EDUCATION
December 5, 2022

Most Common Career Changes for Nurses

Most Common Career Changes for Nurses

Whether you have spent years working your dream job as a registered nurse and only recently decided that it's time to look at other career options, or you are a new nursing graduate who quickly concluded that bedside nursing just isn’t your cup of tea, it is not uncommon to see nurses make career changes.

Some of the reasons that many nurses want to make a career change include:

  • Burnout
  • A desire for higher pay
  • The physical nature of the job
  • Wanting to work in a less stressful environment, or
  • A desire to learn new skills

But the great news is that there are so many career paths that make an excellent fit for nurses! Read more to learn about the most common career changes for nurses.

15 Career Change Ideas for Nurses

1. Healthcare Recruiter 

Healthcare recruiters help companies find qualified talent, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of applicants for various healthcare positions, and help guide candidates through the hiring process. 

A logical career pathway for nurses is to move into nurse recruitment for travel companies or hospitals. However, many other healthcare fields also need talent for specialties across the healthcare spectrum.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Healthcare Recruiter?

Nurses already have expert experience in the healthcare field working with many other ancillary specialties, such as physical therapists, speech therapists,  nutritionists, radiology technicians, pharmacists, and many others. 

Often, nurses have spent years building a rapport with so many other healthcare professionals that helping to recruit them for a new job that helps them move their careers forward is a natural fit. 

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Direct patient care experience working in healthcare facilities

  • People skills

  • Experience working with many different ancillaries and healthcare professionals 

  • A thorough understanding of the healthcare field and its different specialties

Salary 

According to ZipRecruiter, the median annual income for healthcare recruiters is $53,000/yr. However, income varies widely depending on location and the type of business. 

ZipRecruiter also reports that Nurse Recruiters earn an annual median income of $56,725/yr.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurses earn a median annual income of $77,600 or $37.31/yr. So a nurse who moved into a health recruiter position may make less money than they did as an RN. 

Education/ License Requirements 

Most companies prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. However, educational requirements may vary based on the company.  There are no license requirements to be a healthcare recruiter.

Job Outlook 

The BLS projects that overall employment in healthcare occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. 

They also project that this will result in about 2 million new jobs over the next decade, which means that healthcare recruiters will also be in high demand. 


2. Social Worker 

Social workers help people and communities prevent and manage problems in their lives. Social worker tasks may include counseling, providing referrals for social programs,  arranging social services, educating clients about psychosocial impacts on their lives, and providing social services.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Social Worker?

Social work is similar to nursing because both jobs are devoted to helping people and communities improve their life during challenging times.  

Social workers and nurses also practice in the same settings, such as hospitals, schools, people's homes, government agencies, and the community.  Also, both careers work one-on-one with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Communication and active listening skills

  • Critical thinking skills

  • A desire to help humankind 

  • Empathy

  • Advocacy

  • Cultural awareness

Salary 

According to the BLS, as of 2021, social workers earned a median annual salary of $50,390 annually or $24.23/hr.  So a nurse who moved into a social worker position may make less money than they did as an RN. 

Education/ License Requirements 

Social workers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work. Keep in mind that social workers with a master's degree or doctorate may have an opportunity to earn a higher income.

Job Outlook 

The career outlook for social workers is bright. The BLS reports that the profession will grow by 9% between 2021-2031, much faster than average professions.


3. School Nurse

School nurses help to bring healthcare into educational settings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 40% of school-aged kids in the US have at least one chronic health condition, such as food allergies, seizure disorders, diabetes, or oral health issues. There is a ton of opportunity for nurses to help kids manage their conditions while at school.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a School Nurse?

Nurses who love helping people but are exhausted from working in a challenging healthcare setting may love working as school nurses. 

Instead of working in a clinical environment, school nurses work in education settings with children. All of the necessary nursing skills you used in the healthcare setting are applicable and transferable to school nursing as well.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Communication and active listening skills

  • Health assessments

  • Education for good health habits, such as good dental hygiene,  hand washing, and healthy eating

  • Providing individualized care plans

  • Providing basic health care

  • Critical thinking skills

Salary 

Salary.com reports that the median annual salary for school nurses in the US is $53,612. However, they add that school nurse income can range from $33,035 to as high as $80,500.

According to the BLS, nurses earn a median annual income of $77,600 or $37.31/yr. So a nurse who moved into a school nurse position might make as much or less money. 

