When I graduated from nursing school in May 2020, I was brimming with excitement and eager to work in the hospital, take care of patients, and make a difference in their lives. I was also nervous. Do I have what it takes? I thought. Do I have the skills to do this job well?
Despite being a new nurse, I was thrust into the chaos of the COVID ICU and given the terrifying responsibility of caring for critically ill patients who depended on me for everything. I cared for the sickest in my community, managing ventilators, titrating medication drips, and updating family members over the phone when visitors weren’t allowed.
For two years, I sharpened my skills, earned certifications, pursued more training and education, and worked in several different hospitals and units as a travel nurse. I’ve helped dozens of patients and families live full lives despite chronic conditions. I’ve had the honor of holding the hand of patients who were dying. And I’ve cheered on those who were discharged home despite countless obstacles. The work I was doing was meaningful, and it was truly a gift to have the opportunity to care for others in this way.
However, after only two years, I was ready for a break. I was repeatedly placed in situations where I’ve had to care for more patients than what evidence suggests is safe. I’ve been in positions where I was verbally berated by patients, family members, and even other staff members. The long hours, the physical stress on my body, and the growing list of responsibilities I was given without additional pay were enough for me to take a break from full-time bedside nursing.
Plenty of other nurses are feeling this way—according to a recent McKinsey survey, nearly a third of nurses in the U.S. are planning to leave direct patient care by the end of 2022. The nurses surveyed said “staffing, pay, and lack of support” are driving their decisions to leave for other jobs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the problems in healthcare that have been festering under the surface for years, such as PTSD and anxiety disorders, which are at an all-time high amongst healthcare workers due to the high-stress nature of our jobs and the amount of suffering we witness. Many nurses are growing increasingly more dissatisfied with the current healthcare system and are seeking other fields entirely where they can put their skills to use.
For two decades straight, nurses have been rated higher than any other profession when it comes to honesty and ethics—higher by far than medical doctors, grade-school teachers, and judges, among others. As nurses, our skill set is diverse and our experience, resilience, and integrity are assets to a variety of industries—even those you might not expect! If you’re a nurse who, like me, has been struggling and is eager to make a career change for now or for good, I hope this list of 11 alternative jobs for nurses will help you try something new.
1. Information technology (IT) consultant
Average salary: $81,293
Salary range: $52,000–$129,000
Gone are the days of paper charting. As nurses, we’re expected to document every intervention, assessment, and medication administered using a hospital’s electronic medical record (EMR) system. We have countless technology skills that can carry over to other jobs, such as in the IT field. An information technology consultant works for various companies to build, use, and troubleshoot their IT systems. IT consultants even help hospital staff with EMR issues. Search for jobs as an IT technician or computer support specialist to gain experience and break into the tech field. Some companies provide on-the-job training, but additional certifications or schooling will give you an advantage in your job hunt.
2. Social worker
Average salary: $50,499
Salary range: $36,000–$70,000
A social worker helps families and individuals in various settings—at a hospital, through a health department or or other government agency, or at a rehab facility. In this role, they find housing, resources, and other services their clients need. Social workers need strong leadership skills, knowledge of psychology, a non-judgemental attitude, and ingenuity. As nurses, we already have experience helping and educating patients and supporting them with the resources they need at home when they’re discharged, which makes us particularly well-suited to transition into social work. However, you’ll typically need to get a master’s in social work and a license to practice in your state.
3. Business analyst
Average salary: $63,980
Salary range: $48,000–$85,000
If you like doing research and are good with numbers, a business analyst role may be the right fit for you. A business analyst works closely with a company’s management team to analyze data, understand problems and their root causes, come up with strategies to increase efficiency, and help develop reporting tools. They also ensure that company policies and procedures are in line with state and federal regulations. A nurse’s on-the-ground experience could prove particularly useful for analyst roles in the healthcare industry, whether at a hospital, insurance company, or health tech startup. A bachelor’s degree in nursing is often sufficient to land an entry-level business analyst role, but you might need to pursue additional education in business administration, economics, or finance, to be a competitive candidate.
