Switching Specialties: How to Make the Switch

Have you considered switching from your current nursing specialty to another? Figuring out your next career move can sometimes be tricky – especially if you want to make the leap to a completely new area of nursing. But it is possible and is common in the nursing industry today.

“What other profession openly accepts you into a totally different facet offering exciting career growth and does not require you to go back to college? As a nurse, you can work in the ER for years and then you could switch to home health, teaching, or working from home in case management,” says Carmen Kosicek, RN, MSN, Healthcare Career Coach and author of Nurses, Jobs and Money -- A Guide For Advancing Your Nursing Career and Salary.

Nursing career experts answer questions on making a switch:

What is a good time to make a switch?

“When you have gotten to a point in your current specialty where you are at a competent (even proficient) level of skill and feel as if the slope of the learning curve has significantly plateaued,” says Jennifer Stephenson, MS, RN, ICU/CCU, Clinical Coach Project Connect Program at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. “Learning never stops, but sometimes it plateaus and with that, interest can be lost. Anytime one feels bored in their current specialty or if a goal for advancement is unable to be met is a good time to switch. It’s important to get to at least a competent level of nursing in the current specialty before you entertain a new specialty because there is so much to learn in every specialty.”

What are the challenges when switching specialties?

“The greatest challenge comes when an RN has been promoted up the clinical ladder in his/her current role, and now needs to begin again at a lower level to develop the new skills he/she seeks,” says Deborah Mello, RN, BS, Nursing Recruitment and Retention Consultant, Human Resources at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. “This may affect the pay rate and in rare cases stops the nurse from moving on.”

What are good reasons to switch specialties?

Mello says that good reasons to change areas of specialty are a desire to make health care better and to make your own life better. Also a more challenging role leads to increased job satisfaction.

What are bad reasons to switch specialties?

“Trying to get away from conflict, trying to find an easier pace, trying to get better hours – these reasons do not always lead to the best results,” Mello warns.   

Should I go back to school in order to switch specialties?

Kosicek says that education is always good, but it is the return on investment of the education that needs to be focused on. “A BSN, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, is a great starting point, but remember, you don't get a reward for having two bachelor degrees nor certificates,” she says. “With education, the higher the degree is key depending on what you want to do. For example, if you want to teach nursing, a Masters in Nursing is the entry level, but ultimately a terminal degree, PhD or DNP (doctorate in nursing practice). is needed.”

How can nurses conduct a successful job search when switching?

“A successful search utilizing my favorite search engine, www.indeed.com, is key,” Kosicek says. “It is imperative to not simply search 'nurse' but instead, be descriptive in what you are searching for.  For example 'nurse' versus 'corporate nurse' will open up totally different positions.”

83 comments

I have "worn many hats" during my Nursing Career, working in every department you could think of. As stated in the article, I have plateaued over time. Close to retirement, I now want to serve the Community and Society better by utilizing the expertise gained over time.

I am an RN, BSN with some credits at the Master's level.  I would like to hopefully switch to the newly focused trend in nursing today -- Nursing Telehealth. Using Telecommunication techniques, nurses teach clients in their own homes on promotion and health maintenance.

I have worked with sick patients as an ICU nurse, other areas in Critical Care, Med-Surg, Peds, Detox Unit, Psychiatry, Medical and Pediatric Clinics, in Skilled Nursing Facilities as Charge Nurse and as a Nursing Supervisor. Although I would like to utilize this knowledge to open my own Telehealth patient management or disease management operation; I find it a bit stressful of how to be actually trained for this.

There are companies that you can pay to "hook-up" systems, but virtual calls and scheduling doctors' appointments does not go to the depth of care in my past.

How do you get to where companies like McKeson is? Which programs do you attend?

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