Changing careers within nursing

iodrakon | Veer

With the state of our economy (and job market), everyone has to become more flexible with their careers.

Fortunately, as nurses, we have this amazing opportunity that most professions do not have: We can “float” or transfer jobs without needing additional schooling or education.

This unique component of nursing  is particularly relevant to this reader question:

How do you break free of the pigeonhole of one type of nursing? For example, I have spent nearly 20 years as a geriatric nurse and would like to take my career in a new direction, but I have found it increasingly difficult to do so. Thanks.

Kelly, LPN

Dear Kelly:

You’re a seasoned nurse, so you have the smarts to make the leap. And while I’ve said this blanket statement before, I understand that it does have its limits. Jumping over the fence to more distant pastures is possible, but it’s not as simple as a hop, skip or a jump.

Here are some things to keep in mind when wanting to make that leap to a different arena of nursing:

Clinical vs. Non-clinical

This is the “bedside” versus the “office” job. In my experience, it’s a more feasible transition to go from clinical to non-clinical. Vice versa is not as easy. The old adage of “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” applies here. When is the last time you placed an IV? How are your time management skills? It’s entirely possible to transition to both, just keep in mind you may have to start from the beginning. Most clinical employers need employees that require little training or orientation.

Comfort zone

Are you willing to step outside of it? Most employers want flexibility and willingness. So you may have to work a different schedule. You may have to travel further. You MAY have to work nights. Whatever you do, don’t expect special treatment simply because you have been a nurse for a number of years.

Expect resistance

Yes, there is a nursing shortage, but don’t expect an easy transition. Put yourself in your potential employers’ shoes. Why should they hire you? What experience do you have in this (probably new) area of nursing? Be patient. Be understanding. But above all, be diligent and unrelenting. Dare I say be aggressive?

Find more feathers

Nursing has evolved into a highly technologically-advanced profession. It will take more than just a basic nursing education to draw the attention of most employers. What special skills do you have? What can you offer that few nurses possess: Certifications? Additional training? Specialty education? Are you pursuing an advanced education? What are your goals? How many feathers do you have in your cap?

Dream high, but be realistic

Not everyone hits the bull’s-eye on the first try. Progression and change are always incremental. So what if you didn’t get the “dream” job? Maybe you have to accept an intermediate position first to get your feet wet (again). Maybe you need that intermediate job to brush up on those skills that have been dormant. Maybe you need to take a smaller step before taking the big leap. Just remember that any step forward is better than falling back.

Best of luck!

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2 Responses to Changing careers within nursing

  1. Springkeeper RN

    Ironic that I saw this today as I too contemplate moving from my med-surg floor to the coronary care unit. I only have two years as an RN and, even though I like my floor, I’ve been wanting to move up to a higher level of care but it’s hard knowing when the time is right.

  2. zhme02

    I have done several different things/areas as a nurse! I started out as the “tried and true” Med Surg nurse after graduating nursing school….BEST thing I could have done as a new nurse!! Med Surg nursing is the foundation of ALL other nursing jobs. Simplistic analogy…you don’t go to Jr. high (or High school) before you learn your basic elementary school stuff…you know…ABC’s and 123’s! Probably the MOST invaluable thing I learned with Med Surg was…time management! I believe that one skill has carried me through every aspect, of every job, I’ve ever had since!! After Med Surg nursing (18 months), I moved to Neonatal Nursing. Patient size changed (obviously) and critical thinking skills changed (improved) along the way. I did this for about 5 years, when an opportunity arose to change COMPLETELY and give non-clinical nursing a try. I worked on a team that researched, developed, built and launched an Electronic Medical System for a very large multi-hospital system. Truly loved that job, as it gave the “techy” in me a opportunity to grow!! But, it was a communte into the “med center” and living in the suburbs, i was tired of the drive after about 2 years. I returned to NICU and remained there for another 3 years. Then, an opportunity arose for me to be a “stay at home mom” for a bit…so I did that for about a year, before returning to the healthcare world again. When I did, another area essentially “dropped into my lap” and I made the decision to try something new, yet again. After, being “out of” the adult healthcare world, I made the jump back in, doing home healthcare. THIS was probably the MOST rewarding nursing job I’ve ever had!! The patients are ENTIRELY different when in the environment of their own home!! (At least, MOST are). I was definitely one of the “lucky ones”, as my patient assignments were never more than 20 miles in distance from my home…and I NEVER once had a situation/environment I felt uncomfortable to handle or be in. I’ve heard stories from others who maybe weren’t so lucky though!! And after about 18 months of doing this, ANOTHER opportunity presented itself to me…and I gave Hospice a try. I became a Director of a start up Hospice company…so I pretty much wore ALL the hats…Director, Administrator, Secretary and Clinical Field Nurse. The clinical nurse was def. my “thing” and I truly loved that part the most. Again though, I was commuting about 80 miles (round trip) a day…and that lead to my decision to leave hospice nursing for yet another “adventure”…which is MUCH closer to my home!! So here I am today, 18 years after obtaining my nursing license…and I’m doing Occupational/Employee Health!! A little bit of clinical nursing, albeit a LITTLE, and some non-clinical/administrative duties as well. Funny thing about ALL my different jobs I’ve held…each one came to me….I never went searching for them!! Even the jobs I held that the commute was a factor to leave the position, w was happy doing what I was doing, except for the commute!! I do believe I will “stay put” for awhile…but only because my current position allows me the time/ability to return to school to obtain my degree towards my ULTIMATE goal, which is to become a Nursing Instructor. I’ve know all along that teaching is my PASSION, so I feel that is where I will probably finish out my career one day. But, I have enthusiastically and whole-heartedly LOVED all the DIFFERENT things I have learned/accomplished as I work towards my goal!! Teaching is my passion, but I’ve found that LEARNING is as well!! The diversity of nursing is unending and who knows…what I THINK my goal is today…may NOT be where I finish!! :)