4. Nurse case manager
Average salary: $75,905
Salary range: $61,000–$94,000
A nurse case manager often works in a hospital or nursing home to facilitate discharge and assess patients’ needs during and after admission. Nurse case managers are careful listeners who work to advocate on behalf of individuals and coordinate care between physicians, psychologists, and various social services. They act as a bridge between clients and the organizations that may be able to help them. Nurses who move into this role often work in a hospital setting, but can also be found at rehabilitation centers, industrial facilities, local government agencies, or human resource departments. The nurse case manager must have strong clinical and communication skills and, often, an active RN (registered nurse) license. Obtaining additional training such as a Nursing Case Management Certification is an excellent way for nurses to improve their career options and make themselves more marketable to potential employers.
5. Health educator
Average salary: $47,863
Salary range: $35,000–$69,000
As nurses, we’re constantly educating our patients on medications, disease processes, test results, and discharge instructions. We coach them on breathing techniques, safe ambulation, cessation of old habits, and cultivation of new ones. If you’re passionate about education, a role as a health education specialist might be the perfect fit for you. In this role you might develop educational materials, organize health and wellness programs, or teach classes on disease prevention and treatment. Nurses looking to get into this field can apply to work for a hospital’s infection prevention team, a local health department, nonprofit health organizations, or a public school. Oftentimes the clinical experience you already have as a nurse is enough to work as a health educator, but pursuing a Health Education Specialist certification is a great way to improve your skills, stand out in the field, and negotiate higher pay.
6. School counselor
Average salary: $52,424
Salary range: $39,000–$75,000
School counselors play an important role in making sure that students have the resources and assistance they need to be successful. This might be a great non-healthcare job idea for you if you love working with kids and have strong leadership, advocacy, and communication skills. School counselors work with students of all ages—helping them adjust to a new academic setting, select classes, navigate personal and social problems, and choose and pursue post-secondary education—and they often interact with parents and guardians as well. To be a school counselor, you might need to earn a master’s degree, complete a postgraduate supervised internship in a school, and meet your state’s licensure requirements—but the specifics vary by state.
7. Legal nurse consultant or expert witness
Average salary: $81,428
Salary range: $60,000–$104,000
A legal nurse consultant acts as a bridge between healthcare professionals and lawyers to provide expertise on legal and healthcare issues—often working for an insurance company, law firm, or government office. As part of their job, a legal nurse consultant might draft legal documents, interpret clinical charts, negotiate with insurance companies, or even testify during a trial as an expert witness for medical malpractice cases.
The role offers a range of work environments. “Some nurses could do behind-the-scenes consulting, like working in a law firm or for a company where you can work at home. Others will go the route of an expert witness, like myself,” says Beth Ridgely, a legal nurse consultant and expert witness from Pennsylvania, “I love what I do, but it is definitely not for everyone, she says. “I work a lot but the hours vary for me depending on what stage of discovery my case may be in.” She also encouraged nurses to continue to work as an RN to maintain credibility as a legal nurse consultant, even if it’s part time.
In order to break into this field, you must have significant clinical experience working as a nurse, extensive knowledge of medical terms, and excellent communication skills. While most legal nurse consultant roles offer on-the-job training, a Legal Nurse Consultant certification can beef up your resume.
8. Grant writer
Average salary: $49,768
Salary range: $38,000–$71,000
If you’re a nurse who loves research, has strong organizational and writing skills, and is passionate about helping others and serving the community, then grant writing might be the perfect field for you. Grant writers have a huge responsibility to create documents that help provide funding for nonprofits or government agencies. They work to research, write, and edit grant applications and reports for the organizations they represent—whether that’s a health organization, a theater troupe, or another nonprofit. You can obtain education for this role through a grant writing certification course. From there you can volunteer for local nonprofits to build your portfolio, eventually landing paid gigs.
Average salary: $52,233
Salary range: $21,000–$143,000
As nurses, we advocate for our patients to get what they need or want. Though the job of a realtor might seem quite different, those skills can easily be transferred. Working with people to help them buy or sell houses requires excellent communication and organizational skills as well as the ability to work with lots of different kinds of people. That’s not to say getting started is without its challenges. “It’s hard work building your clientele and there can be time spent without income when starting out,” says Teresa Thaxton, an operating room nurse from Arizona who sold real estate a few years back when she needed a break from bedside nursing. “But many of the traits that make you a good nurse carry over into real estate—such as customer service, trust, assessment, and triaging your client’s priorities.”
