Nursing Career Change: 5 Signs You Know It's Time

nurse career change

By Erin Wallace

Not sure if you’re ready for a nursing career change? Few careers are as meaningful or important to society as being a nurse. It's a rewarding job that lets you make a difference in the lives of patients and their families. 

However, like many other public-service jobs, where you work and the type of nursing career you have can have a huge impact on how you feel overall about your job. 

If you're thinking about a nursing career change, here are five signs it might be time to start looking for a new nursing job.

5 Signs It's Time for a Nursing Career Change

1. You're tired of the long hours and inflexible schedule

If you've been working as a nurse for awhile, you know that it can be difficult to find time to spend with family and friends when you're working 12-hour shifts or even overnight.

Many nursing schools focus on training you for traditional nursing work in hospitals or nursing homes, but there are many other career avenues nurses can explore that don't necessarily involve direct patient care.

Pamela Anthony, RN, BSN, CDMS, CCM and President and CEO of Restore Rehabilitation, LLC, a medical and vocational case management firm in the workers' compensation space, says that there are plenty of nursing jobs with “better hours and no weekends or holidays.

She explains that she started out working as a nurse case manager, and 25 years later, she's the leader of her own company. “I got to use my nursing education, work normal business hours and be an integral part of an industry by helping people who get hurt at work.”

Wanting more family time and a flexible schedule is a big reason nurses change careers. “Many nurse case managers work from home and can set their own hours,” Anthony says.

2. You went back to school for an advanced degree or additional certification

Continuing your education as a nurse naturally opens up new available positions that align with your new credentials. Shanna Shafer, BSN, who brings the face of nursing to BestNursingDegree.com, has over 10 years of experience as an RN. She's had a handful of nursing career changes, many of which resulted from “achieving a higher level of education that naturally led to a new position.”

“For instance,” Shafer says, “if you complete your MSN, DNP or earn a specialty degree like your NP or CRNA, it is a natural reason to move on from your current position. Even then, it can be hard to leave a loved position or a wonderful group of workers behind, so many nurses choose to apply for new positions within their current facilities.”

3. You experience a life-changing event

Whether it's a big move across state lines or a major personal event, these occurrences can spur a nursing career change. For instance, Shafer says that when she became widowed, she moved to a new town and away from direct patient care.

“I realized that I would not be able to provide patients with 12-15 hours of physical, mental and emotional care and have anything left for my kids when I came home, so I knew it was time to make a career change” she said.

“As such, I decided to leave patient care and chose to work from home as a nursing researcher. I also took on administrative and policy-making duties with an independent nursing company.”

Later on, Shafer became managing editor, writer and director of a nursing education website. “One of the most rewarding things about going into the profession of nursing has been learning about all of the career options we have as nurses. The options are nearly endless.”

4. Your current position is taking a toll on your mental and emotional health

Shafer reminds nurses that there are several classic signs it might be time to make a nursing career change, including:

Dreading going to work every day for an extended period of time, even if you've just had some time off

Feeling overwhelmed at work and unable to perform your duties

Feeling stale and stagnant or having an urge to travel

Struggling to pass proficiency skills tests

Being unsafe for patients

That last one is definitely important, Shafer says. “Any time you are performing your job in an unsafe way or a way that might cause harm — take a hard look at moving on.”

5. Ownership in your current workplace is changing hands

Shafer says that sometimes when hospitals or other medical facilities are undergoing “a buyout, a significant reorganization, staffing reductions or another reconfiguration that is outside of your control, they can have a negative impact on your own safety and livelihood.”

Job security becomes a concern for many nurses in these situations, and it can be a sign that it's time for a nursing career change.

Regardless of your reason for pursuing a nursing career change, Shafer gives good advice for nurses who are moving on: Never burn a bridge.

“Make sure you give ample notice, work your scheduled shifts, maintain your professionalism and leave your current position in such a way that you would be hired back on without hesitation.”

Leaving your current job on good terms ensures you continue to build your network of nursing professionals and have good references when you apply for your next job.

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