R.N. Q&A #6: How do I pick a specialty?

Nurse questions

Dear Robb,

I am excited to say I am getting close to graduating nursing school, but I’m not sure what kind of nurse I want to be when I grow up. Throughout my rotations I have yet to find a specific "specialty" that takes my breath away or makes me feel like Wow! I want to do this! Is this normal?

I figured if anything I would start on tele as a new nurse. Everyone says to start on Med Surg, but I’m not too excited about that. I am interested in the ED, but I'm not sure if I have the inner confidence to take on that specialty.

How do I make sure I choose the right path?

Thanks, Suzanne

Dear Suzanne,

This is a great question, and I’m going to be really annoying by answering it with some questions of my own. Because that’s just how us life coaches roll. ::wink::

Do you think you are normal for asking this question?

Do you think there is only one specialty that you could possibly be happy working on?

Do you think if you make the “wrong” choice that you will have to be miserable?

Do you think it is your job’s responsibility to “take your breath away”? And if it doesn’t, then does that mean something is wrong?

To be clear, I think you are pretty normal. In fact, I had exactly the same question when I was finishing school. I had no idea what I wanted to do. Just like you, I was worried that I might make the wrong choice, and wasted a lot of time and energy worrying about it, but here is what I realized:

If you don’t know exactly what you want to do, then, just maybe, there is no wrong choice.

I could have done anything and I would have learned from it. At my first job, I learned about things I liked, I learned about things I was good at, and yes, I learned about things I didn’t like so much. 

One of the best parts about being a nurse is that you have a ridiculous amount of options. Not just different specialties, but different settings and different roles. Maybe you will get one job and work there for the next 40 years, and that could be great. But it is just as possible that over your career you might have five different jobs, or twenty. 

Maybe there are no wrong choices, just different choices. 

What would happen if you ended up working on Med Surg? (which from your question seems to be the worst case scenario.) Would you learn anything? Would the nursing experience you gained help you or hurt you in the long run? 

Would you have to be miserable because your socks weren’t getting blown off as you learned how to deal with boring old chest pain and routine surgery preps and run of the mill blood draws and wound care and foley insertions and drip calculations and patient education and foundational skill building and time management and team building? 

Or would you be able to leverage the opportunity to learn and grow and excel, to use it to build a foundation that would support you in any other role you ever end up taking to be an even more exceptional and awesome and totally happy nurse?

There is no blood test you can take that is going to tell you what specialty to work in. The only thing that makes a choice right or wrong is how you decide to think about it.

So, maybe, decide there is no wrong choice. 

Then you can make the choice you think will be best for you (Tele? Great! ER? Fantastic!), knowing that no matter what you are going to learn a ton of things, and that you can always change your mind and change your job later if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would. 

Whatever you choose, I hope you will also choose to be happy about your choice. It is powerful way to live your life.

Good luck, and have fun!


Note: Questions are edited for privacy and clarity. I aim to be HIPAA compliant! ::wink:: If you have a question, you can SUBMIT IT HERE.