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5 alternative careers for registered nurses

At a glance

  • Many alternative nursing careers tend to be less patient-facing and more focused on education, research or methods for delivering better patient care.
  • Alternative nursing career options include roles as an informatics nurse, nurse manager and nurse educator.
  • University of Phoenix offers degrees in nursing specialties that can help registered nurses make a difference in patients’ lives when not on the hospital floor.

People often pursue nursing careers because they have a desire to help others. Traditionally, on the hospital floor, that means assessing symptoms, administering medication and providing emotional support to patients and their loved ones.

The flipside of this career is that working on the floor can be both physically and emotionally tiring. Long days on your feet and the physical and emotional requirements of the job, such as lifting and moving patients and witnessing trauma daily, can take a toll. As a result, registered nurses (RNs) may eventually look for alternative career opportunities off the floor or in administration, where they can still use their healthcare skills and continue to help others.

How to switch careers as a nurse

If you are an RN looking to put your nursing career on a different path, there are a few things to consider.

  • What skills do you already have that might translate well to a new healthcare position?
  • What education do you have?
  • What education do you need to pursue a new position?
  • What you are passionate about?

Asking these questions should help you identify a potential role or two that interests you. From there, it’s important to research what specific paths are available to you in getting to that outcome.

For example, if you’re interested in becoming a public health nurse, you’ll first need to attend an accredited nursing program, pass the NCLEX-RN and have at least two years of work experience as a nurse. There is also an optional certification nurses can obtain called Certified Public Health (CPH). Continued education and training are also suggested. If you’re already an RN and don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you can consider a degree program like University of Phoenix’s Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.

But public health is just one option. Here are five other career options nurses can consider when they’re ready for a change.

5 alternative careers for registered nurses

Alternative careers for registered nurses run a wide range, from patient-facing roles to those focused on administration, education and analytics. For those looking for other careers for nurses, it is helpful to know what options are out there. Here are five nursing careers for RNs who have a desire to continue helping others but are looking for careers off the hospital floor.

1. Informatics nurse

Health informatics is a growing field centered on the use of computers and information technology for the management and analysis of electronic health records (EHR). An EHR is essentially the aggregated information that makes up a patient’s medical history. It can include notes and observations made by healthcare providers, lab and test results, and immunizations.

Healthcare providers can share this data quickly with physicians, nurses and insurers through computer networks.

Nurses who practice in informatics are experienced in using informatics technology to improve patient outcomes. Their major responsibilities include:

  • Using current data to improve workflows within a healthcare organization or system
  • Aligning data usage and collection practices with regulatory guidelines, such as HIPAA
  • Improving public health by aggregating and analyzing data across a population
  • Translating older physical patient records into a digital format

Nursing informatics can make for a rewarding alternative career for registered nurses who want less time directly meeting with patients, while still having a positive impact on patient health. 

Job requirements: Along with clinical experience, registered nurses need at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) for this role. Some roles require a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Informatics. In addition, nurses can obtain certification, including Informatics Nursing Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

* University of Phoenix does not educationally prepare for this role and cannot guarantee this job outcome.

2. Nurse manager

The role of nurse manager can be compelling for those interested in leadership and growth. Healthcare facilities are complex operations requiring coordination across several departments and teams, all while providing quality care for patients.

Nurse managers are in charge of several key aspects of these operations. Responsibilities can include:

  • Strategic planning using data analysis for the nursing unit
  • Overseeing staffing and recruiting
  • Serving as a bridge between departments in a healthcare facility
  • Managing daily operations within a nursing unit
  • Managing finances and developing budgets

Nurse managers rely on several years of clinical experience, critical thinking skills and communication to make sure their team performs at its best.

Job requirements: Employers often look for nurses with ample experience on the floor and who have demonstrated an ability to lead a hospital wing or team of nurses. For roles such as nurse manager, clinical manager or charge nurse, employers may require a BSN for settings such as clinics and community healthcare settings, but an MSN degree may be required in acute care hospitals. There are also several certifications available in this field.

3. Nurse educator

A wide-ranging and critically important field, nurse education involves the training and development of nurses. Nurse educators work in a variety of settings, from hospitals to college classrooms. They are generally experienced nurses who have transitioned out of day-to-day work with patients and now use their experience to help deliver and evaluate learning outcomes in a variety of healthcare settings.

Primarily, nurse educators are found either in healthcare settings or classrooms, with some working in consulting roles as well. They support the evaluation of competencies and skills mandated and evaluated by the profession, state health departments and federal laws.

While working in a clinical setting, nurse educators are responsible for teaching nurses’ clinical techniques and procedures and helping them stay apprised of research about patient care.

In classroom settings, nurse educators make up the professors and researchers who prepare new generations of nurses. They develop curriculum, pursue research and use their nursing experience to teach valuable skills to students.

Job requirements: In addition to several years of clinical experience, nurse educators typically need at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. To teach at a university, a doctoral degree is often required. However, skilled nursing facilities and community clinics may have positions that use BSN nurses as their primary education staff.

4. Public health nurse

For nurses looking for opportunities outside of hospitals but who still desire to have a direct impact on the lives of patients, the role of a public health nurse is one to consider.

Public health nurses take an ongoing role protecting the health of a community, and they take on that challenge with a holistic perspective. In other words, they are concerned with broader trends, such as expanding access to health services and monitoring potential threats to public health.

Common responsibilities of public health nurses include:

  • Researching health trends and uncovering potential hazards faced by specific communities
  • Assisting in immunization, disease outbreak and drug epidemic responses
  • Educating members of the community on healthy living practices and campaigning to increase awareness of the practices
  • Working with government entities to address health concerns within communities

Job requirements: Along with clinical experience, a nursing diploma or an associate degree is needed to become a public health nurse. Because of the responsibility of dealing with the greater public health, some employers prefer RNs to have their BSN.

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What is an MPH (Master of Public Health)?

5. Director of Nursing

A director of nursing, also known as a nursing director, is an RN in an administrative leadership position. They handle the administration of entire nursing departments in various healthcare settings. They can have expansive responsibilities, from interpreting and rewriting policies and objectives of nursing service to establishing or overseeing their department’s budget. Communication and conflict-resolution skills play an important role in being a productive nursing director.

Other responsibilities of a nursing director include the following:

  • Advise medical staff, department heads and other administrators on nursing-related matters
  • Liaise between nursing staff, management and the facility’s doctors to address concerns
  • Recruit and train new nursing staff
  • Make suggestions for budget allotment

Job requirements: To become a director of nursing, you’ll need to be a registered nurse with years of experience and will likely need a bachelor’s degree in nursing. After obtaining a BSN, and while gaining nursing experience, you may want to consider enrolling in and completing a Master of Science in Nursing and then a Doctor of Nursing to gain further education as well as leadership and other practice skills.

University of Phoenix degree options for registered nurses

If you’re an RN interested in making a change, University of Phoenix (UOPX) can help. The University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees that can enable RNs to move into the administrative and education side of healthcare.

For example, UOPX offers an RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to help registered nurses do more for their patients. In this degree program, RNs can develop the skills to eventually pursue roles like charge nurse and director of nursing.

The University also offers a competency-based (CBE) RN to BSN program for nurses who already have a nursing license and one year of clinical experience. The CBE degree allows nurses to earn credit for the competencies and skills they already have so they can focus on learning what they don’t know. Through the program, RNs can earn their BSN in less than a year and for under $10,000.

For registered nurses who already have a BSN, the University offers a Master of Science in Nursing with several options for specialization. Students can choose from such specializations as Informatics, Nurse Education, Nurse Administration and Family Nurse Practitioner.  

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