for nurses has completely changed from what it was over 10 years ago, so don’t take it personally. First, jobs are shifting out of the hospital into alternate care settings, the home, ambulatory care, etc. So hospital jobs are decreasing permanently.

Additionally, at this time there is an abundance of nurses with current acute care experience, so hospitals and some home care agencies can be picky about who they hire. New nurses are having a tough time finding traditional employment right now.

Why not go with your strengths and experience and look for a position in psych home care or depression management? You also could apply at an eating disorder clinic, or an insurance company. There’s plenty of diversity within that specialty.

If you really want to change specialties completely, and if home care (other than psych home care) is really of interest to you, consider looking into hospice. Some agencies have training programs for this. If you can’t get a paid job in hospice right away, consider being a hospice volunteer for now. It’s a way to get your foot in the door and gain recent experience. Volunteering often leads to paid employment. I always say that if you can’t get in the front door, try the back.

Attend nursing career fairs to explore nontraditional career options. See what’s coming up at http://www.Nurse.com/CareerFairs/. You also would benefit from attending a “Career alternatives for nurses” seminar to explore your options fully and learn about where the jobs are now and will be in the future (http://www.Nurse.com/CEseminars/).

Networking is well known to be a very effective way to find a job. Also, you should be attending local meetings of the American Nurses Association (www.ana.org) and the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (www.apna.org). Attend as a guest if you’re not a member.

You need to look in new directions for employment and use new strategies to find those jobs. When what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to try a new approach.

Best wishes,


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