However, income is also very dependent on work location, whether you work full-time or part-time, and the type of institution where you work.

Education/ License Requirements 

School nurses must have a minimum of an associate's degree in nursing (ADN); however, most schools prefer hiring nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). School nurses must also have a current RN license in their state.

Job Outlook 

The BLS reports that the job outlook for the entire nursing profession is projected to grow 6% between 2021-2031. There will be a need for an additional 195,400 nurses across the board.

4. Diabetes Specialist 

Diabetes specialists educate patients and their families about diabetes to enable them to self-manage their disease. Diabetes specialists work in various settings, including hospitals, physician offices, outpatient clinics, pharmacies, and patient's homes.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Diabetes Specialist?

Nurses with healthcare experience are already used to working one-on-one with patients with chronic healthcare conditions.  Becoming a diabetes specialist allows nurses to focus and become experts on one chronic health condition. Nurses also have a lot of experience with patient education. 

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Communication skills

  • In-depth knowledge of diabetes and the management of the disease

  • Good teaching and counseling skills

  • Ability to work collaboratively with patients, families, doctors, and other healthcare providers.

  • Patience and empathy

  • Cultural awareness

Salary 

According to ZipRecruiter, as of 2022, diabetes nurse specialists earn a median annual salary of $96,719 in the U.S. So, a nurse who moves into a diabetes nurse specialist position will likely earn more income than before.

Education/ License Requirements 

Diabetes specialists must have a minimum of an associate's degree in nursing (ADN); however, most schools prefer hiring nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Diabetes specialists must also have a current RN license in their state.

Job Outlook 

According to the CDC, diabetes rates are increasing at an alarming rate. The CDC reports that 11.3% of the population has a diabetes diagnosis, which equates to over 37 million people. Since the diabetes epidemic continues to grow, there will be no shortage of diabetes specialists anytime soon.


5. Health Education Specialist 

Health education specialists create programs to help educate people about lifestyle factors that affect their well-being. Their main goal is to help people and communities make better health choices and adopt behaviors that allow them to live optimally healthy lives.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Health Education Specialist? 

Health education specialists work in many of the same locations that nurses do: hospitals, government agencies, community centers, and with people in their homes. 

Nurses are also well-versed in educating patients about preventative measures on how to stay healthy and make better lifestyle choices for optimal wellness.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Excellent teaching skills

  • Advocacy

  • Great people skills

  • Motivation to help people change negative lifestyle behaviors

  • Good communication and active listening skills

  • Good problem-solving skills

  • A solid science and healthcare background 

Salary 

The BLS reports that as of 2021, healthcare education specialists earned a median annual salary of $60,600. Since nurses earn a median annual income of about $77,600, a nurse who moved into a health education specialist position may make less money than they did as an RN. 

Education/ License Requirements 

Health education specialists typically need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. There are no license requirements for this position at this time.

Job Outlook

The BLS reports that the job outlook for health education specialists is very good, and they expect 12% growth in the position between 2021-2031.


 6. Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

A pharmaceutical sales representative is employed by a drug manufacturer or distributor to educate and inform physicians about their medications. This career requires a person with a wide range of knowledge about healthcare conditions, medications, and how they can help patients.  

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep?

Most nurses already have a ton of experience effectively communicating with physicians. In addition, nurses usually have significantly more direct experience in the healthcare field than other non-nurse representatives. This experience gives nurses an edge in increasing sales and finding new leads. 

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Great customer service skills

  • A science and healthcare background

  • The ability to understand complex health conditions and how medications work

  • Educational experience

  • Experience talking to and working with a wide range of physicians and other healthcare professionals

Salary 

According to ZipRecruiter, pharmaceutical sales reps in the US earn a median annual salary of $89,779 or $43/hr, not including additional benefits and other company perks.  Although income depends on where you live and what company you work for. This is much more than the median annual salary for registered nurses. 

Education/ License Requirements 

Pharmaceutical sales reps typically need to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree.

Job Outlook 

Pharmaceutical jobs are very competitive and highly desired. As companies continue to produce new medications, more pharmaceutical reps will be needed to help bring the medications to market. 


7. Healthcare or Medical Writer 

Healthcare and medical writers create high-quality written work about various health-related topics such as new drugs and medical devices, healthcare news, clinical trial information, and patient education. Writers in these fields write for various mediums, including leaflets, websites, newsletters, journal articles, and others.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Healthcare Writer?

