Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Does My New Job Mean I May Be ‘Stuck’ in This Specialty?

By Aaron Moore, RN, MSN, columnist

Q: I'm a recent new grad, and in today’s tough job market, I feel lucky to have landed a job in a behavioral health unit. My concern is that people say I'll get "stuck" in this specialty. I'd like to believe this is not true as I've heard that you can switch from specialty to specialty. I'd like to stay in this field for two years to establish sufficient knowledge. Is it true that I could get "stuck" in this specialty? And what can I do to keep my medical nursing skills up to date?

A: I think this question needs a two-part answer:  (1) Regarding nursing in general, I believe the fear of getting stuck in a specialty is a common misconception; (2) And if you’re interested in travel nursing, there are some additional things you’ll need to consider.  In fact, some consistent experience in a certain specialty can be a very good thing.

Nursing is a tough culture to change; thoughts and issues can sometimes stay in people’s heads for years depending on their past experiences.  Whether or not one “feels stuck” is a very personal issue, but it just doesn’t sound possible to me in the field of nursing.  From where I stand, if you want a career that allows you to grow and change, you’ve chosen the right one.

Today I see nursing as a general term that describes a huge profession of people doing many different jobs.  Holding a RN license opens the door to many specialties, not only in direct patient care but in the business side of health care, as well.

As long as you are a flexible person and strive to be a life-long learner, you should be fine starting in one specialty and then moving to another.  Just remember Patricia Benner’s Nursing Theory on the five stages of competence when you switch jobs; even though you’re an expert of the psych nursing world, not all your skills will transfer to something like a critical care job.  You are always going to be a competent nurse, but it may take you a period of time in that new job to learn new skills and become proficient or an expert again.

As far as keeping medical skills up, there are many options.  First, never stop learning.  I subscribe to a few nursing journals outside my specialty just so that I can stay up to date with other things going on.  General nursing magazines and journals are a great way to keep in touch with all areas of nursing as they cover many specialties areas in each issue.  Also, once you have established yourself and feel comfortable on your current unit, think about taking up a part-time or intermittent job in a medical/surgical area of your choice.  Many hospitals hire intermittent or per diem nurses to add flexibility to their staffing budget.

Now let’s talk about travel nursing.  I wrote a response to another nurse a few months back talking about how much experience you need to travel, and the overall answer was “it depends.”  But if you are interested in traveling soon after graduation, remember that the area you are working in is probably the area in which you will have to travel.  Experience is everything in the travel nurse world.  Since the client hospital doesn’t have time to spend training a new person (beyond a few days of orientation), contract jobs are looking for someone with practical experience in the area for which they are hiring, whether it is med/surg or psychiatric.

Two years of experience is a great number to shoot for in my mind.  It really gives you a true ability to expose yourself to all that the specialty has to offer.  So if travel nursing is in your future, make sure you have recent experience in the specialty in which you plan to work.  And, while on assignment, you might have the chance to gain experience in additional areas, since the hospital may offer the opportunity to float to other units.

My advice? Don’t believe the rumors you’ve been hearing about nursing; this field is one of the most flexible and robust jobs you’ll ever find.  Just remember that experience means a lot in life and especially travel nursing.  Most travel assignments are only 13 weeks, so you can’t really get that “stuck” feeling, but I would still make sure you really like your specialty before you travel.

Travel nursing is such a great career that I would hate to see someone end their travel career early just because they felt they were working in a specialty that didn’t really suit them. 

Nursing is a tough culture to change; thoughts and issues can sometimes stay in people’s heads for years depending on their past experiences.  Whether or not one “feels stuck” is a very personal issue, but it just doesn’t sound possible to me in the field of nursing.  From where I stand, if you want a career that allows you to grow and change, you’ve chosen the right one.


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