Maybe you’ve been a nurse for two decades and you’re ready for something a little bit different. Or maybe you’ve just decided that clinical nursing isn’t where you want to be. Whatever motivates your decision to seek out a career change, the nursing degree that you worked hard for can open doors to a variety of non-traditional nursing careers. Whether you earned your BSN online or invested years into a DNP program, there are alternative career options for every level of degree.
From passing along your knowledge to the next generation of nurses as a teacher to putting your expertise to use as a legal consultant, keep reading to discover what careers are waiting for you when you decide to step away from traditional nursing.
15 Non-Clinical Career Alternatives for Nursing Degree Holders
Are you a nurse who’s always loved words, travel, or technology? Do you have skills in other fields that you’re itching to use? Read on to discover alternative careers that tap into your interests and pair well with your nursing degree.
Clinical Nurse Educator
When you were in nursing school, did you have a teacher who greatly influenced you? Have you considered making a similar impact in the classroom? If you have your RN license and complete an advanced nursing degree program—including a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD), or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)—you could train future nurses. Nurse educators work in classroom and clinical settings and hospitals and long-term care facilities. They also work in technical, trade, and vocational schools; community colleges; and colleges and universities. Your work could be more administrative and entail designing, evaluating, implementing, and updating nursing curriculum. Or it could be more hands-on and entail teaching, evaluating, and advising nursing students in the classroom.
If you want to teach at a college or university, you likely will need a doctorate.
As a nurse, you could conduct exciting research that leads to breakthrough cures and advanced medical treatments for various conditions. Nurses can join research teams at pharmaceutical and medical device companies, research organizations, universities, teaching hospitals, and government agencies. As a health researcher, you might be responsible for finding the best patients for clinical trials, treating and monitoring the progress of patients enrolled in your study, or gathering data and researching prior studies for medical journals.
You may be able to use your bachelor’s in nursing to obtain an entry-level position as a nurse researcher. You likely need a master’s or doctoral degree in your specialty area to advance your career. Research nurses can also obtain certifications from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals: a Certified Clinical Research Associate or a Certified Clinical Research Coordinator. To take the certification examinations, you must be an experienced RN with thousands of hours of clinical research experience.
Health Service Administrator
You might want to step away from direct patient care and work behind the scenes as a health service administrator. Those with nursing degrees can get jobs in administration in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, physician and group medical practices, outpatient facilities, or home healthcare services. In these jobs, you might be responsible for managing budgets and staff schedules, ordering supplies, maintaining patient and other healthcare records, and coordinating your nurses’ plans with other healthcare managers. As an administrator, you will work closely with doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, and other employees at your facility.
You can work in administration as an assistant with a two-year associate’s degree. A four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing will open more health service administrator jobs to you, but you will need an advanced degree to move higher up the chain of command. Obtaining a two-year master’s degree in health administration, which likely includes a one-year residency, is the most likely way to advance as a health service administrator.
Are you an effective communicator? Do you like to explain complicated medical terms and procedures to laypeople so they can easily understand them? If so, you might enjoy a career as a health writer. You can use your knowledge, education, and experience as a nurse to write about health topics for newspapers, magazines, websites, academic journals, and nursing publications. Other options include writing grants for hospitals and research facilities or working in the communications department at a health system or pharmaceutical or medical company. Some nurses find jobs writing and editing books, nursing manuals, and even medical dramas on TV. You can do this job as a freelancer and work from your home—some nurses work as health writers on the side while maintaining their full-time clinical positions—or as a full-time staffer and work in an office.
You can parlay your experience as a nurse into a health writer no matter your educational background—whether you have a licensed practical nursing degree, master’s, or PhD. Academic journals are more likely to require the latter. And no matter what audience you write for, you need excellent English skills, including grammar and punctuation.
If you have strong analytical and critical thinking skills and love computers and technology, a job as an informatics nurse might be for you. Informatics nurses work for health systems to develop and improve their healthcare technology. They help design and update programs that reduce healthcare costs and enable providers to efficiently order tests and procedures. They also work on programs that allow providers to cross-check orders against patient allergies and other safety concerns or weed out duplications.
