Although some nurses work in a certain specialty field their entire career, others may seek new challenges or want to change units or specialties.
“Nurses have a strong desire to learn and grow,” said Elaine Foster, PhD, MSN, RN, associate dean, nursing graduate programs at American Sentinel University in Aurora, Colo. “Typically nurses enter the field in their 20s, and as they get older, their focus and priorities may change.”
Foster frequently advises nurses who are ready to make a career change. Whether a nurse wants to move from a job at the bedside into more of an administrative position, hopes to undergo additional training to qualify for work in a different specialty area or to pursue a career that allows more flexibility, Foster offered some suggestions.
Q: What are some common reasons nurses pursue career shifts?
A: Often nurses want to explore how their careers are going to look when they’re older. Bedside nursing can be challenging, and they may not want to be working 12-hour shifts in their 50s. Some nurses may be passionate about patient care but want a less hectic schedule. Others may feel burned out in the current job or are looking for more career satisfaction.
Q: When making a career change, how do you recommend nurses approach the self-assessment process?
A: I encourage nurses to explore career specialty areas they feel passionate about and to ask themselves how their job impacts their home and personal life. Do they want a job that offers more flexibility and autonomy? Do they see themselves working with patients or in a more administrative role? American Sentinel’s nursing blog has a great article titled, “Ten Considerations for Choosing the Right Specialty,” that can help nurses weigh some of the critical factors that come into play when making a career change.
Q: Before they take any concrete steps to make a change, how can nurses effectively investigate their area of interest?
A: Once they determine a specialty area that interests them, they can research the area online and look at the career outlook, hiring practices, job requirements, etc.
A good place to start is The American Board of Nursing Specialties website that provides information on 33 specialties that offer certification opportunities.
American Sentinel also has produced a complimentary e-book, “You Choose: 28 Careers That Every RN Should Consider,” about many of the nontraditional nursing fields that relate to degree programs.
Q: What makes observation, experience and networking critical parts of the career shift strategy?
A: It’s one thing to read up on a job, but it’s another to talk to someone who is working in the field and can offer an honest perspective about what the job is like, and what they see as the challenges, rewards and growth opportunities in that particular specialty area. Nurses want to get a better sense of what the job entails before making a career change.
Networking with other nurses through a state or local nursing association or at a conference can offer a view of what it’s like to work in a different area. It also is a great way to hear about jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that 70% of jobs are found through professional networking.
Q: How can continued education benefit nurses as they seek a career change?
A: A push by hospitals to achieve Magnet status and an increasingly complex healthcare system are requiring nurses to have more education and training. The Institutes of Medicine called in 2010 for 80% of nurses to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. Employers also are seeking nurses who have certifications. In the past, a nurse might have been hired to work as a case manager and received on-the-job training. Today, an employer is more apt to hire a candidate who already has experience working as a case manager and has earned the CCM credential from the Commission for Case Manager Certification.
Linda Childers, a freelance writer, contributed to the research and writing of this article.