Nurses can combine their vast healthcare knowledge with their love for writing and communication to help spread evidence-based healthcare information.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Clear communication skills

  • Organizational skills

  • Healthcare and science background

  • Good research skills

  • Good time management

Salary 

Healthcare and medical writing salaries can range widely depending on the type of material you create, where you live, and who employs you. Glassdoor reports that senior medical writers earn an annual median salary of $91,124, which is much more than the BLS estimation of the $77,600 that nurses make per year.

Education/ License Requirements 

Healthcare and medical writers typically need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a science-related field. 

Job Outlook 

The BLS reports that the job outlook for technical writers as a group will grow by about 6% between 2021-2031, which is about as fast as average professions.


8. Legal Nurse Consultant 

Legal nurse consultants are RNs who work with lawyers, healthcare organizations, insurance companies, and other legal professionals to consult as expert medical witnesses in medical cases, such as worker’s compensation, medical malpractice, or other personal injuries while on the job.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Become a Legal Nurse Consultant?

Nurses have a bird’s eye view into the healthcare field, which is impossible for others. The vast range of patient care experience and overall healthcare knowledge makes nurses a natural fit to be legal consultants involving medical cases.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Research skills

  • Experience reading and analyzing medical records

  • Job experience working in the medical field and with patients

  • Experience with patient procedures and policies

  • A solid understanding of medical terminology and language

Salary 

According to Glassdoor, legal nurse consultants in the US earn a median annual salary of $123,545, which is significantly more than RNs earn.

Education/ License Requirements 

A minimum of a BSN and a current RN license in the state where you work.

Job Outlook 

There are over 1.3 million lawyers in the US, which continues to grow.  In addition, there are nearly 19,000  malpractice or medical negligence lawsuits in the US annually, many of which can benefit from a legal consultant with a nursing background that can help them win their cases.


9. Physical Therapist 

Physical therapists (PTs) work with patients with health-related injuries or other health conditions that limit their ability to move and perform normal activities of daily living. 

PTs examine patients to assess their movement abilities, strength, endurance, balance, mobility, and safety awareness. Then they create a treatment plan which includes exercise and education to help the patient be as mobile and independent as possible. 

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Physical Therapist?

Many nurses have experience working with and treating patients who are also seen by a physical therapist. Nurses have a clear view of tasks that a PT performs on the job every day. Nurse and PT goals for the patient align as both professions aim to help the patients live and be as healthy as independently as possible.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Great communication skills

  • Patience and empathy

  • Teaching skills

  • High stamina

  • Creating treatment plans 

  • Teaching discharge instructions

  • Creative problem solving

  • Excellent time management skills

Salary 

According to the BLS, physical therapists earn a median annual salary of $92,920, which is higher than the annual salary for RNs. 

Education/ License Requirements 

To practice as a physical therapist in the U.S., you need to earn a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree. DPT programs take about three years to complete, and you must have a bachelor’s degree for eligibility.

Job Outlook 

The BLS predicts 17% growth in the profession between 2021-2031.


10. Health Information Technicians

Health informatics is a field that studies how to utilize biomedical data and information. Health information technicians use this data to learn, problem-solve, and make decisions about ways to improve human health.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Health Information Technician?

Nurses make great health informaticians because they usually use health informatics technology already in their day-to-day patient care. One example of health informatics in action is the use of electronic medical records. Nurses in the health informatics field can help improve patient care delivery and outcomes by developing better ways to use technology to improve patient care.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Use of electronic medical records 

  • Understanding in-hospital clinical workflow

  • Understanding of patient admissions and discharges

  • Understanding of patient health monitoring systems

  • Use of evidence-based healthcare practice

Salary 

The BLS reports that health information technologists earn a median annual income of $55,560 or $26.71, which is less than the $77,600 average annual income for nurses. 

Education/ License Requirements 

A minimum of an associate's degree. However, many hiring managers prefer a science-based bachelor’s degree.

Job Outlook 

The job outlook for health informaticians is bright. The BLS reports that the profession will grow 17% between 2021-2031.

11. Nurse Manager

Nurse managers are unit directors who oversee a particular department or healthcare specialty. They manage essential non-clinical tasks such as staffing, training, and managing budgets for the unit.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Nurse Manager?

