Career Transitions for Nurses
The monitor alarms make you cringe. You constantly feel irritated by the patients and staff you work with. You can’t sleep. You dread going to the hospital every day.
It’s no secret that nurses experience high rates of job-related stress – it’s a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding role. These demands can lead to fatigue, “creating an unrelenting overall condition that interferes with individuals’ physical and cognitive ability to function at their normal capacity” (Canadian Nurses Association & Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, 2010, p. 12).
Fatigue eats away at your sense of well-being and jeopardizes the safety of yourself and your patients, so what should you do to combat it?
Perhaps you’re due for a vacation. Perhaps you need to re-evaluate your work-life balance. Perhaps you require adjustments in your sleeping, eating, and exercising patterns.
If you’ve engaged in appropriate self-care activities and yet you still can’t shake the feeling of fatigue, then perhaps it’s time for a career change. Coming to this conclusion can be just as daunting and anxiety-inducing as the dreaded hospital position itself, especially if much of your identity is wrapped up in being a nurse. Not to worry, there are plenty of opportunities that will draw upon your nursing experience and allow you to re-invigorate your passion for healthcare.
The remainder of this article will explore some nursing career transition options and offer guidance on how you can position your résumé for each.
► Nursing Studies Instructor / Practice Application Specialist
If you have a zest for designing training modules, leading presentations, or mentoring new nursing staff then a teaching career may be right for you. Many colleges and universities offer theory-based courses and hands-on simulation labs for nursing students, many of which will require instructors with real-world clinical experience. Although many job postings will require a master’s or doctoral degree, don’t let this deter you from applying. Many institutions will consider your application if you are enrolled in a post-graduate program, or if you have expertise in a clinical area that is experiencing talent shortages.
What to include in your résumé: Strike a balance between hard skills and soft skills. Of course, you will need to include details about your nursing experience such as the type of facility, number of beds, and your areas of specialization but you’ll also want to draw attention to your teaching philosophy. Highlight your suitability to a teaching role by chalking up your impact on training and mentoring of other staff.
How do I support my team? How have I positively influenced the performance outcomes of new staff? How do I assess their skills and provide feedback on what they do well and what they can improve on?
Have I ever spearheaded training? Why did I think additional training was necessary, and what differences did I notice after the training?
When I give directions to others on my team, how do I ensure they’ve understood me? In what ways do I deliver information to reach diverse learning styles?
How do I leverage technology to stay organized and communicate with others on my team?
► Public Health Nurse
If you’re feeling nostalgic about your earlier years of social activism, then public health nursing is the perfect way to re-fuel your passion while making a positive impact in your community. With a focus on preventing rather than treating health issues, you’ll examine the social, economic, environmental, and political factors that influence people’s health outcomes. An ability to look at the big picture will be important in this role, as you’ll be required to synthesize data from multiple sources and use it to develop programs, interventions, campaigns, and much more.
What to include in your résumé: Public health nursing is a multi-faceted role that requires information gathering, planning, monitoring, assessing, and reporting and yet you won’t be confined to an office. You’ll be out in the community educating the public, building coalitions with other organizations, and guiding change. You will critically evaluate health systems, drive program innovation, and remove barriers to healthcare access. To demonstrate that you’re a good fit highlight projects that you’ve spearheaded, positive patient outcomes you’ve influenced, and other leadership roles you’ve taken on.
Have I been involved in a steering committee? What was my contribution? How did I support the organization’s overall vision? Have I helped transform healthcare policy?
How do I interact with people from different walks of life? How do I make sure people feel informed, supported, and empowered regardless of age, socioeconomic status, race, religion, or sexual orientation?
Whether at work or by volunteering, how have I fostered engagement within my community? How have I brought people together, acted as an ambassador of health, built partnerships, or raised awareness?
How do I motivate and mobilize others? How do I ensure everyone is working together to achieve a shared goal? How do I map progress and adjust as situations change?
► Medical Device or Pharmaceutical Sales Representative
Having a strong scientific foundation as well as experience using medical products gives you an advantage in a medical sales role. It’s not as simple as providing product demonstrations and answering questions about the device / medication though, you also need to understand sales strategies to perform well in this role. Start by doing research into selling techniques and arrange meetings with sales reps so you can ask them what their typical day is comprised of. It’s a risk for a company to invest in someone with no sales experience, so you’ll need to prove to them that you “know what you’re in for” and are ready for the challenge.
