Most Common Career Changes for Nurses

Written By: Sarah Jividen RN, BSN

21 MIN READ Published April 12, 2024

Nursing Career Changes  When to Change Careers  Make Nursing Work For You  Common Considerations  How to Change Careers  Next Steps  FAQs

Top Career Changes for Nurses by Nurse.org

Nursing is an excellent, in-demand career that pays well, but it’s not for everyone – or every nurse, for that matter. Whether you’re a seasoned registered nurse (RN) or a recent graduate realizing that nursing isn’t your passion, you’re not alone.

This article explores the different career changes nurses can make, their merits, salaries, and requirements. Keep reading to learn more about the most common career changes for nurses, and maybe get some ideas for yourself!

Did you know that nearly 39% of nurses feel dissatisfied with their jobs? Registered nurses may change careers for numerous reasons. Most often, they report these reasons for seeking new occupations:

Feeling burnout as a nurse

They want a higher salary

Nursing is physically exhausting

Hospital environments are too stressful

They want to learn new skills

Whatever the reason, nurses are in luck. Since nurses are highly trained and educated professionals, they can make lateral moves into various careers.

Remember, good jobs for ex-nurses should alleviate the problems nursing is causing you. As you review these career alternatives for nurses, consider whether these positions address your worries about your current position.

1. Healthcare Recruiter

As you might expect, some of the most common career changes for nurses pivot within the healthcare field. For example, many nurses become healthcare recruiters. These workers help companies find qualified talent and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of applicants for various healthcare positions.

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 rapport with so many other healthcare professionals that helping to recruit them for a new job that will help 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

Understanding of the healthcare field and its different specialties

Salary

According to ZipRecruiter, the median annual income for healthcare recruiters is $53,004. That median annual salary increases to $74,963 for nurse recruiters specifically. However, your income may vary depending on your location, employer, experience, and other factors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurses earn a median annual income of $81,220, which is $39.05 an hour. So a nurse who moved into a health recruiter position may make less money than they did as an RN.

Education/ License Requirements

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

Job Outlook

The BLS projects that employment in healthcare careers will grow at a much faster rate than the average of all other occupations from 2022 to 2032. This will result in about 2 million new jobs in the coming decade. As the demand for these positions grows, so too will the demand for talented healthcare recruiters.

2. Social Worker

Becoming a social worker is another one of the most common career changes for nurses. Social workers help people and communities prevent and manage problems in their lives. Some common tasks you might do as a social worker include the following:

Counseling

Providing referrals for social programs

Arranging social services

Educating clients about psychosocial impacts on their lives

Providing social services

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a Social Worker?

Social work is similar to nursing because both jobs involve helping people and communities improve their lives 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.  Moreover, both careers work one-on-one with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Transferable Nursing Skills

Communication

Active listening

Critical thinking

A desire to help humankind

Empathy

Advocacy

Cultural awareness

Salary

According to the BLS, as of 2022, social workers earned a median annual salary of $55,350, which equates to $26.61 an hour. So, RNs who become social workers may have to accept lower salaries to make this transition.

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 7% between 2022 and 2032, much faster than the average profession.

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

Oral health issues

This population of children who need help managing their conditions at school creates plenty of demand for school nurses.

How Does Nursing Prepare You to Be a School Nurse?

Some good jobs for nurses to transition to involve nursing, but in a different environment. For example, nurses who love helping people but are exhausted from challenging healthcare settings may love working as school nurses.

School nurses work in education settings with children instead of in a clinical environment. All of the necessary nursing skills you used in the healthcare setting are also applicable and transferable to school nursing.

Transferable Nursing Skills

Communication and active listening skills

Health assessments

Education for good health habits like:

Dental hygiene

Hand washing

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 $55,711. However, they add that school nurse income can range from $44,506 to as high as $70,325.

Unfortunately, this means that many RNs who become school nurses may accept a pay reduction. However, income is dependent on work location, whether you work full-time or part-time, and the type of institution where you work. So, some school nurses may make the same or more than they did as RNs.

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 of Science 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 2022 and 2032. There will be a need for an additional 177,400 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 patients’ 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 extensive experience with patient education.

Transferable Nursing Skills

Communication skills

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

Education and counseling skills

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

Patience and empathy

Cultural awareness

Salary

Salary is a major reason why diabetes specialist is one of the most common career changes for nurses. According to ZipRecruiter, diabetes nurse specialists earn a median annual salary of $83,618. So, an RN who makes this career change will likely earn an income comparable to their nursing salary.

