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Are you feeling  stuck in your nursing career? Shadowing another nurse to learn about a new role and work setting can make all the difference in your career.

Whether you are you a new nursing student considering which nursing specialty fits your skills and passions or a veteran nurse who wants to move into a new area and gain additional expertise, taking the time to shadow another nurse can accelerate your decision making.

Shadowing helps you immerse yourself in an environment and a work flow that is unfamiliar to you. Instead of learning about how a team operate, you’re able to see it with your own eyes and determine if it’s the right path for you. As most nurses know, reading about working as a nurse and actually working as a nurse are entirely different experiences.

How can shadowing help you specifically?

Finding Your Fit
If you’re thinking you might like working with cardiac patients, for example, you’ll want to know what a typical day looks like. What are cardiac nurses expected to do? How acute is the patient population? What skills do nurses use most? What technology are they using? As you spend time shadowing a cardiac nurse, you’ll notice that you’re excited by what you see or hesitant about the role.

Working in Different Environments
Because nurses work in vastly different environments, shadowing a nurse who works in a new setting is essential. You might think that being a transport nurse is exactly what you want to do, but you need to be in the shoes of a transport nurse before you can make an educated and accurate choice.

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Learning About Patient Populations
Maybe you’re a nurse working in a fast-paced urban hospital and you’re thinking of striking out on your own to provide healthcare in rural communities. Spending time with a nurse, maybe even one in a solo practice, to see what needs the population has and experience the range of skills needed for the role is invaluable.

Building Your Network
Shadowing a nurse gives you experience to help you make a decision. One of the unwritten rules of shadowing is that you’re not there to ask for a job–you are there only to learn. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use your shadowing experience as a way to build your network. Be sure to follow professional guidelines meticulously while you are on site and follow up with a thank you for the opportunity. Stay in touch with the people you meet during your time by connecting with them on LinkedIn or make a point to say hi (and maybe reintroduce yourself) at a professional event.

Gaining Appreciation for Your Industry
There’s no better way to appreciate the amazing work nurses do than to follow one around. Even if you have been a nurse for years, it’s difficult to image exactly what work is like for nurses outside of your specialty unless you see it yourself. Even if your shadowing experience makes you realize you’re happy exactly where you are, the hands-on knowledge is invaluable.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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