They say that nursing is a calling, and it can be a highly rewarding career. However, nursing also has one of the highest turnover rates globally, with 33 percent of nurses leaving their job within the first five years, according to a report by the RN Work Project. But where do trained nurses go after leaving this noble profession? Luckily, there are alternative careers for nurses.
Below, we’ll discuss the perfect career change opportunities for nurses, and what you can do to secure one of these positions.
Career Change for Nurses: Overview
Despite the impact nurses have on people’s lives, they also endure a lot of stress and pressure on a daily basis. When asked why they left the profession, a number of former nurses cited a stressful work environment as the number one reason. In the US, the Affordable Care Act has made accessing healthcare easier than ever before, but resources in the industry have not improved.
Below are a few other issues that were highlighted in the RN Work Project Report.
- Burnout. Thirty-one percent of nurses surveyed said that long hours, emotional involvement with patients, and a lack of sleep took a toll on them, and they eventually burned out. A major factor here is the fact that nurses often work 12-hour shifts.
- Poor pay. More than 26 percent of respondents said the pay doesn’t match the workload. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses earned an average of $75,330 in 2020. But new nurses only earn between $30,000 and $48,000 per year.
- Safety issues. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the safety risks that healthcare workers like nurses and paramedics face each day. For nurses, occupational hazards are a real issue because they must treat every patient who comes through the hospital doors even if it could potentially affect their wellbeing.
What Else Can You Do with a Degree in Nursing?
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing prepares nurses for their career ahead. The four-year program covers research, direct care, anatomy, health, patient education, physiology, and clinical nursing. But since nursing is a multifaceted career, students are also taught skills such as communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making.
While all these skills are valuable in a hospital setting and set students up to become great nurse practitioners, many of the skills are also transferable to other industries. The unique set of people skills, hard skills, and experience that nurses possess can open up other career opportunities.
Common Second Careers for Nurses
If you’re a trained nurse, your ideal second career will apply your nursing skills in a new way that’s more fulfilling and less stressful. For example, you may want to work as a nurse educator, teaching other nurses the skills you have mastered. You can also use your nursing skills as a social worker, clinical manager, health researcher, health writer, or nutritionist.
The goal is to choose a path that will pay well and that will still allow you to do what you love without the stress of nursing.
The Best Alternative Careers for Nurses in 2022
Thanks to their extensive skills and hands-on experience, nurses can find new medical careers in other, more laid-back subfields of healthcare. In the section below, we’ll look at 10 alternative careers for nurses, examining the educational requirements, the required skills, and the salary of each one.
High-Paying Jobs for Former Nurses
|Job||Average Salary||Transferable Nursing Skills|
|Online nurse practitioner||$97,552||Communication skills, clinical knowledge, ability to use similar technology and instruments|
|Medical researcher||$80,448||Research, organization, attention to detail|
|Clinical informatics specialist||$77,971||Communication, attention to detail, organization|
|Clinical documentation specialist||$75,762||Organization, attention to detail, problem-solving|
|Medical writer||$74,548||Communication, writing, attention to detail|
|Physical therapist||$72,408||Communication, interpersonal skills, time management, planning|
|Clinical manager||$72,366||Organization, communication, management abilities|
|Social worker||$49,584||Communication, problem-solving|
|Medical billing/coding specialist||$43,754||Clinical knowledge, attention to detail, communication|
|Home healthcare worker||$28,060||Communication, problem-solving|
Online Nurse Practitioner
The Centers for Disease Control reports that telehealth visits increased 50 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and 154 percent by week 13 of the same year, thanks to COVID. Instead of going to a hospital, patients are increasingly choosing to virtually connect with their healthcare provider. If you already have a nursing degree, the only thing you may need to practice virtually is a license, depending on which state or country you live in.
Nurse practitioners are front and center in the healthcare revolution because they can provide a range of treatments. There are plenty of opportunities to work as an online nurse practitioner, as long you know where to look. This job also has many more benefits than nursing, including flexible hours, good pay, and the ability to work from home.
