Alternative Careers for Nurses: 5 Unexpected Jobs to Pursue as an RN

Alternative Careers for Nurses: 5 Unexpected Jobs to Pursue as an RN

Many nursing students can’t wait to work in the acute care setting, thriving off the adrenaline and multitasking that comes with a traditional bedside nursing job. But you may find out that this environment is just not for you–and the great news is, you have tons of other options! Here are 5 unexpected jobs you can do as an RN.


Alternative nursing jobs
Melissa Mustafa


May 12, 2023

During nursing school, you will go through quite a few clinical rotations where you are working alongside bedside nurses in the acute care setting. So many students are instantly hooked and know that after school is done, they want to head straight to the Emergency Department, PACU, NICU, or Telemetry unit to start their nursing career.

However, some nurses do not feel drawn towards the “typical” perceived nursing job, and that is okay! The bedside nursing career can be perfect for those who thrive off of high-stress and adrenaline, love the twelve-hour shift option, and function well with multitasking. If reading that alone gives you palpitations, the great news is that the nursing degree you worked so hard to obtain is a key to many different career options you may not even know you have available to you.

Why Nurses May Want Alternative Career Options

Nursing is not a one-size-fits-all career, and I hope to shed light on just some of the many opportunities you have to pursue that may fit both your personality and strengths. Many go into nursing because of their desire to help others, and they enjoy the medical setting. I know that many of my classmates, including myself,  were shocked during clinicals to see what nursing actually entails in the bedside setting. Many would describe it as:

  • Exhausting
  • Intimidating
  • Stressful
  • Overwhelming

Personally, I worked a few years as a bedside RN and loved so many aspects of it. The comradery you have with your co-workers is unmatched, and it challenged me daily as no shift was ever remotely the same as another. However, because I worked nights and I was in school, I needed a change of pace. I was overwhelmed and needed a job that supported a healthier schedule where I was not constantly tired. I switched to a Pediatric specialty clinic job and absolutely loved it.

You too can have the flexibility to pick a job that fits with where you are in a personal stage of your life. Aside from the schedule, nursing jobs can vary in setting, pace of working, independent vs team work, and they can even require extra certification to specialize. I have known quite a few other nurses who dip their toes in and try out several options before settling into their niche.

The biggest takeaway is that none of these options make you any less of a nurse, you just have a different role in the nursing community!

What Are Alternative Careers for Registered Nurses?

With your nursing degree you can dive into so many different roles. Below are just some positions that you may hear about;  

1. Case manager

It is likely that you have worked with a case manager on the unit during your clinical rotations without realizing it! The clinical manager on the direct observation unit I previously worked on was a huge support to all the staff and helped with so much in coordinating the parts of patient care that are usually not handled by the Registered Nurse or MD. In the hospital setting, these tasks include:

  1. Organizing discharge planning for the patient. Sometimes that includes getting them a bus pass, and sometimes it means ensuring they are going to a facility that is appropriate for their level of care. 
  2. Working with the patient to verify their follow-up care is arranged so that continuity of care does not go astray once they are discharged. This includes doctors appointments, visits from home-health nurses, and rehabilitation. 
  3. Speaking to families and patients on difficult topics such as end of life care. For example, if I had a family who was hesitant about switching a patient to DNR status, I would have the case manager speak to them. 
  4. Communicating with health insurance companies to coordinate care and determine if a patient’s health care needs will be met with their current plan of coverage. 
  5. Ensuring that patient’s religious, psychosocial, and social needs are met. These could include coordinating a religious tradition, evaluation, or counseling. 

Case managers can work in a variety of settings outside the hospital including home health agencies, private practices, insurance companies, and shelters. Their common goal is to advocate for patient wellness and to make sure their needs are met as a whole, not just physically.

A nurse who is an effective communicator, multi-tasker, and interested in seeing the many sides of patient care would make a good case manager. Or if you still want to be working on a specific unit, but not necessarily in the bedside nurse role, this may be a great option for you! 

2. Public health nurse

The public health nurse is a stronghold in community settings, and is often hired by non-profit organizations, shelters, community centers, and government agencies. They serve and manage a  community of people, as they deliver care based on demographic, lifestyle, and socioeconomic conditions. Their duties can include:

  1. Working directly in the community to deliver screening services, education on preventative care, and health management. 
  2. Identifying risks within specific populations and ensuring those needs are met. 
  3. Advocating for the community at the local, state, and federal level to bring more resources  to underserved populations. 
  4. Ensuring the community is aware of resources that could ultimately benefit their health and well being. This could include free health fairs and yearly physicals within their community. 
  5. Working at the grassroots level at schools, senior centers, and homes to advocate for healthy living at all stages of life. 

