Shadowing a Nurse for Career Growth

Shadowing a Nurse for Career Growth

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.

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.

Job Shadowing: Get the Career Truth

Job Shadowing: Get the Career Truth

One of the best ways to find out what a nurse’s day is really like is to shadow a nurse for the day. Whether you are a nursing student, a new nurse, or a nurse with many years of experience, job shadowing someone before you venture into a specific arm of nursing is a smart career move.

Kathy Quan, RN, BSN, PHN, author of The Everything New Nurse Book, and founder of The Nursing Site, says she thinks shadowing is particularly important for home health nurses and those considering something like hospice nursing.

I loved the home health rotation in college,” says Quan. “You have that one-on-one with patients that you don’t get in the hospital. You can spend that time with the family and with the patient.” And although that one-on-one time is what Quan wanted to have, a more experienced nurse explained the reality of home health to her so she could understand the big picture and what the job really required. “She said, ‘If you want this for a Monday to Friday, 8 to 5 job, this probably shouldn’t be your primary goal.’”

Home health jobs, Quan learned, are really 24/7, because of the very relationship you build with the patient. If a patient needs you or has special needs that you don’t want to hand over to someone else, you need to be available, she says. You also need to be able to let some responsibility fall to a patient. “You have to have faith that they can do this,” Quan says. For instance, you have to trust they will take their medication and keep an eye on an IV if needed.

And, surprisingly, the amount of paperwork for home health is greater than it is in a hospital, says Quan. If that’s not something you think you could keep up with, it’s certainly good to know before you look for a job in the field. When you shadow someone for a day, whether as a home health nurse, in a hospital, or in the field, you’ll have a concrete understanding of what their tasks are.

Shadowing a nurse also gives you an incredible perspective that you would never get from a job interview process. For instance, if the paperwork seems endless at first, it helps to know how another nurse handles it. For Quan, seeing how the paperwork in home health care is built around the nursing process made it easier for her. “It is a lot, but after you get used to it, it’s old hat,” says Quan.

And hospice nurses use their nursing skills in a way that is different from something a nurse in a cardiac unit might do. There is an intimacy to discussing and helping with end-of-life care for patients. If you are considering hospice nursing, you would benefit greatly from shadowing a hospice nurse for a couple of days. By doing so, you can see how nurses engage with patients and families and use their nursing skills for comfort. You will be able to gauge if that’s something you could and would want to do full time.

The extra time spent job shadowing a nurse can help point you down the right career path.