Working as a Nurse – Are You a Specialist or a Generalist?

Nov 23, 2021 | Aussie Nurse

When having conversations with nurses sometimes we ask questions that explore where we could see ourselves in the next few years within our professional careers

I’m someone that has never known which speciality to establish my career in, I just grew into the roles as my career has gone on and where I am now is working as a generalist nurse.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a specialist is ‘one who specialises in a particular occupation, practice, or field of study’; whereas a generalist is ‘one whose skills, interests, or habits are varied or unspecialised’.

In healthcare there is room for a nurse to lead their professional career to work as a generalised or as a specialised within the 5 domains of nursing. It’s a very personal career choice by first recognising your individual talent and abilities being the step to figuring out where you best fit and then structuring your career to where you would like it to be.

Being A Specialist-

Specialists working in nursing usually focus on one distinct area which can be found in a variety of the different job roles in nursing. 

What makes a nurse, a specialised is the dedication of their time they have spent to focus on working and studying in one specific area. On the way they would have collected many experiences too, as they have had time to be deliberate with their practice and maybe refine it a little as more is learnt within their area of expertise.

At work there is always one nurse who stands out with their knowledge being more than the others in a specific area and they become the ‘go to person’ for advice or recommendations. This offers confidence as on the general wards, I know who’s the best person to ask about wound dressing’s, continence care and even that one nurse who has a talent to stay calm and manage difficult behaviours well.

Sometimes it’s amazing to talk to nurses who are specialists as they are current with new developments, they know where to find the best resources and sometimes will show practical examples too, you always learn something new from them.

Being A Generalist-

Generalists are known as the ‘jack of all trades and master of none’, they may have had flexibility in their careers and have picked up a variety of skill sets with a strong emphasis on foundational skills

In the career of a generalist they may have had experienced different job roles, worked in different settings/environments or even have more than one job at any time in different organisations. Their work has breadth and they are able to transfer their skills from one area of a workplace into another area, as they know something about everything but not at a level that the specialised would.

As generalists have a broad range of knowledge they blend what they have experienced and are able to ‘think fast on their feet’ which helps with problem solving in different situations.

Because I see my work as a generalist, I remember once transferring my skills on a cardiac ward where a patient has been admitted with a stoma. I have worked many times with colorectal patients and I was able to manage the care of that patient and guide the other nurses who have not been exposed to stomas before on how to care for that individual patient. Yet if I had any questions about caring for a cardiac patient they will be the first nurses I speak to.

This blog piece is from my perspective as a ward nurse, there are specialists and generalists working across the different disciplines in nursing and for any nurses career knowing where your strengths is can offer many options.

Specialist nurses possess a defined or technical knowledge that can make them experts in their workplace. Generalists possess flexibility that allows them to carry a sample of each the types of nursing they have experienced into other areas when they are working in different roles.

Whether we are a specialist or a generalist each role has meaning, they can offer growth for a nurse as we all possess different ways of working that fits us as individuals better and for a workplace it allows for diverse range of people working together.

(Picture by Canva)

Share this with someone who may find it helpful, thanks for reading this blog piece

– Aussie Nurse

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