Making the Switch: How to Transition from a Non-Nursing Background to a Career in Nursing

Nursing is a rewarding and fulfilling career requiring a special skill set and a passion for helping others. However, you might be hesitant to pursue this career path if you come from a non-nursing background. The good news is that shifting from a non-nursing background to a nursing career is possible with the right strategies and resources.

This article discusses six ways to make the switch, including education and training options, practical experience, and networking opportunities. Whether you’re a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional contemplating a career change, this article will help you take the first steps toward a successful career in nursing.

1. Assess Your Skills and Interests

Before diving into a career in nursing, it is important to assess your skills and interests to ensure that the field is a good fit for you. Consider your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your interests and passions. 

While nursing requires certain technical skills and knowledge, it also requires strong communication and interpersonal skills, as nurses often work closely with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals.

According to an article by, nurses play a crucial role in facilitating communication between medical professionals and patients. As a result, having strong interpersonal skills is essential for nurses. 

Building trust and connecting with patients can positively impact their healing process. Nurses who demonstrate active listening skills and take the time to understand their patients are highly valued by patients.

In addition, you may also want to consider what type of nursing interests you the most. There are various specialties within the nursing field, such as pediatrics, emergency care, oncology, and more. Research each specialty to better understand the responsibilities and skills required for each.

If you’re unsure about your skills and interests, consider volunteering or shadowing a nurse to gain hands-on experience and better understand the field. It can also help you determine which specialty is best for you. Remember, a successful transition to a nursing career requires careful consideration and planning.

2. Choose the Right Education Program

Choosing the right education program is crucial when switching from a non-nursing background to a career in nursing. The program you choose will determine the degree or certification you earn, the skills you acquire, and the job opportunities available.

There are several nursing education programs, including diploma programs, associate degree programs, and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. While diploma and associate degree programs are faster and less expensive, a BSN degree offers greater career opportunities and prepares you for leadership roles in the future.

An accelerated online BSN program is a popular option for those seeking a faster route to a BSN degree. These programs are designed for individuals who have completed a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and want to transition into nursing. The program is completed online, and students can finish in as little as 12-18 months. 

However, one must ensure the program is accredited and recognized by the state’s nursing board before enrolling.

3. Obtain Certification and Licensure

After completing your nursing education, obtaining certification and licensure is next. Certification is voluntary and demonstrates your expertise in a particular nursing specialty. On the other hand, licensure is mandatory and legally required to practice as a registered nurse.

You must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed. You’ll also need to meet your state’s requirements for licensure, such as completing a background check and fulfilling continuing education requirements.

Nursing License Map states that to take the NCLEX exam; aspiring nurses must first submit a licensure/registration application to the nursing regulatory board in their state of practice, pay the applicable fee, and register for the exam.

There is a $200 registration fee for U.S. licensure and a CAD 360 fee for Canadian licensure. The test comprises 75 to 265 questions and lasts six hours, including the tutorial, sample items, and optional breaks.

Moreover, some states may require certification in certain nursing specialties or additional credentials to practice in specific settings, such as hospitals or schools. Therefore, it’s essential to research and understands your state’s requirements for certification and licensure.

4. Gain Clinical Experience

Clinical hours help you develop the skills and knowledge to provide high-quality patient care. To gain clinical experience, you may consider working as a nursing assistant or volunteer at a hospital, clinic, or long-term care facility. It can provide valuable exposure to the healthcare industry and allow you to gain hands-on experience working with patients.

According to NCSBN, all nursing programs under National Simulation Study must have at least 600 hours of clinical experience in their pre-licensure curriculum. There is currently no data on the effectiveness of substituting traditional clinical experience with simulation if the program has less than 600 hours.

However, experts emphasize that the quality of clinical experience is more important than the number of hours spent in clinical settings.

5. Network and Seek Mentorship

Joining professional nursing organizations, attending conferences, and participating in online forums can provide opportunities to connect with other nurses and learn from their experiences. 

Seeking out a mentor who has successfully made the transition can also help navigate the challenges and opportunities of the nursing profession. A mentor can offer guidance, support, and advice on career development, workplace issues, and professional growth.

6. Look for the Right Internship or Externship

Gaining practical experience through an internship or externship can provide you with valuable exposure to the nursing field. It can also help you establish professional connections and learn from experienced nurses. Many nursing schools offer internships or externships. In addition, hospitals and healthcare facilities may also offer such programs.

Consider your career goals and interests when looking for an internship or externship. Look for programs that align with your career goals and offer opportunities for hands-on experience in areas that interest you. Some programs may also offer mentorship opportunities or the chance to work with a specific patient population, such as pediatrics or geriatrics.

Additionally, consider the location and scheduling of the program. Look for programs in locations that are convenient for you and offer flexible scheduling options if needed. You may also want to consider the program’s reputation and the facility where you will be working, as this can impact your future career opportunities.

Making the Switch to a Fulfilling Career in Nursing

Becoming a nurse can be a fulfilling and rewarding career change for those with a non-nursing background. With the right mindset, skills, education, and experience, anyone can successfully transition into nursing. By following the six ways outlined in this article, you can take the first steps towards switching to a career in nursing.

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