What to include in your résumé: Demonstrate that you’re poised to do well in the role. Draw attention to your ability to organize information, communicate effectively, and jump on opportunities. Highlight your comfort discussing or manipulating the product and focus on how your own experience in a clinical setting will make you a trusted expert among medical staff.
If I were to start a sales job tomorrow, what would my 30/60/90-day sales plan look like? How am I prepared to follow that plan and reach my sales targets?
How will my existing connections in the healthcare industry help me to generate leads and close deals?
How many nursing staff have I trained on a specific medical device? How will these training experiences help me to create product presentations and give demonstrations?
How has my clinical experience taught me to “hustle?” How do I manage priorities in fast-paced and high-stress environments?
How have I dealt with or influenced difficult or stubborn doctors? How have I built rapport with doctors over time to earn their trust and respect?
► Clinical Practice Consultant
If you’ve been in the game for a while you’ve likely determined which processes work and which ones slow down progress. If you love to observe procedures, interview staff, identify and then fix inefficiencies, and recommend training then a clinical consulting position might be the perfect fit for you. In this role, you’ll likely have specialized knowledge in a specific area. For example, as a palliative care specialist you may provide guidance on pain and symptom management across long term care facilities, hospices, and acute care facilities. Regardless of your area of focus you’ll monitor how nurses care for their patients and evaluate standard protocols so you can develop the best standards of nursing practice.
What to include in your résumé: If the consultative role is in a specialized area then your résumé should reflect your expertise on the topic. Focus on how you’ve led change within that unit and how you’ve collaborated with other healthcare teams to achieve strategic initiatives.
Have I developed any organizational metrics to support processes or staff evaluations
Have I made recommendations, how were they implemented, and what was the impact?
Have I participated in round tables or case conferences? How did I manage expectations and relationships between stakeholders?
When have I scoped projects, devised plans, established timelines, and set milestones? Was I able manage resources effectively and meet deliverables?
► Health Informatics
This role is perfect for you if you’re a tech enthusiast. Healthcare has transformed rapidly thanks to the incorporation of information engineering. As an example, think how charting has evolved from paper notes to computerized documentation. As a member of an inter-disciplinary team, you’ll enhance clinical quality and efficiency by playing a role in designing, developing, and applying new IT-based resources in healthcare management and delivery. Roles within health informatics range from development of information and communication technology infrastructure to analysis and interpretation of patient data. There are plenty of options to explore.
What to include in your résumé: The specific keywords you use and accomplishments you choose to highlight will depend on the role you are trying to secure within this domain. Absolutely beef up your technology section! Overall, some areas to highlight will include your ability to collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, your proficiency to learn and adopt new tech-based methods, and your mastery at managing patient data. Draw attention to your ability to recognize trends, analyze processes, and leverage technology to streamline workflow.
This role will be a bigger leap from nursing and you may not have direct experience with some of the hard skills required for the role. To overcome some of the experience shortages, explore additional training to help you build a knowledge foundation on the IT side of the equation. You don’t have to start a degree in computer science, but by taking courses in coding, project management, data analysis, or any other subjects related to informatics you demonstrate a commitment to making the career shift. Clearly outline all the additional training, courses, and professional development you do on your résumé. I also recommend seeking out a mentor who works in health informatics, so you can get the “inside scoop” on what skills the organization values.
Have I collaborated with the IT department on any projects?
Have I helped troubleshoot or fix any system issues?
Have we introduced any new IT-based systems at work? How did I help other end users adjust to these programs? How do I communicate technical information to technical and non-technical audiences?
Have I made any suggestions on patient data collection and storage? Have I noticed and brought forward any patterns in patient data to enhance service planning and delivery?
This is just the tip of the iceberg! Any career change is possible with the right strategy in place. Whatever your next goal is, do the research on what’s required in that role and then draw parallels between your nursing experience and those duties. Everything in your personal marking documents should be framed around the new goal.
Canadian Nurses Association & Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. (2010). Nurse fatigue and patient safety [Research report]. Ottawa & Toronto: Authors. Retrieved from http://www2.cna-aiic.ca/CNA/documents/pdf/ publications/Fatigue_Safety_2010_Summary_e.pdf