5 Tips to Switch Specialties as a Nurse

4 Min Read Published January 30, 2023
5 Tips to Switch Specialties as a Nurse

One great thing about nursing is, the opportunities are endless. You can literally go to any specialty you want. Sometimes we enter nursing in a particular specialty and it’s kind of just where we start, learn the ropes and get some exposure experience under our belts. We like to work where we feel comfortable, places we know what we can expect, at least most of us do. And sometimes after you’ve been working in a place for a while, you might be ready to transition or change specialties. 

This content used under license from "Ask Nurse Alice."

5 Tips to Changing Nursing Specialties

Tip #1: Don’t Transition Just Because You’re Bored

If you’re transitioning to a new specialty just because you’re bored on your unit, don’t. Not all units are created equal. If you’re a telemetry nurse, that falls under the umbrella of progressive care and with progressive care, you can have step down units or some might specialize in hearts while others specialize in strokes. If you’re bored, you could get your specialty certification. 

There are different specialty certifications you can get to help raise your bar of knowledge and see if you’ve met board certification standards. As you’re studying for those, it’ll also open your eyes to certain populations that you don’t get on your unit, or certain skills or treatments that you don’t necessarily do on your unit. Maybe instead of changing specialties, you’ll want to transition to another telemetry or step down unit to get this experience instead.  

Tip #2: Do Your Research and Be Aware of the New Environment You’re Entering

Be aware of the environment that you’re entering and the population you’re going to be taking care of. There are different duties and demands in each specialty, so it’s important to know what those are. If you want to transition to ICU, walk the units and talk to a couple ICU nurses to make sure that if you’re going to select ICU, that you’re selecting the right type of ICU. There are different types and it’s important to know that. Do your research before you apply, because it will provide you some insight. 

If you’re thinking about becoming a nurse, are a nursing student, or are a current nurse who is ready to transition careers - this guide will help guide you to make the best professional decisions.

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Tip #3: Become a Member of Your Specialty’s Nursing Organization

I recommend people who are transitioning to a new specialty join that nursing organization. There will be a ton of tips and information on their website that can help you be successful in that area. There will also be networking opportunities made available to you. 

Tip #4: Be Open-Minded and Willing to Learn

Experienced nurses entering a new specialty come with a lot of knowledge, strength and information, but they should also come in modest, open-minded and willing to learn. I’ve seen some nurses overestimate their knowledge because they’ve been a nurse for let’s say 5 or 10 years and they think they just know it all and you can’t tell them anything. Do not let this be you. All of us, even myself with 25+ years of experience in nursing, have so much to still learn. Things are always changing, and once you close yourself off to learning from someone else, then you’ll have lost. 

It’s important to come with an open-mind and willingness to learn and a willingness to do something a little different, because the end goal may be the same, but sometimes the steps to get there will need to be done in a different way, considering your different patient population. You’ll likely rerun through some skills that may seem like a repeat from your previous specialty, but they’re not. And it’s not an insult to you, it’s to ensure that you have the skills, tools and the confidence you need to be successful in your new specialty. For example, you might know lab values, but do you know lab values like this? You’re simply learning information you may already know from a different lens. 

Tip #5: Ask Questions!

You may be an experienced nurse and feel like you can’t say anything because you’re supposed to know X, Y or Z. Don’t do that. Give full transparency and tell them you don’t know. Run through it just in case, because you want to make sure that you know what your preceptor thinks you should know. You want to do well, you want to learn and take care of your patients so use this as an opportunity to have them validate what you know. If you don’t know something, speak up because it’s your opportunity to do so. You don’t get to do orientation over again. This is the time to ask questions. 

If you’re transitioning to a new specialty, just remember to be humble and always be ready to learn, even if it’s something you already know. Communicate with your preceptor, ask them questions when you have them, and debrief at the end of your shift. Then, when you come back for your next shift, review how your last shift went and what some of your goals and objectives are. 


Alice Benjamin
Alice Benjamin
Nurse.org Contributor

Alice Benjamin, MSN, APRN, ACNS-BC, FNP-C, CCRN, CEN, CV-BC, also known as Nurse Alice, is a cardiac clinical nurse specialist and family nurse practitioner with over 23 years of nursing experience specializing in cardiology, critical care and emergency medicine. She is the host of the Ask Nurse Alice Podcast; an NBC Los Angeles Medical Correspondent and CEO of Nurse Approved. You can follow her at asknursealice.com, on Twitter and Facebook at @AskNurseAlice, and on Instagram at @asknursealice

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