Informatics nurses can work for health systems, long-term care facilities, companies that develop such technology products for healthcare, nursing schools, and IT companies. At a minimum, you need a bachelor’s in nursing. You will have more success if you earn an advanced degree—master’s or doctorate—and may need additional certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
As a nurse, you could find a job on the other side of healthcare—working for companies that provide health insurance to your patients. Health insurance companies hire nurses to work in quality control and as case managers. Some nurses listen to appeals from patients and providers. If you’re a behavioral health nurse, you could be hired to handle and evaluate behavioral health plans and claims. Another option is to work as an educator—covering everything from staying healthy to keeping healthcare costs down—for an insurance company. As an insurance nurse educator, you would work with other nurses, providers, and enrollees. You also might find a job with an automobile or other insurance company helping to review claims. Or you could work providing physicals for those applying for insurance.
Some jobs in insurance require only an LPN, but there aren’t many. Most insurance nurse jobs go to those with an RN, BSN, MSN, or PhD. Your insurance company employer is also likely to require that those who work in case management and review behavioral health claims have the appropriate certifications for their state.
Legal Nurse Consultant
Fascinated by the law? You can use your education and experience as a clinical nurse to assist lawyers. Legal nurse consultants work in various settings, including law offices, especially those that specialize in personal injury, medical malpractice, and product liability; and insurance companies, especially those that handle workers’ compensation, disability, and billing and billing fraud cases. Government agencies hire legal nurse consultants to assist with government-funded healthcare billing/claims and defending state agencies. Hospitals, too, need legal nurse consultants, especially in the areas of risk management, case management, and licensure concerns. You could also establish your own business as a legal nurse consultant and set your schedule.
To start, you need a two- or four-year degree in nursing. Though it’s not required, you can earn certification as a Legal Nurse Consultant. Advanced nursing degrees can make you more competitive as a legal nurse consultant. A law degree also would be a plus.
Medical Sales Executive
As a clinical nurse, you have a lot of experience using medical devices—whether on patient floors, in the operating room, or the cath lab. You can turn that expertise into a job selling medical devices that you have come to know (and love) quite well. Your job as a medical sales executive may involve a good deal of travel as you visit doctors’ offices and hospitals, demonstrating the product you’re selling. You might also go to conventions to present your company’s products on the convention floor. Some medical device companies hire nurses to show buyers how to properly and safely use their products, and pharmaceutical companies often look for nurses to help them sell their inventory.
Most medical device sales positions require a bachelor’s in nursing. But an advanced degree in nursing coupled with experience in the field using your product can be quite helpful in landing a sales job. Like many sales jobs, your salary may be based partly on commissions.
Many nurses are responsible for taking care of patients on hospital floors, clinics, and ambulatory settings. But someone has to coordinate which nurses deliver that care and when. That behind-the-scenes role falls to a nurse administrator. A nurse administrator is responsible for keeping a busy healthcare setting running smoothly. While their work is more the business side than patient care, many find it rewarding. A typical day for a nurse administrator might include meetings, performance reviews, budgeting and reporting, developing and carrying out staff training, and handling personnel issues.
Nurse administrators generally need at least a master’s degree in nursing, coupled with a few years of clinical nursing experience. They must be good communicators because a large part of the role is working with nursing staff and other hospital executives. Nurse administrators can work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and even in industry.
Nurse Case Manager
A nurse case manager is like a personal assistant for patients who need help navigating their healthcare needs. Nurse case managers develop and manage long-term healthcare plans for people with chronic or serious conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or diabetes. They help patients book medical appointments and follow-up to make sure they were kept. Like social workers, nurse case managers serve as resources for patients and help them find the medical services they need, from imaging tests to transportation. These case managers also act as a liaison between patients and their insurance providers to ensure that they receive the care they need at a fair price. Nurse case managers can work for hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient clinics, oncology centers, hospice and palliative care providers, and community and public health centers.
