Advancing Your Career | Interview Tips | Specialties

Shadowing A Nurse Can Light the Way on Your Job Search

  • There are so many different nursing specialties in a wide variety of settings, each differing from the next. 
  • If considering a change between specialties, job shadowing a nurse can be beneficial to you, for more insight for a specific job, and the company to make sure you would be a good fit. 
  • Heidi Ochoa outlines the steps she’s taking to find her next job in her career.

Heidi Ochoa


May 13, 2022
Simmons University

In addition to helping those in need, what attracted me to the nursing field is the variety of specialties and settings where I could work. When searching for your next nursing job, it is important to learn as much you can about those specialties and settings that interest you.  

Job shadowing a nurse is a great and informative way to do this, especially when switching specialties. 

I took time off during the pandemic to stay at home with my young children. Almost 2 years later, as I plan to reenter the nursing workforce, I know that I do not want to return to floor nursing and 12-hr shifts.  

So, I’m taking time to explore different nursing specialties. I have found that shadowing a nurse is a useful way to observe a job firsthand and help me determine if I can see myself working in a specific specialty and/or setting. 

Shadowing for a few hours saves me time from taking a job, orienting, and then realizing that this job is not for me at all. It also saves the company time and money as “the average cost of turnover for a bedside RN is $46,100” according to a 2022 staffing report by Nursing Solutions Inc. 

Shadowing provides more insight into a specialty and setting that you may not get from simply reading a job posting, in the interview, or by your own research. Below are the steps to help you on journey to finding your next nursing job through shadowing. 


 shadowing a nurse on rotation

Steps for Job Shadowing a Nurse

It is important to define what you are looking for in a job and what you are not looking for in a job. Some factors to consider include: 

Career Goals

What are your goals as a nurse? How will this job help you reach your goals? 

Direct Patient Care vs. No Patient Care

Do you want to work with patients? Do you want to care for multiple patients (e.g., medical-surgical, skilled nursing)? Do you want 1-on-1 patient interactions (e.g., clinic, pre-op, home health, dialysis, aesthetics, etc.)? 

With what patient populations do you want to work (e.g., high-acuity, geriatrics, pediatrics, hospice, oncology, surgical, etc.)? Do you want to go into a field where there is no patient care involved (e.g., nursing leadership, legal nurse consultant, clinical documentation specialist, etc.)?


In what settings are you open to working (e.g., hospitals, clinics, medical spas, homes, ambulatory surgical centers, etc.)? Are you open to floating/commuting to different sites/facilities? 

Full-Time vs. Part-Time vs. PRN

Do you need benefits? Do you want flexibility with PRN status? 

Shift Length

Do you want to work a defined shift length (e.g., 8-hr, 10-hr, 12-hr shifts)? Do you want a schedule that allows for more flexibility? For example, working in home health or hospice as a nurse case manager allows you to create your own schedule based on patient/family needs. 

Days vs Nights, Weekends, and On-Call

Are you more productive during day shift or night shift? Are you open to working on the weekends? Are you open to being on-call occasionally (e.g., perioperative, hospice, etc.)? Do you want to earn night shift, weekend, and/or on-call differentials (if offered by the company)?



shadowing a nurse career goals

Start Researching

Begin looking into what nursing careers may fit your criteria. Stay open-minded. Not all of your criteria may be met.  

  • Perform internet searches on different nursing specialties. 
  • Look at job boards to see the different types of nursing jobs that are available. You may learn of specialties that you didn’t even know existed. 
  • Reach out to your network. Friends in the healthcare industry, classmates from nursing school, nursing instructors, and former colleagues are great resources who can share how they feel about the field they are in and what are the pros and cons.

Set Up Shadowing Oppurtunities

Once you’ve narrowed down which specialties you want to learn more about, it’s time to seek shadowing opportunities. 

  • See if people in your network would be willing to let you shadow them. Note that they may have to check with their management first. 
  • If you don’t have anyone in your network working in a specialty that interests you, apply to that job. At the interview with the hiring manager, find out if there is an opportunity to shadow one of their nurses for a few hours. 

Learn While Shadowing a Nurse

During your shadowing opportunity, learn as much as you can about the position. Approach this as a fact-finding mission. 

  • Ask a lot of questions. 
  • Take notes. 
  • Observe the tasks/duties performed by your preceptor. 
  • Observe the culture, environment, and potential future teammates. How do the employees interact with one another? How do they interact with management? Do they seem happy, overworked, stressed? How long have the employees been working there? Is there a lot of turnover? 
  • Be prepared to discuss your career goals, your previous work experience, and why you’re interested in that specialty. Remember that your preceptor is looking to see if you would be a good fit for their team as well. Here are a list of questions that will make you stand out.



shadowing a nurse different specialty

Reflect On Your Experience

After shadowing a nurse, think about your observations and experiences. 

  • Review your notes. 
  • Can see yourself performing the tasks/duties in this specialty and setting? 
  • How does this job help you get closer to reaching your career goals? 
  • Figure out how many of your criteria are met. Keep track in a document or spreadsheet of your different shadowing experiences.

The Bottom Line

If you follow the steps above, shadowing a nurse will help you make a well-informed decision in this next chapter. You will have a better idea of what the nurses you shadow do each day and what skillsets are necessary to be effective.

Hopefully, shadowing will shed some light and provide you with better insight on different nursing specialties and settings. Good luck!

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