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How to change your career direction

Career planning is a lifelong process, which includes choosing an occupation, getting a job, growing in your job, possibly changing careers and eventually retiring.

During that journey, there are points when a change in career direction takes place. With the right approach nurses can use a change in direction to significantly enhance their career prospects.

So why might nurses want to make career changes?

Perhaps they are losing interest in their current job, or maybe they feel they need stretching and want to find something that interests them more. Perhaps there are major changes in their trust and new career opportunities are becoming available.

Well-planned changes can greatly enhance a nurse’s career and personal development. Potential employers like to see people who have put thought into their careers and seized opportunities that arise.

There is a world of possibilities available to nurses who wish to change careers but remain within nursing. Nurse consultants, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioner posts are increasing as service delivery changes and more and more emphasis is being put on the role of the nurse. Walk-in centres and NHS Direct are just two examples of new services that have emerged, providing opportunities for nurses to explore new ground.

In the past there were four main careers: clinical specialisation, management, research and education. These days nurses are expected to have all these skills.

Career changing today is a natural life progression, and a well-developed plan is needed for any change. It is not something to rush.

The starting point is to decide what sort of nursing suits you best. Your past experience will help you with this. A lot of people change direction in their career because of negative aspects of their current role or organisation. Identifying what you do not like is easy, but you will not know where to direct your career unless you look at what you like. What do you like doing when you are at work? What excites you and energises you? What is your passion?

Work/life balance is an important consideration. Apart from the nature of the work you are contemplating, you need to consider the likely hours and the effect on your family.

Next, do your research. You can take professional career advice. The RCN’s Nurseline is a careers service that can help nurses who feel they are at a crossroads in their career. A telephone appointment can be set up for nurses to work through their career options.

Nursing Times Careers events around the UK give nurses the opportunity to check out a large range of career choices and receive one-to-one career advice from experts. The internet has a wealth of resources to help you. Just type ‘changing my career’ into any decent search engine and you will be amazed at the results that can easily be adapted to your circumstances.

Networking is also a useful way to gather information and is one of the keys to successfully changing your career. People in your network may be able to give you job leads or offer you advice and information about a particular area of work. They may introduce you to others so you can expand your network. Even though you may not think you already have a network, the chances are you probably do when you begin to consider colleagues, friends and family members.

You may have some ideas about what it is you would like to do. You may have worked in the area before or come into contact with others that have. Why not try and gain some experience in a new area? This may not be an easy option, but there may, for example, be a temporary secondment opportunity, or you could consider doing some bank or agency work in the area you are considering moving into - if this is available.

If you are to change careers within nursing the chances are that you will require additional training. Clearly, during your research you will have explored the need for additional training and any appropriate qualifications.

Courses can be found in a wide variety of places today. You could try the internet, your local higher educational establishments, advertisements in the nursing journals, or you could talk to a colleague or mentor.

Other considerations include whether you need training placements, or whether you wish to study full or part time or would prefer block release. Will your manager support you? The support you need may be financial, or you may need time off or access to a mentor.

Changing careers is a major life decision and can be overwhelming at times. But you do not need to go it alone - find a mentor who can help you through the rough patches. Your mentor may also be able to help you by taking advantage of her or his network. A mentor does not have to be a highly placed individual, though the more powerful the mentor, the more success you may have in using that power to your advantage.

Finally, be flexible. You need to be flexible about nearly everything from your employment status to relocation and salary. Set positive goals for yourself using expert help if required, expect setbacks and change, and do not let these things get you down.

You may decide that instead of a totally new career in another part of nursing, a lateral move that could serve as a springboard to a bigger career change in the future suits you better at this time.

There have never been more opportunities for nurses to consider their career options within the profession. In today’s labour market with ever-expanding roles developing, the forward-thinking nurse can be one step ahead of the game.

 Realise that there are endless possibilities in today’s health service for nurses to change career direction

 Do not rush into anything. A career change will require careful planning that will involve setting clear goals and will require you to consider your life as a whole. This could take a considerable amount of time, but it will be well spent.

 You do not need to do it alone. Use a mentor, life coach, online resources or your networks to help you on your way.

 Gaining the right education requires careful thought. Seek advice on all the courses, facilities and support available.

 Be flexible. You may not get exactly what you wanted and you may need to change location.