With so many career opportunities, it’s no surprise that nursing is a popular degree path. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), from 2017 to 2021, the nurse practitioner (NP) track was the fastest-growing area of study in nursing master’s programs (15% increase in enrollment) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs (41% increase in enrollment). Additionally, employment growth for nurse practitioners is expected to surge in the coming years, growing 46% between 2021 and 2031, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports.
Many students who complete their nurse training will find that their education and experiences prepare them for many careers beyond traditional nursing roles. In addition to building a strong foundation for clinical nursing positions in hospitals and other health care facilities, an advanced nursing education can lead to a number of alternative careers for nurses in medicine, education, administration, and more.
Traditional Nursing Career Paths
Many graduates of nursing programs go into traditional nursing roles. In a traditional nursing career path, graduates complete their nursing education and then transition into clinical roles as nurses, providing care to patients in settings such as hospitals, clinics, and schools.
Around 55% of registered nurses (RNs) work in hospitals after graduation, according to the BLS. NPs primarily work in physician’s offices (47%) or hospitals (25%).
While nurses are trained to deliver the highest standards of care and learn to diagnose and treat patients in traditional medical settings, there are also many RN and NP career options outside of clinical settings.
Pursuing an Alternative Nursing Career
A nursing education can prepare individuals for a variety of careers beyond traditional nursing in clinical settings by providing a diverse skill set and a broad understanding of health care systems.
Nursing students acquire a wide range of capabilities that can be applied to various industries and careers. Some examples of transferable skills that a nursing student may learn include:
- Communication: Nurses must communicate constantly with patients, families, and other health care professionals.
- Attention to detail: Nurses must be detail-oriented to ensure patients receive proper care at all times and in all situations.
- Cultural competence: Nurses work with patients from diverse cultural backgrounds and are expected to provide culturally sensitive care.
- Leadership: Nursing students also learn leadership and management skills, preparing them to collaborate with multidisciplinary health care teams and lead new nurses in the field.
All these skills are highly valued in many industries both within and outside of health care, such as management, human resources, and administration. These fields, and others, offer attractive alternative careers for nurses.
Beyond the Bedside: Nursing in Nontraditional Settings
Many nursing jobs take place outside of settings that are traditionally associated with health care, such as hospitals and clinics. While these nurses are all equipped to provide patient care, their role, responsibilities, and salary ranges may vary considerably from more traditional nursing occupations.
Telehealth nursing is becoming increasingly popular as technology advances and the demand for remote health care services grows. It improves accessibility, especially for those who live in rural or remote areas or have difficulty traveling to a health care facility.
A telehealth nurse, also known as a remote nurse or telephone triage nurse, is a nurse who provides remote health care services. They use technology such as videoconferencing, phone calls, or messaging platforms to speak with patients. Telehealth nurses work in a variety of settings, including mobile clinics.
Telehealth nurses perform a wide range of duties, many of them identical to those of nurses in traditional settings. They assess and triage patients, provide health education, and monitor patient progress. They may also assist with medication management, provide emotional support to patients, and coordinate care with other providers.
Telehealth nurses had a salary range between $43,000 and $89,000 as of October 2022, according to the compensation website Payscale.
A correctional nurse provides health care services in a correctional facility, such as a jail, prison, or juvenile detention center. They serve a diverse patient population, including those with chronic medical conditions, mental health disorders, and substance abuse disorders.
The job of a correctional nurse may involve conducting health assessments, administering medication, providing wound care, and managing chronic conditions. They may also respond to medical emergencies, perform diagnostic tests, and provide education on disease prevention.
Compensation for correctional nurses ranged between $38,000 and $78,000 in February 2023, according to Payscale.
An alternative nursing career with a high degree of specialization, flight nurses provide medical care to patients during air transport. Flight nurses typically work on medical transport aircraft, such as helicopters and airplanes, and are responsible for providing medical care to critically ill or injured patients.
To become a flight nurse, an individual must have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). They may also have to obtain certain certifications, such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, or Trauma Nursing Core Course. Many flight nurse positions require additional certifications, such as Certified Flight Registered Nurse or Critical Care Registered Nurse. Flight nurses typically also need to have multiple years of experience in critical care or emergency nursing.
Flight nurses earned between $55,000 and $103,000 as of February 2023, according to Payscale.
