Time for a Career Change?
How to know when to stay in your current position, switch specialties or find a new job
Five years into my nursing career, I received a nerve-wracking professional ego boost: promotion to unit supervisor. My manager saw my leadership potential and convinced me to apply, despite my substantial case of imposter syndrome.
I vaguely understood the responsibilities of this new position, but I did know myself to be a hands-on mentor. I envisioned guiding coworkers at the bedside, furthering their critical thinking and clinical skills while cultivating a workplace environment that fostered staff and patient satisfaction. I’d watched colleagues revel in the role, and I was determined to follow suit.
My annual reviews confirmed that I met these objectives, but in reality, I didn’t thrive as an administrator. I missed caring for patients immensely, and worried that I was losing the hands-on skills I loved to perform.
Not My Calling
Most of my days were spent at a desk arranging schedules, budgeting or counseling employees on attendance issues. These are necessary functions and can be attractive aspects of nursing leadership, but I realized that the business side of healthcare is not my calling.
For three years, I persisted, feeling obligated to my team and not yet sure how to align my career with my well-being. However, when a teammate announced she was transferring to our ICU through an internal residency program, my ears perked up. Working in that unit had been a dream I’d set aside to try my hand at management. I applied, received an offer and made the leap. Returning to the bedside was gratifying, and for the next few years, I flourished. Nonetheless, making that decision wasn’t easy.
Career transitions are common in nursing — one of the profession’s greatest benefits is its myriad roles and opportunities for advancement. If you aren’t satisfied with what you’re currently doing, chances are there’s another area that will better suit your preferences and passions.
Deciding when and if to pivot, however, can be overwhelming. When is it favorable to stay in a job that’s not a perfect fit? When is it optimal to move on, and how do you begin that process? Any time you’re faced with such a big career decision, there are often compelling arguments on both sides, and each nurse may weigh those considerations differently.
Even if you don’t love your current job, there may be some strong arguments for staying with it at least for now, such as:
Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly buys things that enhance happiness — or at least peace of mind — like shelter, transportation and healthcare. Salary, benefits and perks like tuition reimbursement are excellent motivations for staying in a job.
So is flexibility; hospitals often incentivize staff with self-managed flexible scheduling and the option of doing longer shifts fewer days a week. If you’re raising children, traveling or furthering your education, the ability to set your own work/life balance can be priceless.
However, attractive perks and a good salary can sometimes lead nurses to remain in unsatisfying roles for longer than planned, or longer than they’d prefer.
Some specialty areas, such as flight nursing and anesthesia nursing, are not immediately accessible to new graduates. Reaching your dream job in those fields may require a “stepping-stone” track, where you must work for some years in other areas like the ICU or emergency department before having a real shot at your eventual goal.