Most nurse managers have several years of experience working in a specific location before moving into a nurse manager role. Therefore, they are very familiar with the patients and the unit's workflow. Nurses who don’t want to provide clinical care anymore but want to work on the business side of healthcare find this transition a natural fit.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Clinical expertise

  • Great communication skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Understanding of the patient and clinical workflow

  • Analytical skills

  • Dedication to high-quality patient care

Salary 

The BLS reports that nurse managers earn a median annual income of $101,340 or $48.72/hr, which is significantly more than the median annual salary for nurses in the US.

Education/ License Requirements 

Most nurse managers have at least a BSN; however, master’s degrees also are common. You must also have a current RN license in the state where you work.

Job Outlook 

There is huge growth on the horizon for nurse manager positions. The BLS reports that the profession will grow by 28% between 2021-2031.


12. Case Manager

Case managers work with patients, their families, and their healthcare providers to understand their medical needs and connect them with appropriate resources. 

Case managers often work with patients before they discharge from the hospital to ensure that all follow-up appointments are scheduled and that they have the medical devices and medications they need. Case managers also work with other facilities to ensure a smooth transition of care and act as an advocate for the patient.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Case Manager?

Since many nurses have experience working with patients, they have a good idea of what their needs will be upon discharge from a hospital. 

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Great communication skills

  • Patience and empathy

  • Patient advocacy

  • Great customer service skills.

Salary 

According to Salary.com, case managers earn a median annual income of $88,804. However, top earners make $106,000 or more. Case managers earn a higher income than RNs, who, according to the BLS, earn a median annual salary of $77,600.

Education/ License Requirements 

A minimum of an associate's degree.

Job Outlook 

The BLS projects a 12% growth in this profession between 2021 and 2031.


13. Forensic Nurse 

Forensic nurses play an important role in healthcare and criminal justice. This profession helps care for victims of violent crime, abuse, or neglect while gathering evidence to be used in court. 

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Forensic Nurse?

Many nurses have years of one-on-one patient care. They develop a caring and empathetic bedside manner, which helps them comfort and treat patients during some of the most difficult times of their lives. 

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Providing psychosocial support to patients

  • Treating physical injuries

  • Collecting patient samples

  • Assessing the patient

  • Helping with post-discharge planning

Salary 

ZipRecruiter reports that the median annual salary for forensic nurse consultants is $77,405 or $37/hr, which is about the same as the median annual salary for RNs in the US.

Education/ License Requirements 

A minimum of a BSN and a current RN license.

Job Outlook 

The BLS projects that the job outlook for nurses of all specialties will grow at a rate of 6% between 2021-2031.


14. Hospital Quality Improvement Coordinator 

Hospital quality improvement coordinators help organize, analyze, and report improvement data for hospital departments and staff. This position helps identify the positive and negative trends within the healthcare facility and then makes recommendations for how to run symptoms more smoothly.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Hospital Quality Improvement Coordinator?

Since many nurses already have at least some experience working in a hospital or healthcare center, they often already know how the facilities run. Many often have great ideas to recommend based on their own experiences working within a facility.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • A throughout understanding of the flow within a hospital

  • Prior nursing experience that you can use to create quality improvement solutions

  • Great critical thinking skills

  • Great communication and active listening skills

  • Ability to work well on a team

Salary 

Zippa reports that hospital quality improvement coordinators earn a median annual salary of $75,382 or $36.24/hr, which is similar to the median annual salary for RNs.

Education/ License Requirements 

A minimum of a bachelor's degree.

Job Outlook 

The BLS reports that employment in healthcare positions overall will grow 13% from 2021-2031, which is much faster than the average profession. This means there will also be an increased need for quality improvement programs in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

15. Real Estate Agent

A real estate agent is a licensed professional who arranges real estate transactions. Agents help to put buyers and sellers together and act as their representatives in negotiations.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Real Estate Agent?

You might be surprised to see real estate agents on this list of the most common career changes for nurses. But it's true. 

Many nurses work flexible per diem schedules that allow them to tap into the real estate industry part-time. After they build up their business and gain experience honing in on their new craft, they often decide to leave the nursing profession and work in real estate full-time. Fortunately, there are many transferable nursing skills that are needed to work as a real estate agent.

