3 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Deciding on a Nursing Specialty

nov-np-blog-postAs nursing students journey through nursing school, they begin to think about the nursing specialty that they would like to enter into. Sadly, I continue to hear from nursing students that they are being told things like: “You need 1-2 years of experience before being able to work here” or “You need to get a job in the hospital first, so that you have that background”. But what if you don’t want to work in the hospital? Or become a med-surg nurse?

We talk about this a lot on RNFM Radio, a podcast for nursing students, clinical nurses, and nurse business owners. Nursing students- and nurses- do not have to feel boxed in to one specific role. They do not have to work in a specialty first- just because a clinical instructor or nursing faculty told them to.

In fact, if we simply enter a job just because other people tell us that we have to, we are much more likely to burn out in nursing faster than if we picked the specialty we actually wanted. Nursing is tough work. With staffing shortages, budget cuts, and technology advancements- a nurse needs to be happy in the field that he or she has chosen. There is too much other ‘stuff’ that can get in the way!

Here Are Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Deciding on Your Specialty

  1. What patient population do I want to work with? Now this question may seem obvious, but I am going to encourage you to go deeper than you might think. If you say “adult oncology patients” that is actually broader than you might think. What specific disease? Where? Rural or urban? Do you want to work in a hospital or out in the community? Why do you want to work with these specific patients? Is there something about them, or you and your life experience, that can help you build rapport very quickly? Do you understand what they are going through? Can you teach a specific guideline in a really special and easy-to-understand way? I am asking you these things so that you get very clear on your desired specialty. It will be to your best interests to have these things clearly articulated when you go to interview for the job.
  2. What group needs your care? Now this is a question that you may not see in articles similar to this blog post. I have been taught the Venn diagram of business ownership: your passion mixed with what people want equals higher chances for success. So let’s apply this to our decisions avennsuccess1round nursing specialty. First, you want to figure out what it is you want to do and who it is you want to do it for (question one above). Next, you want to ensure that there is a need. Now, by this I mean, are there jobs available? Are people hiring in this specialty field? Has a job that you are envisioning even been created yet? And do not worry if the answer is “not yet” to this final question. Just because a job does not exist, does not mean that it won’t. I know plenty of people (one I just interviewed on the Your Next Shift podcast, Tim Raderstorf, who had the title of Chief Innovative Officer created just for him!). It is always a good idea to do your research ahead of time… to figure out of you are a good fit for your desired specialty. And if your desired specialty needs you!
  3. What is it that you really want? I know this sounds somewhat similar to number one above… but we are about to get even more focused here. So think about your career. Just starting out, as it is now, and your future goals. What is it that you “want to be when you grow up”? Is there a career goal that you are striving towards? Think about it like this- if you want to become a nurse scientist, then you will have to have certain job experiences, professional milestones, and goals reached along the way. You will have to focus on publication, scholarly work, grant funding, and networking with other nurse scientists or academic nurses. I know it can feel overwhelming when you are just starting out. But if you have a longer goal in mind- something you are reaching for say, 5 or 10 years down the road, you will want to set yourself up for success along the way. Additionally, think about your individual talents, strengths, and qualities. Think about your family needs and work-life balance. Think about your own career enjoyment. What nursing specialty will afford you with the lifestyle you truly desire?

Do you have any tips on defining your nursing specialty you would recommend to a nursing student? What have you done that has help your nursing career along the way? Be sure to tweet me @ElizabethScala on Twitter to tell me about how you landed a job in your ideal nursing specialty!

Elizabeth Scala

Keynote speaker and bestselling author, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week ‘Art of Nursing’ program, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver.Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and a playful pit bull.