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How to Change Nursing Specialties

Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho.

Dear Nurse Beth,

Will you please recommend the best way to change nursing fields? How does one gain experience in a field that they have never practiced in and how would that information be best conveyed to a hiring department when the first step in a job application is done online?
Thank you.


Dear First Step,

One of the many benefits of being a nurse is the vast array of options. Being a nurse can mean anything from being in hospice to being in sales to being a teacher. There's Risk Management, Case Management, and Infection Prevention. New roles are created every day.

It can be challenging to get your foot in a new door when you are competing with experienced candidates. Compose a compelling cover letter and resume. Compelling because you have about 20 seconds to catch their attention.

Activate your network and ask for referrals. You can join the professional organization of the new specialty and attend local meetings.

You do possess transferable skills. Individualize your application to each organization, and highlight the skills, including soft skills, that solve a problem for them. Maybe they need a reliable employee, and you can highlight your outstanding attendance. Maybe they serve a Spanish-speaking population, and you can highlight your conversational Spanish. Maybe you have experience with Epic, and they use Epic.

If you persist, chances are you will get the break you're looking for. Practice your interview skills and prepare for behavioral questions such as "What should we hire you?"

If you need more info on answering behavioral questions, composing a resume and cover letter, employing bold strategies to land a job- I recommend my book below.

Do everything you can and then trust that things often work out the way they should.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!

Start your job search today!

llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

I'll add a little bit here.

I think a lot depends on "what you are moving from ... and what you want to move towards."

For example, if you currently work adult med/surg and want to be a NICU nurse, it might be necessary to get a job on a general pediatric unit (or maternity) for a while to "build a bridge" to where you want to end up. Not only would you have an opportunity to get some experience working with kids and babies, but you might have the opportunity to meet some of the people in the NICU by working on committees etc. with them. As they get to know and respect you as a peds (or OB) nurse, they would be more likely to hire you for the NICU. That's just one of many possible examples. Think about bridges you can use for crossing the gap from where you currently to where you want to be.

You can also make contacts with the leaders of other specialties through committee work, volunteer work, etc. Again, as they get to know, like and respect you ... they become helpful allies in your quest to move into their specialties. You might also meet such people at professional specialty conferences, fund raisers, etc. I think people sometimes don't realize how helpful such contacts can be.

I’m a med-surg/telemetry nurse with 1 year experience and looking to change to either OR or Womens as those two have always been my desirable units. After 2 months of constantly applying for these units with no call back (a lot of them are instant rejection) I’m getting very discouraged. I’ll work on getting certifications and writing cover letters. What else should I do to increase my chance of at least getting a call back for these jobs?

Thank you

llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

6 hours ago, Osiria said:

I’m a med-surg/telemetry nurse with 1 year experience and looking to change to either OR or Womens as those two have always been my desirable units. After 2 months of constantly applying for these units with no call back (a lot of them are instant rejection) I’m getting very discouraged. I’ll work on getting certifications and writing cover letters. What else should I do to increase my chance of at least getting a call back for these jobs?

Thank you

See my post above.   It might help if you "built a bridge" between your current job and the desired job to help you get some experience in a related field or make some contacts with people in your desired field.   Is there a unit that deals primarily with post-op patients you could apply to?  Or maybe a PACU job?   Such a job might help you network with people who work in the peri-op field.   Attend their local conferences or educational offerings, etc.   As you network with them, they will start to recognize you as someone interested in the peri-operative field ... and perhaps pay more attention to your application.   Your application would also be improved by adding the work with post-op patients.

The same is true for your interests in Women's Health.   Are there some groups, educational offerings, etc. that you could join where you might network and/or get a little experience in a related field?

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development.

You can also research what hospitals do residency programs for experienced nurses looking to break into a new specialty. There aren't a ton of them, but they do exist.

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