A forensic nurse provides medical care to patients who have experienced violence or abuse. They work with law enforcement agencies, forensic scientists, and legal professionals and are often involved in cases of elder abuse, child abuse, and sexual assault.
In addition to providing medical care to victims, a forensic nurse may also assist in collecting and preserving evidence and testifying in court as an expert medical witness.
To become a forensic nurse, individuals typically need to have at least a BSN and may need to obtain additional certification, such as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner or Forensic Nurse Examiner.
Forensic nurses earned a median annual salary of approximately $75,000 as of March 2023, according to Payscale.
Educational Roles for Trained Nurses
Nursing professionals can also leverage their education to become educators themselves. This is an increasingly vital alternative career for nurses, as there is currently a shortage of nursing faculty across the country.
Becoming a nurse educator typically involves several steps. First, graduates must obtain an advanced nursing degree — typically a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a DNP degree. In addition, nurse educators need to gain clinical experience. Nurse educators typically have several years of nursing experience working in various health care settings before they become teachers.
Aspiring nurse educators must also obtain certification. They may choose to obtain certification through a professional organization, such as the National League for Nursing (NLN) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Concurrent with their certification, nurse educators may gain teaching experience by working as a clinical instructor, preceptor, or adjunct faculty member at a nursing school.
Finally, after gaining the requisite experience, nurse educators may pursue a full-time faculty position at a nursing school. They may also choose to pursue leadership roles in nursing education, such as program director or department chair.
Nurse educators earned a median annual wage of $77,440 in 2021, according to the BLS. Compensation for nurse educators in specialist roles, such as certified diabetes educators, can vary depending on the institution in which they work.
Individuals with advanced nursing degrees are also qualified for roles in administration. Directing a nursing unit, managing outpatient care, and taking the lead in health informatics are all nursing career options to consider.
Nursing Unit Director
A nursing unit director, also known as a nurse manager or nursing supervisor, is responsible for managing and overseeing the operations of a nursing unit or department in a health care facility, such as a hospital, clinic, or nursing home.
The duties of a nursing unit director may include managing the budget and resources of the unit, coordinating patient care, supervising nursing staff, and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements and quality standards. They may also be responsible for hiring, training, and evaluating nursing staff, as well as creating policies and procedures to improve patient care and staff performance.
Nursing unit directors earned a median annual wage of $101,340 in 2021, according to the BLS, which categorizes the role under the medical and health services manager occupation.
A nurse outpatient manager manages and supervises the clinical and administrative operations of an outpatient health care facility, such as a clinic, physician’s office, or outpatient surgery center.
Common responsibilities may include managing staff, overseeing patient care, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements and quality standards, and collaborating with other health care professionals to provide comprehensive patient care. They may also be responsible for managing the budget and resources of the facility, developing policies and procedures, and implementing quality improvement initiatives.
Outpatient managers earned a median annual salary of approximately $70,000 as of July 2022, according to Payscale.
Health Informatics Manager
For nursing graduates drawn to a more tech-focused role, the position of a health informatics manager may be an ideal fit.
A health informatics manager is a professional who combines knowledge of health care operations and data analytics to manage and improve the use of health information systems in a health care organization.
The role entails implementing and maintaining electronic health record (EHR) systems, managing and analyzing health care data, and ensuring all technology solutions meet the needs of the organization and comply with regulatory requirements.
To become a health informatics manager, a nursing graduate should acquire several years of experience working in health care or health IT, have a deep understanding of health care data management, and complete training in security regulations. Some positions may require additional certification in health informatics or a related field, such as the Certified Professional in Health Informatics credential offered by the American Health Information Management Association.
Clinical informatics managers earned a median annual salary of approximately $102,000 in February 2023, according to Payscale.
Leverage Your Nursing Education for an Alternative Nursing Career
Whether they want to work in telehealth, as a flight nurse, or become a nurse educator and prepare the next generation of nurses, graduates with advanced nursing degrees have an array of career options beyond traditional bedside roles.
Students seeking a nontraditional nursing career can explore the Regis College online Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing program and its two tracks: one for MSN-prepared RNs who are looking to become an NP, and one for MSN-prepared NPs who want to expand their scope of practice by adding an NP specialization. Discover Regis can prepare you for a rewarding career in nursing.