In order to become a realtor, you need to take a pre-licensing training program—which can mean tens of hours of classroom or online education depending on the state—and pass a licensing exam.
10. Healthcare lobbyist
Average salary: $63,757
Salary range: $19,500-$140,500
A lobbyist is someone who works to influence which laws are proposed, passed, and implemented. This role requires strong written and verbal communication skills and a working knowledge of politics, government, and lawmaking. A nurse can work as a healthcare lobbyist to help reform current healthcare legislation at a local, state, or national level. As nurses, we know firsthand the ways that the healthcare system needs reform. For example, you could help bring awareness to the importance of safe staffing or unionization efforts.
Partnering with an organization such as Nurses Take DC, which gives you the tools to begin contacting your local legislation right away as a layperson, is a great first step to breaking into this exciting field. To pursue a lobbying role professionally, however, it’s strongly recommended that you go to law school or obtain a master’s degree in an area like healthcare administration, public policy, or political science.
11. Relocation specialist
Average salary: $46,602
Salary range: $32,000–$67,000
A relocation specialist is someone who organizes all the details to help people move into a new environment. They can help with selling and purchasing of homes, hiring packers and movers, figuring out shipping logistics, and even helping set up utilities. A relocation specialist most commonly works within an HR department of a company to help employees move for their jobs.
Another type of relocation specialist helps senior citizens move to assisted living or nursing home facilities. Becky Haynes, a registered nurse in Tennessee, started her own business called Next Stage 4 Seniors, which helps older adults and their families navigate downsizing, packing, touring facilities, negotiating contracts, and even decorating their new homes. You could start your own business like she did—or work for any number of similar companies throughout the U.S. You can even become a Certified Relocation & Transition Specialist to prove your competency! This kind of certification sets you apart as an expert in the “social, medical, and emotional struggles” that older adults face when transitioning to a new home environment.
Bonus tips for nurses considering a career change
- Come up with a list of the skills you use as a nurse on a daily basis and consider how those skills might be transferable to other jobs within or outside of the healthcare world. For example, leadership, organization, advocacy, communication, and de-escalation skills are all things we bring to the table as nurses. Companies are always looking for qualified people with those skills for a huge array of roles!
- Update your resume to reflect transferable skills for the jobs you’re applying for. Tailor the language in your resume to highlight the keywords in the job description and align with the conventions of your target field or industry so the recruiter or hiring manager can easily see that you’d be a good fit for the role. Don’t forget to include any additional certifications or special skills that would be applicable.
- Master the art of a well-crafted career pivot cover letter. This is your opportunity to tell your story, contextualize the pivot you want to make, and share how your unique nursing skills can directly benefit the company you want to work for.
- Reach out to a career coach—possibly one that has experience working with those in the healthcare industry to help you navigate a pivot and land a job you love (The Muse has plenty of options!)
- Consider if you need any additional education, training, certificates, or licensing. If you’re seriously planning on leaving nursing for another profession, chances are you might need a slightly different set of qualifications. That might mean anything from taking an online course or two to pursuing an entirely new degree.
- Don’t be afraid to apply for a job even if you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications. A potential employer might still reach out and be interested in your skill set if you meet the majority of requirements and bring something extra to the table from your time spent as a nurse.
Nursing is a rewarding profession, but it can also be a challenging one. If you’re looking for a change of pace or need to take some time off from the hospital, there are so many other jobs you can pursue.
“Don’t be afraid to make a job change that serves your personal and/or family needs now,” says Kelsey Rowell, an RN and a career coach for nurses who helps nurses advocate for themselves and transition into non-nursing jobs. “It may not be your forever job, but it’s your ‘what I need now’ job,” Rowell says. “When it feels right to move forward to something else, do it. But don’t stay out of fear,” she adds. “You became a nurse originally to help people—so continue to do that in your new role and you’ll be happy with whatever job you’re doing!”