According to the BLS, an above-average growth rate for medical scientists is expected between now and 2030. This means nurses will have the option to conduct research and explore different aspects of healthcare to improve patients’ health outcomes.
Part of the researcher’s job is also to write proposals to receive grants in order to conduct further research. This is the perfect career change for a nurse because it builds on their existing knowledge, but in a much less stressful environment. In this job, you will likely start as a research assistant, then work your way up.
Clinical Informatics Specialist
Clinical informatics specialists work in hospitals or healthcare facilities that handle large volumes of records. Their job is to build up a database where patient information can be stored and easily accessed. They also train staff at the facility to use and update the interface. Their day-to-day job involves streamlining data management.
In addition to a nursing degree, you’ll need to have a background in information technology, specifically database management, to do this job. The projected job growth for clinical informatics specialists is 9 percent by 2030, and the salary is quite good.
Clinical Documentation Specialist
Clinical documentation specialists also deal with patient records and database management. They ensure primary health providers can access patient data fast and accurately to treat patients. This is a profession that is growing fast as healthcare becomes accessible to more and more people, which creates a proliferation of records.
The specialists must also be familiar with HIPAA and all regulations regarding the privacy of medical records. To brush up on IT skills for this job, a course in information technology may come in handy.
Your medical knowledge will be a great asset if you also have a knack for writing. Healthcare companies, websites, magazines, and journals are always looking for quality medical and clinical content writers. If you’re a self-starter, you can even create your own website or YouTube channel to educate people about health issues.
The American Medical Writers Association provides all the information and career guidance you need to become a medical writer, including information on conferences and networking opportunities. You can also get certified as a medical writer by the association and launch your new career on your own terms.
Switching to physical therapy is one of the best career changes for nurses. Members of this profession help sick or injured people improve their physical mobility and manage pain levels through a series of exercises. As a former nurse, you will already have the anatomical knowledge and soft skills required to make a great physical therapist.
Physical therapy is usually carried out in clinics and hospitals, so it’s a natural transition for a nurse, but comes with better hours and working conditions.
You do need a physical therapy degree to move into the profession, but that shouldn’t be a challenge for a former nurse. The BLS predicts a bright outlook for this career, with physical therapy jobs expected to increase by 21 percent by 2030.
A clinical manager, also known as a healthcare administrator, is a fantastic alternative career for nurses who would like to move into a leadership role. A clinical manager oversees the scheduling and day-to-day running of the healthcare facility and ensures that everything runs smoothly. They also order supplies and equipment as needed and ensure that staff regularly receive updated training.
This position is quite lucrative, and is based either in a hospital, clinic, long-term care facility, or public health organization. Since clinical management is a day job, former nurses will enjoy the change to regular hours.
To get ready for this role, you may want to get a management or administration certification from either the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM) or the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE).
Some of the soft skills that you used as a nurse, like empathy and selflessness, will also make you an excellent social worker. In this job, you can choose whether you want to work with children, the elderly, low-income individuals, people with substance abuse issues, or formerly incarcerated individuals. The idea is to get to know these people personally and help them improve their quality of life.
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This is an incredibly rewarding career with plenty of job opportunities both in the government and private sector. If you’re interested in a career as a clinical social worker, you may want to get a Master’s in Social Work, and you’ll also need to pass a licensing exam.
Medical Billing/Coding Specialist
If you have great communication, sales, and math skills, you might make an excellent medical biller. The bulk of this job entails making sure insurance companies pay healthcare providers as quickly as possible. Medical billers look at a doctor’s records, convert them into bills, and send them to the insurance company.
Hospitals, clinics, and billing companies all hire medical billing specialists. Nurses are a great fit for this career due to their extensive knowledge in clinical matters and their soft skills. You may need to get a medical billing and coding certificate first, which can take from four to 15 months.
The best part is, most healthcare providers outsource their medical billing, so you can work from home and from anywhere in the world.
Home Healthcare Worker
Home healthcare workers provide at-home care for clients with disabilities or chronic conditions. They are also called home health aides, personal care aides, and home health nurses. They can either be employed directly by a patient or through a community-based healthcare service.