Education/ License Requirements

You can be an ADN-trained or BSN-trained RN to become a diabetes specialist. However, most employers prefer applicants who’ve earned at least a BSN. Regardless, your RN license must be active and unrestricted in your state to pursue this career path.

The Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (CBDCE)that RNs meet the following requirements to become eligible for certification as a diabetes specialist:

Current and active RN license

2 years of clinical experience

1,000 hours of diabetes care and education (DCE) experience in last 5 years

20% of DCE must have been earned within the past year

15 hours of  CBDCE continued education within 2 years

Job Outlook

According to the CDC, diabetes rates are increasing at an alarming rate. The CDC reports that 11.6% of the population has a diabetes diagnosis, which equates to over 38 million people.

As the diabetes epidemic continues to grow, the nation will see an increased demand for diabetes specialists.

5. Health Education Specialist

Health education specialists are great jobs for former nurses. These educators create programs to teach people about lifestyle factors that affect their well-being.

A health education specialist’s 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/healthcare facilities

Government agencies

Community centers

With clients at their homes

Nurses are also well-versed in educating patients about preventative measures for staying healthy and making better lifestyle choices for optimal wellness.

Transferable Nursing Skills

Teaching and education

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

Healthcare education specialists earn a median annual salary of $59,990 in 2022, according to BLS reports. Since RNs earn around $81,220 a year, they may see a decline in compensation when transitioning to this field.

Education/ License Requirements

Health education specialists typically need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Although there are no license requirements to become a health education specialist, your state may offer certifications that help increase your chances of getting a job.

Your state’s health or nursing board can help you learn more about certification.

Job Outlook

The BLS reports that the job outlook for health education specialists is very good, and they expect the position to grow by 7% between 2022 and 2032.

 6. Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

A drug manufacturer or distributor employs a pharmaceutical sales representative 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 various physicians and healthcare professionals

Salary

According to ZipRecruiter, pharmaceutical sales reps in the US earn a median annual salary of $72,525 or $35 per hour, not including additional benefits and other company perks. This makes pharmaceutical reps great alternative careers for nurses who don’t want to see a massive drop in pay.

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, they will need more pharmaceutical reps to help bring the medications to market.

7. Healthcare or Medical Writer

Healthcare and medical writers are great non-bedside jobs for nurses. They 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, but not limited to:

Leaflets

Websites

Newsletters

Journal articles

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. ZipRecruiter reports that medical writers earn an average annual salary of $80,364, which is comparable to the median annual RN salary of $81,220.

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 7% between 2022 and 2032, which is about as fast as the average profession.

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 ZipRecruiter, legal nurse consultants in the US earn an average annual salary of $87,681, which is slightly more than the median annual RN salary.

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 that 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 whom a physical therapist also sees. 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 $99,710, 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 15% growth in the profession between 2022-2032.

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 improving human health.

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

Nurses make great health informaticians because they use health informatics technology already in their daily 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 $58,250 or $28.01 per hour, significantly less than the median annual nursing salary of $81,220.

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 16% between 2022 and 2032.

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.

Furthermore, becoming a nurse manager is an easy career change for nurses. It is a logical next step for experienced RNs who want to stay in a healthcare setting and take on new roles.

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 the 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 median annual nurse manager salary is $104,830 or $50.40 per hour, according to the BLS. This figure is significantly higher than general RN salaries and more than double the median salary of all occupations.

Education/ License Requirements

Most nurse managers have at least a BSN. However, many nurses applying for these positions have master’s degrees. You must also have a current RN license in the state where you work.

Job Outlook

Nurse manager positions are experiencing huge growth. The BLS reports that the profession will grow by 28% between 2022 and 2032.

12. Case Manager

If you’re leaving nursing for another profession, consider becoming a 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 are discharged from the hospital to ensure that all follow-up appointments are scheduled and that they have the necessary medical devices and medications. 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 their needs upon discharge from a hospital.

Transferable Nursing Skills

Great communication skills

Patience and empathy

Patient advocacy

Great customer service skills

Salary

According to data from Salary.com, case managers earn a median annual income of $93,725. However, top earners make $103,080 or more. Because of the high pay, becoming a case manager is one of the best career changes for nurses.

Education/ License Requirements

You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to become a case manager, though a master’s degree will give you a competitive edge. Depending on your state, you may also need to earn a certification through the American Case Management Association (ACMA).

Job Outlook

The BLS projects that the need for community health workers like case managers will rise by 14% in the next decade.

13. Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses are some of the most common career changes for nurses. They play an important role in healthcare and criminal justice. This profession helps care for victims of violent crime, abuse, or neglect while gathering evidence for court use.

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

Glassdoor reports that forensic nurse consultants earn between $74K and $111K annually, with an average salary of around $90K. Based on these estimations, RNs can experience a boost in pay when they transition into forensic nurses.

Education/ License Requirements

You’ll need at least a BSN and a current RN license to pursue this career change for nurses.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects that the job outlook for nurses of all specialties will grow at a rate of 6% between 2022-2032.

14. Hospital Quality Improvement Coordinator

Quality improvement in nursing and healthcare describes a systematic process for improving patient care, safety, and outcomes. Hospital quality improvement coordinators help organize, analyze, and report improvement data for hospital departments and staff. This position helps identify positive and negative trends in the healthcare facility and then recommends ways to manage systems 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

Zippia reports that hospital quality improvement coordinators earn a median annual salary of $75,382 or $36.24 per hour, which is similar to, if slightly lower than, what RNs make.

Education/ License Requirements

Nurses who want to change careers and become hospital quality improvement coordinators need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Job Outlook

The BLS reports that employment in healthcare positions will grow by 1.8 million new positions in the next decade. 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 enter the real estate industry part-time. After building up their business and gaining experience honing their new craft, they often decide to leave nursing and work in real estate full-time. Fortunately, nursing cultivates many of the skills necessary to become 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 $52,030, or $25.02 per hour. However, this figure bundles part-time and full-time salary reports. ZipRecruiter reports a much higher median annual income of $85,793, or $41 per hour.

Education/ License Requirements

To enter this career field, you need a high school diploma or GED equivalent and a real estate license. A real estate license requires about 75-150 hours of study and a passing score on your state licensure exam.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects that the career outlook for real estate agents is good. They project a 3% growth in the profession between 2022-2032, which is about as fast as average professions.

When 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. Finding a career after nursing might be right for you if:

You dread getting out of bed in the morning

You like the money, but your heart isn’t in nursing

You daydream about working in another career

You feel disconnected from the passion you once had

Your workplace is toxic

You feel like you are just “going through the motions” at work

You want to leave but are scared of change

You feel depressed about your work and future

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

You feel burned out

Making 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 circumstances 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 get out of nursing completely but need to make some changes, here are a few suggestions:

Salary Negotiations: Sometimes, nurses feel like they aren’t being compensated enough for their work and would be more satisfied with an increased salary. If this sounds like you, try approaching your employer about a raise or any additional benefits you may be eligible for.

Diversify Your Duties: The daily grind can easily become monotonous. Discuss different tasks you can do at work, like training new staff members or working in another unit, to get out of your comfort zone and climb out of that rut.

Take a Break: Burnout is a massive problem in the nursing field. You may consider dropping back to part-time hours or using vacation days to find some relief. You can use that free time to relax and gain a clear perspective on how you want to move forward with your nursing career.

Leave Your Bedside Job: Being on your feet all day tending to patients can become exhausting. If the physicality of your job has become too much, try finding a nursing administrative position.

Get a Second Opinion: You don’t need to make these big decisions alone. Talk to a career coach who may be able to help you figure out what is best for you and your career.

Career Change Considerations

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.

Salary and Benefits (e.g. retirement, paid time off, and medical insurance)

Work/life balance in the new position

The potential for growth in the position

Education requirements and whether you meet them

Professional licensure requirements and whether you meet them

How to Make a Career Change as a Nurse

Making a career change or finding other jobs for nurses can feel like a part-time job. Remember that the stress imposed by a career change will end once you settle into your new role. 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:

Check out your potential options

Assess your values, interests, and skills

Update your resume

Start applying for new positions online or at job fairs

Network with friends and co-workers

Practice your interview skills

Research the job and company well

Nail your interviews

Follow up after all interviews with a thank you note.

Say YES to your new job offer!

What Should I Do After Leaving 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 nurses have no “normal” career route. 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. Making a huge career change decision is hard when you are too busy working!

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

There are many alternative careers for nurses if you want a change of pace. Be honest with yourself about your career goals, and start researching what you need to do to get there.  If you have no idea what you want to do, read articles on alternative careers for nurses to get some ideas.

I want to leave nursing; what else can I do?

The most common career changes for nurses include 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?

Less physically strenuous nursing jobs, such as nurse educators, public health nurses, case management nurses, and nurse informaticists, tend to be less stressful. However, each of these jobs comes with its own set of headaches and can still cause stress.

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