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Ask the expert: Switching nurse specialties


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Changing specialties has become an integral part of a nurse’s career growth. We spoke with Elaine Foster, Ph.D., MSN, RN, about this trend and what nurses should consider when making a change.

“Nurses have a powerful thirst for knowledge and a stron­g desire to learn and grow, and this often translates into motivation to make a career change. Many will reach a time when they would like to experience different professional opportunities,” says Foster. “In the nursing world, we need to actually help people plan out their career strategies, and it would help new nurses if they received more guidance; we don’t spend a lot of time painting the overall picture of healthcare.”

So where should a nurse considering a career change start? Foster advises that a nurse should start by researching their areas of interest and finding a specialty that fits them. “Read articles, talk to nurses in that field, assess the job market in your area, and learn everything you can about the specialty you are interested in.”

Another important factor to consider is education: does the specialty require more education or certification? Foster notes that in the past, it was more common for nurses to receive on-the-job training and end up in management positions without formal training, but in recent years, nurses require formal education and credentials to advance their careers.

After conducting your research, Foster suggests talking to people currently working in the field. Networking is crucial to making a career shift, and making a connection with an experienced nurse in your field provides plenty of benefits. Shadowing a nurse in your field gives you first-hand experience with the day-to-day demands of the position, and if you do end up pursuing the new specialty, your contact could provide job leads or even become a preceptor in the future.

Finally, before you make a career change, Foster advises that you reflect on the benefits and consider the costs. “Think about how this change will impact you in the future and what you might have to give up now to get that future five years down the road,” she says. “It took ten years to get my PhD; I had to give up a few things, but I’m grateful that I did.”

For more career-shift strategies, check out American Sentinel University’s guide.

This article originally appeared in The Leader's Lounge.