Transferable Nursing Skills 

  • Great communication and active listening skills

  • Patience

  • Customer service skills

  • Time management skills

  • Teaching skills

  • Critical thinking skills

  • Ability to think on your feet

Salary 

The BLS reports that real estate agents earn a median annual average of $48,700 or $23.45/hr. However, that also includes many part-time real estate and the full-time salary is likely much higher. ZipRecruiter reports a much higher median annual income of $93,298.

Education/ License Requirements 

A high school diploma or GED equivalent and a real-estate license. A real estate license takes about 75-150 hours of study and requires that you pass an exam.

Job Outlook 

The BLS projects that the career outlook for real estate agents is good. They project a 5% growth in the profession between 2021-2031, which is about as fast as average professions.


What Do Most Nurses Do When They Pivot Out of Nursing?

One of the best things about getting a nursing degree is that the skills you learn are transferable to many other careers.

It is important to remember that there is no “normal” career route for nurses. A nursing career that works for one person might seem like a disaster for another, and vice versa. 

The most important thing you can do first is to take the time to explore your career options. Hopefully, the list above gave you a few new ideas.

You may also want to take some time off just to think about your next move. It is hard to make a huge career change decision when you are too busy working!


How to Know if it’s Time to Make a Career Change 

There are many signs to watch for that will tell you if it is time to make a career change:

  • You dread getting out of bed in the morning.

  • You like the money, but your heart is just not in your work.

  • You find yourself imagining what it would be like to work in another career.

  • You feel disconnected from the passion you once had.

  • Your workplace is toxic.

  • You feel burned out.

  • You feel apathetic and like you are just “going through the motions” at work.

  • You want to leave but are scared of change.

  • You are starting to feel depressed about your work future.

  • You need to make a change for physical or mental health reasons.


How to Make Your Nursing Job Work for You 

Many nurses wonder if there are ways to make their current nursing job work for them so that they don’t feel like making a nursing career change.

 In some cases, it is very difficult or impossible to change the circumstance where you work. 

For example, if your workplace is toxic, some of your peers are bullies, or you are working in unsafe conditions, finding another career path is probably the best choice. 

But for people who don’t want to completely get out of nursing but need to make some changes, here are a few suggestions:

  • Talk to your employer about an increase in pay or additional benefits you may be eligible for. 

  • Ask your manager if you can train new staff members. Sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone may help you out of your rut. 

  • Take some time off or go on a long vacation.

  • Move to another unit for a change of pace.

  • If the physicality of your job has become too much, try finding a job in a nursing administrative position.

  • If possible, move to part-time work and explore other options.

  • Talk to a career coach, who may be able to help you figure out what is best for you and your career. 


Things to Keep in Mind When Making a Career Change 

Making a nursing career change will change many other aspects of your life. Here are a few things to remember when making a career change.

  • The salary 

  • Benefits such as retirement, paid time off, and medical insurance

  • Your new work/life balance 

  • The potential growth in the position

  • Will you need to go back to school for another degree to work in your new desired career?

  • Do you need professional licensure in this new career?


How to Make a Career Change as a Nurse 

Figuring out how to start a new career or get a new job can feel like a part-time job in itself. Keep in mind that all this stress of career searching will end once you finally make the change. Try not to let the overwhelm of making a huge life change prevent you from getting what you want. 

Here are important steps you need to make a switch into your new career:

  1. Check out your potential options

  2. Assess your values, interests, and skills

  3. Update your resume

  4. Start applying for new positions online or at job fairs

  5. Network with friends and co-workers

  6. Practice your interview skills

  7. Research the job and company well

  8. Nail your interviews

  9. Follow up after all interviews with a thank you note.

  10. Say YES to your new job offer!

FAQs 

  • What do I do if I don't want to be a nurse anymore? 

    • If you don’t want to be a nurse anymore, there are so many alternative career paths that make an excellent fit for nurses! Be honest with yourself about what your career goals are, and start researching what you need to do to get there.  If you have no idea what you want to do, read articles on the best career change options for nurses to get some ideas. 
  • What jobs do nurses do when they leave nursing? 

    • Nurses work in many different types of careers, such as social work, pharmaceutical sales, medical device sales, medical writing, legal nurse consulting, school nursing, human resources, lactation consultants, and more.
  • What is the least stressful nursing specialty?

    • The least stressful nursing jobs are usually the ones that are the least physically strenuous. But that still doesn’t mean they aren’t stressful. These jobs may include nurse educators, public health nurses, case management nurses, and nurse informaticists.