At a minimum, you need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing to be a nurse case manager and some experience as a nurse. Most nurses applying for jobs as case managers will have master’s degrees or higher.
Nurses often face tough questions about their patients’ care. Will this new treatment keep my patient alive longer? What is my patient’s quality of life? What if a patient wants to stop treatment even though it may be working? Providers, patients, and their loved ones can bring their ethical dilemmas to nurse ethicists, who offer some guidance and help them work to find answers. Nurse ethicists use their nursing experience to bring their perspectives to the table. Most hospitals have ethics committees, and nurses often serve as one of their members alongside physicians, social workers, and clergy.
As a nurse ethicist, you may work in a hospital, physician group practice, insurance company, pharmaceutical company, college or university, or medical research center. You may also find a job as a policy developer with a government agency. You generally need a master’s or doctorate to work as a nurse ethicist. A law degree with a specialty in bioethics or medical ethics can also be helpful.
Nurse Life-Care Planner
Life-care planners help patients with disabilities or chronic health conditions develop plans that will meet the needs of their disability or condition as they age. They work with patients and their families to determine what items and services patients will need, how much they will cost, and how best to obtain them. As a life-care planner, you may assist with obtaining medical devices, finding how to make renovations/modifications to a patient’s home or car, and determining how much help with daily living activities patients may need now and in the future. You may also help patients navigate workers’ compensation and Social Security disability payments.
Nurses make good life-care planners because they are familiar with the healthcare needs of a variety of patients. You may find a job at various medical facilities that cater to patients suffering from long-term medical problems. These include hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, nursing homes, and hospice care centers. Health insurance companies also employ life-care planners. You can start your own business as a life-care planner. Generally, you need at least an associate degree in nursing, but a bachelor’s degree in nursing is preferred. A master’s degree or doctorate in nursing can be a plus. Certification as a life-planner is not required but often requested.
Have an interest in healthcare issues and like expressing your opinions? You could combine your interests with your nursing skills and become a nurse lobbyist. The job allows you to draw on your experience and education in patient care to advocate for policies that you believe would benefit both providers and patients. You could find yourself lobbying for (or against) policies that affect how healthcare is delivered or for new treatments for a particular disease. As a nurse lobbyist, you might work for an insurance company, a drug company, associations dedicated to different diseases or conditions, public health groups, or others with a stake in healthcare legislation.
You can spend your days researching your topic or speaking to groups on your employer’s behalf. There are no set educational requirements for nurse lobbyists, but an advanced degree is always welcome. In this case, an advanced degree lends authority to your opinions.
Have an interest in food and how what people eat affects their health? A job as a nurse nutritionist may be just what the doctor ordered. As a nutritionist, you can help patients alter their eating habits and lifestyles to achieve their goals—whether to lose weight, reduce their blood sugar, balance their hormones, or avoid allergic reactions. You may work in gastroenterology or oncology, helping patients recover from surgery or deal with an ostomy. You could also work elsewhere in the hospital or for a rehabilitation center or nursing home. In addition, you could work for a college or university, food company or grocery chain, or start your own private practice as a nutritionist. Other responsibilities may include leading seminars for patients or staff to learn the best foods to mitigate disease.
You need at least a bachelor’s degree to become a nutritionist, but an advanced degree would further your career. Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to pass exams and become licensed.
Public Health Nurse
Instead of working in a hospital or clinic, public health nurses work in the community to promote good health. As a public health nurse, you may provide health screenings for specific populations, help immunize adults and children, collect data to look for trends/patterns in disease outbreaks, and educate high-risk populations, such as substance abusers and teens, on healthy behaviors and disease prevention. Public health nurses also contribute to research projects and teach community members how to find the health services they need. You may work for a private or public health agency or county or city health department. Some public health nurses work on mobile units that bring healthcare to underprivileged neighborhoods.
You must have at least an associate degree in nursing, but a bachelor’s degree is often preferred. A master’s or doctorate can help you advance your career as a public health nurse and lead to leadership and research roles.