Strategies for Switching Nursing Specialties

As you progress through your career, you may hit a point where you’d like to change your focus or specialty area. This may mean moving from one type of unit to another, working in a different type of facility, or even moving away from the bedside and into an area with less patient contact. It seems to be more common for younger nurses to make this kind of change—perhaps because they’re not sure, right out of school, what appeals to them—but mid-career nurses also sometimes steer their careers in a new direction.

There are many reasons why you may be considering a career change in 2016. Perhaps you’ve resolved to earn more money by advancing your career, or need a weekday shift that better accommodates your family obligations. Maybe the dynamics of your local job market are expanding or contracting, in ways that either present new challenges or new opportunities. Or maybe you’re ready to take advantage of industry-wide trends, like the increased demand for case managers and nurse informaticians that resulted from the Affordable Care Act and HITECH Act.

It’s not unheard of for nurses to switch specialties several times over a long career. These shifts are often a reflection of what’s most important to them at a certain stage of life: getting a foot in the door right out of nursing school, flexibility while raising children, pursuing strong interests that take hold as a career unfolds. Research shows that 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.

Here are some career-shift strategies to keep in mind as you go through the process of switching specialties:

  • Self-assessment. The better you know yourself and the more realistic you are about your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, the more successful you will be at navigating the transition. Do you think quickly on your feet, or do you prefer a slow, methodical pace? How comfortable with technology are you? Our post about ten considerations for choosing the right specialty may help you weigh some of the factors that come into play.
  • Research. Before you take any concrete steps to make a change, spend some time investigating the field or area you’re thinking of moving in to. Read articles, talk to nurses in that field, assess the job market in your area, and learn everything you can about your area of interest. A good place to start? The American Board of Nursing Specialties website provides information about the 33 specialties that offer certification opportunities, and American Sentinel has produced an e-book about many of the non-traditional nursing fields that relate to our degree programs.
  • Observation and experience. You may be able to shadow another nurse working in the field you’re interested in, to try out a new work environment and see first-hand what an average day is like for professionals in the field that interests you. It’s a good way to get a better sense of a different job role before committing to a change. And when you’re looking for that first job in your new field, ask if there will be a preceptor available to guide and support you during your first few months.
  • Networking. Interacting with other professionals, either in person or online, can help you gather information about a new field, assess the current job market, build a list of contacts who can help you find job leads, and even find a mentor in your new specialty. Look for groups specific to the field you’re interested in on Facebook, LinkedIn, and discussion forums, or attend a meeting or conference in your town.
  • Education. Whether you’re still contemplating a switch or actively researching a new specialty area, education can be your ally. Many nursing specialties require a minimum of a BSN for entry. In other areas, a BSN plus a professional certification will position you as a top contender for the job of your dreams. A BSN can also prepare you for a leadership role or a career away from the bedside. Your coursework will provide you with a broader perspective of healthcare systems, policies, and economics in a way that can allow you to “connect the dots” between clinical nursing practice and the overall business and day-to-day operations of healthcare – which can potentially open doors for you and help you find the career of your choice. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.

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