Now feathers may ruffle with this blog post…

Most seasoned nurses will often suggest that new graduate nurses begin their nursing career on a Medical-Surgical (Med-Surg) unit to lay the groundwork for their nursing career. Moreover, the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses echos that sentiment by stating, “Medical-Surgical nursing is the foundation of all nursing practice.” And in that respect, being the largest specialty of practicing nurses, Medical-Surgical nursing is often regarded as one of the most respected and most demanding choices in nursing practice today.

Along with the belief that Med-Surg is an excellent foundation for nursing practice, there is a certain creed among the nursing profession that new graduate nurses should begin their nursing career in this specialty regardless of their true desire to work in other areas.

Unfortunately, however, this can sometimes lead to new graduate nurses who may feel stressed and unfulfilled in their day-to-day work and disenchanted in their career choice. Eventually leading to new graduate nurses quitting the nursing profession altogether… before they even move into the specialty of their choice.

Case in point:

Extremely excited about critical care nursing, I had the opportunity to work in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) during my senior practicum with another classmate. Both of us were hopeful to get a position on the unit after graduation, but had our hopes dashed when the director of the unit told both of us that she didn’t hire new grads and that we should first gain nursing experience on a Med-Surg floor. She also suggested that after we get our experience, we could later apply for the CCU.

At the time, I was very disappointed about this because I thought the opportunity to do my practicum in a critical care area would give me an excellent chance to get my feet into the door of the ICU or the Emergency Department, my desired specialties. And truthfully, at that time, I was dreading working in anything else but critical care. And at the time, I didn’t want to spend 6 months to a year doing something I probably wouldn’t enjoy.

After graduation, I was offered a position on a Med-Surg floor as well a position on a Burn/Trauma step-down unit, the latter which I accepted. And although it wasn’t my first choice, the Burn/Trauma step-down unit became my stepping stone for the Emergency Department.

The Myth

Medical-Surgical Nursing is where all nurses should start their career.

The Reality

Any specialty in nursing can give you a foundation in your desired nursing practice.

However, there are many nurses who will disagree.


Here are 4 reasons why seeking a position in your ideal specialty is a good idea:

1.   At the risk of sounding cliché– Life is short. If you’re truly interested in one line of work, do what you love and not what’s expected. Yes, the competition is high for certain specialties, but if you’re truly interested in Labor & Delivery, ER or Neuro ICU, go for it. You’ll still learn about the art and skill of nursing, just in the specialty that you desire to work in. Moreover, there is something you can learn in every specialty of nursing that you can apply to another field of nursing.

2.   You handle stress well. If you handle stress well, you’re likely confident in your ability to handle fast and frequent change. And as a nurse, you’ll find that stress is a part of learning any specialty. Albeit, the stressors may be different, but it’s important to seek out ways of self-care to help you deal with it. And, if you already handle stress well, this won’t be an issue. Which brings me to the next point…

3.   You have a good support system. With any change, it’s great to have a circle of family and/or friends that can help you through stressful times and help give encouragement when you’re at your lowest. With a good support system, stress becomes more tolerable which makes returning to the day-to-day much easier.

4.   You’re a fast learner and you’re self-motivated. Just starting out on your own as a new nurse, you’ll find the growth curve can be quite steep. If you’re a fast learner and have the motivation after a long day at work to go back and review and study the material that you learned that day, going into a your desired specialty is a no-brainer.

So, as a new nurse, feel free to learn about specialties that you find interesting and don’t be afraid to apply for those positions. You may find just what you’re looking for. Good luck!

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