Similar to a nurse in a hospital, home healthcare workers assist their patients with bathing, dressing, and eating. They also perform clinical tasks such as administering medication, recording blood pressure, and caring for wounds.
The good thing about this branch of healthcare work is that you can choose which patients you want to work with and how long you will work for. The pay isn’t that bad either, especially if you choose to work directly with a patient instead of a healthcare service provider.
How to Make a Career Change from Nursing
Deciding that you’re ready for a career change is only the first step. You must then select your career path, decide how you will reach your goals, and consider other factors like money and your family. The steps below will provide a roadmap as you attempt to align your desires and interests with your career.
1. Make a List of Careers You’re Interested In
Ideally, you will make this list when you are still working as a nurse. Look into your heart and find out what you really want to do with your life. Your childhood dreams are a good place to start.
If you want to leave healthcare completely, make a list of possible career choices that you feel would be positive. Your talents, skills, interests, and passions will push you in the right direction. Research the roles you’re considering to find out the pay range, career growth outlook, working conditions, and the qualifications required to get started.
2. Evaluate Your Skills
Deciding you want to become a lawyer is one thing, but do you actually have what it takes to be a lawyer? It’s time to sit down and make a list of your skills before making a decision.
As a nurse, what skills did you have that made you exceptional at your job? Was it your ability to communicate and empathize, your attention to detail, or your leadership abilities? Do you have skills that you weren’t utilizing while working as a nurse, such as writing, public speaking, or IT skills? Making a note of these skills will help you narrow down some of the career options listed above.
3. Prepare for Financial or Scheduling Changes
Switching careers can also affect other parts of your life. For example, you may need to enroll in a program to upgrade your skills, which will require that you spend money and take time away from your family. It also might take a while for you to find a new job. Make sure you’re prepared for this, and that all of the people in your life who may be affected are on the same page as you.
4. Upgrade Your Education If Necessary
More often than not, your nursing degree will not be enough to take you straight into your new career. You may need to get a particular certification, or even a whole new degree. Research the programs that can give you the knowledge and skills you need before you make plans to enroll.
You may need to take classes part time and continue working full time in order to fund your learning. If the field you’re going into is healthcare-related, find out if your work counts as credit so that you can finish your studies quicker.
5. Start Your Job Hunt
Once you have the relevant certificate, you can start applying for jobs. Update your resume to specifically show how you’re prepared for your dream career. Connect with people who are already in that field, and apply for jobs relentlessly.
Be sure to tell everyone in your network that you are changing careers so they can let you know if they hear of an opportunity for you. Your former colleagues and bosses will likely know people who can help you out.
Is It Time to Make a Nursing Career Change?
In an era where education is literally in the palm of your hand, making a career change is easier than ever. Once you’ve identified what you want to do after nursing, you can enroll in an online course and get the professional credentials you need to get started.
For example, a database management bootcamp will prepare you for a position as a clinical manager in a matter of months. To build your network and get closer to starting your alternative career to nursing, start researching today so you can make the decision that’s right for your future.
Nursing Career Change FAQ
If you have a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing but you realize that you aren’t enjoying your job, you should consider a career in healthcare administration as a health services manager, or you can become a physical therapist or medical writer. Just be aware that you may need to take some continuing education courses in order to prepare.
Absolutely. There are many self-employment opportunities that are well-suited to people who have a nursing degree. You can work as a health coach, a freelance medical writer, a specialized care provider, or a doula. As long as you can make it clear to the customer what services you’re offering, you’re likely to succeed.
The most common career change for a nurse is to go into physical therapy. This is because you still get to use a lot of your nursing skills, but without the crazy hours, poor pay, and unfavorable conditions. BLS shows that the national average salary for physical therapists is $91,680, which is way above the average pay for a nurse.
The only way to choose a new career is to list other careers you may be interested in, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each, then pick your favorite. More often than not, you’ll have to get certified in your new field and begin building up hands-on work experience.
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