March 31, 2017

By: Amanda Walk, RN

The unbeaten path leads to a growing nursing career

As a nurse, opportunities for growth and change are constantly at your fingertips. It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and work as an expert within your field of nursing, but often times there are great rewards when you step into the unknown. According to a Career Builder Survey conducted in 2014, although 93% percent of nursing professionals are satisfied with being a nurse, 54% of nurses move to a new area of nursing at any point in their career. Most are hoping for a better life balance, increased pay, and different challenges. Whatever the reason, nursing is the perfect career to explore and find your perfect fit.

Many nurses can attest from personal experience or observing their coworkers, that switching departments multiple times is commonplace, sometimes because of changes in the local job market.

I always thought my forever job would be a charge nurse on a post-surgical unit. It didn’t take long to master the environment and the general expectations for each patient’s recovery journey. I enjoyed feeling confident, but I frequently thought about what other opportunities might ignite that fire within me; that same fire I felt after I first graduated nursing school.

A charge nurse position opened on the stroke unit within my facility, and with much hesitation, I made the leap. With only the fundamentals of stroke care in my back pocket, I questioned my decision over and over. How was I going to be a nurse leader when I felt vulnerable and doubtful of my own abilities? It’s amazing how much knowledge I’ve acquired in a short period of time and how excited I felt to help patients and nurses in an entirely different setting. It only takes 3 to 6 months to master a new environment, and if you are open to the newness of it all, then you can only succeed in the end.

Making a switch should, however, be carefully considered in order to find your best fit. Carlson recommends, “When considering a major change in your career, embark on a concentrated period of research.” Conduct a self-assessment to expose your strengths and weakness in order to pinpoint what specialties may interest you. Take advantage of shadowing opportunities to get a first-line experience of what working as a nurse in a different department really means. Complete your research using nursing journals, blogs, social media or conferences. And most importantly, network with other nurses whether it be in person or online.

For some nurses, sticking with the same department or specialty for the duration of their career may be a good fit, but research clearly shows that the majority of nurses will continue to move in search of greater knowledge and bigger challenges. If you feel like your nursing career has reached a standstill, don’t stay in that rut. Give yourself a chance to grow and develop expertise you never imagined possible. Nursing is one of the few careers that offers incredible diversity and is meant to be explored and discovered. Taking advantage of everything nursing has to offer is what helps each nurse grow as a professional and as a person. Going into a new specialty with an open mind and shedding any preconceived notions will help you maximize rewards and opportunities.

On a final personal note, I never dreamed my nursing career would take me to where I am today. If you allow your passion for caring for others lead you down that unbeaten path, then you will undoubtedly learn more about your patients and yourself then you ever thought possible.

Amanda Walk is a charge nurse on a stroke unit at St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Selected references

Career Builder. May 6, 2014. New survey explores the state of the nursing profession. https://www.careerbuilder.com

Carlson K. November 3, 2015. Changing nursing specialties: Two strategies to get started. https://www.nurse.com/blog/2015/11/03/changing-nursing-specialties-two-strategies-to-get-started

Timothy H. January 5, 2016. Strategies for switching nursing specialties. http://www.americansentinel.edu/blog/2016/01/05/strategies-for-switching-nursing-specialties

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