How to Change Travel Nursing Specialties

How to Change Travel Nursing Specialties

As a nurse, you’ve probably thought about what it might be like to work in a different unit or specialty.  Industry demand can vary between specialties and locations, and there are a few nursing specialties that are almost always in high demand.

But how does a nurse transition to another specialty when jobs require previous experience in that specialty? Seems like a catch 22, doesn’t it?  The good news is, there are ways you can transition to a new specialty while still working in your current one. Below are some methods you can follow to successfully make the jump. 

Travel Nursing Requirements

First, let’s review what most all facilities require for travel nurses.  The most common prerequisite is going to be 2 years of acute experience, followed by at least 1 year in the same specialty as the job you are applying for.  You will also need to make sure this experience is recent (within the last 3 months). For example, if you have 7 years of ED experience, but most recently have worked in Med-Surg, you would only be able to submit to Med-Surg travel contracts at present.  

Specialty Crossover

Nursing specialties that are very similar can sometimes cross-over with little to no extra experience needed. This is going to be dependent on the situation and requirements of the facility/hiring manager. Check out our chart below to see what other specialties you could potentially be qualified to travel in.

Pick Up PRN

The quickest way to transition to a new specialty is going to be with PRN. You will most likely always be able to pick up PRN shifts for a similar specialty to your own (see above chart).  Depending on the hospital, you may even be able to work PRN shifts for a specialty you’re not experienced in. This will allow you to work in the setting to gain experience and see if you actually enjoy it. 

If you’re not ready to fully commit to switching, you could start as small as 1-2 PRN shifts a month and steadily ramp up. Most hospitals will require at least 12 months in a certain specialty to be considered for travel contracts, so be prepared to do 12 months of a substantial amount of PRN in the new specialty.  If your new specialty is somewhat similar to the one you’re already experienced in (see chart) you may not need the full 12 months of PRN before snagging a contract in that new role.

Float Your Boat

If you have the opportunity to float to a similar unit go for it.  If you’re working Med Surg and they are short in the ICU, volunteer to go to the ICU.  Anytime you work on a different floor, you can add that to your marketability. Again, you will need to be floating to a new specialty for about a year before likely being hired for a contract in that new unit.  Since floating needs can be sporadic, we’d recommend picking up PRN after you’ve floated enough to be considered for PRN in that unit.  

Volunteer to Shadow

This is the long game but might be the only option if you are wanting to transition to a specialty that is very different from your current one. Ask your House Supervisor or Clinical Educator to shadow a unit you’re interested in.  You would need to come unpaid on your own time, but this allows you to see if you like it and to start getting the necessary experience.  After shadowing you could apply for PRN in that specialty. After about a year of PRN in that new specialty, you’d be eligible for a travel contract.  

Get Your Certifications

Certain specialties have additional certifications that you’ll either need to obtain per facility requirements, or that will at least add to your marketability.  Do research on the specialty you’re interested in and start the process for getting any related certifications. The below chart outlines certifications that could be mandatory depending on facility requirements. 

You are now armed with a few methods to transition specialties or at least add to your marketability! Still have questions? Drop us a line in the comment section below.

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