(Writer’s note: I conducted this interview last winter. To listen to the podcast with my guest, please click here for Episode 2: Transitioning into a non-clinical nursing career.)
As I walked into the library big puffy snowflakes coated my jacket. I was thankful that my guest could make the podcast despite the wintry conditions. My interview was with Renee Slagter, RN, and our goal was to provide a window into alternative nursing careers.
As a physical therapist, I have personally experienced days and points in my career where non-clinical work rejuvenates my attitude toward soldiering on as a clinician. So many medical personnel experience burnout and contemplate an alternative career. My hope and goal were to have Renee share how she made the switch to her alternative RN career and how it compares to clinical nursing.
I met Renee through her husband, who (like me) is a crazy bicycle rider. Renee entered the room with her signature energy, enthusiasm, and quick wit. After graduating from Grand Valley State University, Renee spent her first 9 months on a medical-surgical floor. She transitioned to an endoscopy physician office where she stayed for 18 years and completed various roles such as staff RN, phone triage, and clinic education coordinator. Renee also managed to squeeze in PRN shifts for a local school and a hospital medical-surgical floor.
After 18 years Renee was getting bored with the routine. She explained, “I did the same thing every 30 minutes. I could anticipate what each physician would need and the patient education was like I was on autopilot. I didn’t have any more challenges with education, equipment, or patients.” Interesting to note that Renee did not explain how she was burned out with caring for people like so many medical professionals experience. Instead, she was seeking a new challenge and a sense of adventure.
Renee shared her story of how she entered medical education with the Ottawa County Career Line Tech Center. She said, “I didn’t even qualify for the first job I interviewed for! I just had fun with the interview and wanted to see what it was like. I received a call,” she continued, “on my way home requesting another interview but not for the position I had applied for but another teaching position. It goes to show you to just try. You never know what doors may open.” Renee explained that the job she received was not even posted. “I encourage all my current students to never underestimate the power of interviewing and sharing all your credentials!”
Pros and Cons of an Alternative Career
Renee explained the pros of her current teaching career. “I love creating my own curriculum within the state guidelines,” Renee stated with a smile. “I try to do the best I can to create real-world training.” Renee also explained how she loves the “aha moment” of the student. “I get great pleasure watching my students master clinical skills. I also receive feedback from former students and employers after my students come back from internships, on how well prepared the students are for clinical work.”
The cons of her current position are interesting and is a reflection of a compassionate caregiver. “In my nursing career, I could try to advance myself with additional certifications, promotions to management or change of roles. In teaching, there is no promotion.” Renee went on, “In the clinical environment you can change jobs and gain additional experiences but in teaching the role stays the same. Another difference with teaching is, you are on an island. You have to seek feedback from colleagues and administrators. But, in the clinical environment, you have more 1:1 feedback that comes frequently through the smiles and the thank you received from patients. By contrast, the positive feedback from students is far less.” Renee continued, “I also miss the care and compassionate role of the nurse/patient relationship. It is satisfying to be able to really help someone.”
I often encounter RNs and other medical professionals looking for a break from the clinical role. So, I asked Renee what advice would she give to someone who is looking to step out of the clinical role?
1. Realize your training only included the clinical role. You will be starting from scratch in whatever other careers you switch to.
2. You do have the ability you just don’t have the training for this particular role yet.
3. Understand you can always try it. Give it at least a year before you move on.
4. Don’t expect mastery until at least 3 years. After 14 different nursing roles/jobs you really don’t gain mastery without 3 years experience.
5. Know and realize that every new job is hard for the first year.
Renee also provided the following advice if you decide to switch to a clinical role and start a new job:
1. Each time give yourself at least one month to be able to be competent.
2. Accept the role of learner.
3. Rely on the people around you for training and support.
4. If in doubt ask questions.
5. Even if you are just changing floors of a hospital give yourself time to adjust to the equipment, communication, and culture differences of each floor.
Advice for a New Nurse
Since I was talking with such an experienced Nurse I couldn’t help myself and went beyond the focus of alternative nursing careers. I asked her if she had any advice for a new nurse. Renee shared some insight. “I recommend you get any additional certifications or education that your employer will provide. You never know when it will open a door for you. For example, I received a bachelor’s degree in biology and that opened the door for my switch to a nurse teaching career.” Renee continued, “I also encourage people to try something. You can always switch after a year. Nursing provides so many job opportunities and options; you can always try something else.”
Renee went on to say that you must realize that if you want the more ‘8-5’ jobs you will sacrifice pay for better working hours. Lastly, Renee stated, “also realize your RN degree is invaluable. It can open so many doors for you.”
Renee has outlined teaching as her alternative career. Nursing offers additional opportunities in insurance firms, law firms, private companies as staff RN, as well as research opportunities.
Hope this blog has helped. If you are on the fence about switching, think of Renee’s quote, “Just give it a try!”