The public health nurse is someone who has a true dedication to advocating for health for the masses. In my public health rotation, I worked alongside a nurse at a transitional shelter for the homeless, and I was amazed at the work she did for so many. Her patients had so much respect for her, because she was their cheerleader regardless of the situation they were in. She was the reason many there went to have an annual physical for the first time in ten years, or had themselves tested for certain diseases such as STDs.

A great public health nurse has a heart for the community, a passion for education, is comfortable working with diverse populations, and is able to be resourceful

3. Research nurse

I remember often seeing this role pop up on job-search sites, and I was always curious about what role a nurse could have in the research setting. A research nurse is responsible for providing evidence-based research for clinics, teaching hospitals, private companies, academia, medical research organizations, and many more locations. There are so many responsibilities within the realm of research that the nurse may lead:

  1. Helping to recruit patients for trials and leading them through what a trial may entail. Ensuring they are informed on the duration, timeline, medications that may be used, and other protocols. 
  2. Following the participants throughout the trial, monitoring that their involvement is in adherence to standards for the trial. 
  3. Collecting clinical data in accordance with federal regulations and Institutional Review Board Policies. Everything must be documented at length to protect those involved in the study.
  4. Presenting trial findings and potentially writing about the results. 
  5. Utilizing clinical skills such as administering medications, venipuncture, and review of lab results. 

A research nurse may be a good career fit if you are passionate about a specific area or diagnosis such as cancer and want to play an integral part in potentially changing the lives of so many in the future based on your hard work. My friend became a research nurse in a Pediatric Urology clinic because she wanted to improve the lives of patients who were struggling with a diagnosis that she also battled during childhood.

You might look into being a research nurse if you enjoy detail-oriented work, are organized, thrive in a leadership role, and can take initiative in high-pressure situations. 

4. Forensic nurse

Chances are if you are into true-crime television or podcasts, you have seen or listened to a forensic nurse at work. A forensic nurse works within both the nursing and legal realms to provide compassionate and sensitive care to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, elderly and child abuse, and mass disaster situations. When a forensic nurse is called in, they help to perform these tasks:

  1. Meticulously examine the patient from head to toe while ensuring a safe and confidential environment. 
  2. Collect evidence by taking photographs, obtaining body fluids, gathering clothing and any other items that may be needed. 
  3. Administer medications if needed for suspected sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. 
  4. Provide courtroom testimony and consultation in response to findings, such as injuries and care given. 

Forensic nurses are encouraged to obtain additional certification as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner which includes an extensive 40-hour training that covers topics from forensic photography to proper documentation.

A nurse in this role must have a calm demeanor, be able to handle very heavy situations with sensitivity, confidently speak in public, and have an interest in the legal and criminal justice system. 

5. Aesthetic nurse 

A complete 180° to the forensic nurse, you will often find the aesthetic nurse working in a private dermatology clinic or medical spa alongside physicians and plastic surgeons. This career path is growing in popularity, especially for nurses who also have an interest in cosmetics. Many nurses get additional training, which makes them more valuable in the job market by officially holding the title of a Board Certified Aesthetic Nurse. To qualify to take the certification exam, the nurse must have two years of experience with 1,000 clinical hours under their belt. Some of the duties performed as an aesthetic nurse are: 

  1. Injecting Botox and dermal fillers, removing tattoos, performing laser hair removal, chemical peels and CoolSculpting. These are dependent on state regulations, supervision, and appropriate certification.
  2. Managing pre- and post-operative care for patients who are receiving treatments.
  3. Assisting during procedures and surgeries 
  4. Screening of patients to ensure safety prior to treatments. 

One of my friends working in aesthetics told me that she loves the environment as she often does treatments on the same people and the office has a close-knit feel. 

An aesthetic nurse should have confidence in performing procedures autonomously, enjoy cosmetics, be meticulous workers, and deliver personable care. 

Final Thoughts

This list doesn’t even scratch the surface as to what your next step could be after graduating from nursing school. If any of these caught your attention, take a look at what jobs are available in your area and reach out to see if you can shadow a nurse in that role for a day. I encourage you to not just take a job based on convenience. Make a list of your strengths as a nurse and pursue a position that highlights all that you have to offer. 

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