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Transitioning from Med-Surg to Psych

by kimbuhlee kimbuhlee (New) New

Hi all,

So I am a new grad about to be employed on a med-surg unit, mostly because I was indecisive and didn't know what specialty to go into. I know I'll love the unit that I'll be on but I've always had an interest in mental health/psychiatry and community health. I have a far-fetched idea of opening up my own mental health community clinic to serve those with varying degrees of mental illness. So I suppose this is advice for the far future, but how do I transition from a med-surg nurse to a psych nurse?

As much as I am interested in mental health/psych, sometimes I am also afraid that I don't have the "personality" for psych nursing. My professors have always told me that I'd be better fit for OB. If anyone wants to reflect on that all, that would be great too!


Meriwhen, ASN, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Psych ICU, addictions.

1. Keep the med-surg job for now.

2. Apply for a per-diem psych job to test the waters and see if psych is a good fit for you..and likewise, if you are a good fit for psych.

3. See how you feel after a few months. If you are very happy with the psych job, seek a full-time position and leave the med-surg one. If you are not happy in psych...well, at least you didn't give up your day job :)

Whatever you learn at either job will be valuable to you regardless of what you decide. Psych patients don't check their medical problems at the door when they admit to a psych unit, so having some experience in m/s could not hurt. Likewise, you will encounter psych patients in every other specialty, so when you are caring for them in a m/s or medical setting, the psych experience you obtained will help ensure that their mental health needs are truly being met.

Also, if you don't get a psych job right away (and it is actually kind of hard for new grads to land in psych), try after you have a year of m/s experience. See if you can transfer internally to your facility's psych unit. Or look for a position on a psych-medical unit: these patients have both psych and medical issues and it's the best of both worlds.

Hope this helps.

Thanks Meriwhen, that was really helpful! I will definitely keep my eye out for those per diem psych positions. A psych/med floor sounds particularly interesting. There was one at the hospital I used to intern at so I'll look into that!

Thanks again!

Whispera, MSN, RN

Specializes in psych, addictions, hospice, education.

What characteristics do you think your instructors meant when they said you're a better fit for OB than psych? Do you agree with them?

Hi Whispera,

I think most people tend to think I'm "too nice" when they first meet me and this is what I believe what some of my instructors meant when they said I would be a better fit for OB than psych. I do and I don't agree with them. I don't think a certain type of person is meant for psych but rather certain qualities may help you in that field, such as the ability to set limits, listen, and be firm. Sometimes, I tend to be to be overly naive and want to believe the best in people which leads me to believe everything that they say. Also, at times, I can be too easily persuaded. I think before I become a psych nurse, there will be a lot of things that I myself have to work on. Do you have any insight?


Specializes in Surgery. Has 4 years experience.

As a med-surg nurse you will learn within the first year to set limits, not get walked on, and not believe everything a patient says. You will also get experience with psych patients. Is suggest staying in med-surg full-time at least 1 year, 2 if you can tolerate it. It really does build up your foundation nursing skills that you will use in any specialty.