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When most people visualize a nurse, they see scrubs and a stethoscope, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12 percent of nurses work in fields other than health care. A registered nurse (RN) license can lead to many types of careers away from a bedside, clinical setting. Nurses can become executives, legal consultants, forensic examiners, diabetes educators, informatics specialists and health care writers.
Each position requires specific training and experience beyond the initial RN licensure. With a combination of education, specialized experience, and certifications nurses can pursue a myriad of careers while leveraging their nursing background.
1. Nurse executives
Nurse executives are leaders in health care, combining health care knowledge with business acumen. They work in hospitals on executive leadership teams, in administrative roles within health care companies or health care facilities. Nurse executives must establish a vision for their organization. To establish a vision, they need to possess a keen grasp of complex issues and how to lead a team.
The average annual nurse executive salary is $132,046, and Chief Nursing Officers can average $236,140. Many pursuing this pathway choose to obtain a Nursing Leadership graduate degree, and they may also sit for the Executive Nursing Practice certification exam to demonstrate their knowledge.
2. Legal nurse consultants
According to the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC), a legal nurse consultant “is a licensed registered nurse who performs a critical analysis of clinically related issues in a variety of settings in the legal arena.” They may be called as experts to give testimony or provide informed opinions when legal issues arise regarding health care. They also may conduct specialized interviews. Legal nurse consultants are able to distill complex health care topics in layman's terms. They often also have an interest in the justice system.
Their average salary is $85,351. A master’s degree with a concentration in legal studies is not required to become a legal nurse consultant, but it can help nurses broaden their legal knowledge. The American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board (ALNCCB) credentials legal nurse consultants via Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC) programs. Obtaining a certification can make it easier to find work as a legal nurse consultant.
3. Forensic nurse examiners (FNE)
Forensic Nurse Examiners, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, “provide specialized care for patients who are experiencing acute and long-term health consequences associated with victimization or violence, and/or have unmet evidentiary needs relative to having been victimized or accused of victimization.” They connect the criminal justice system, the courtroom and the bedside. FNEs provide a therapeutic, clinical environment for victims of violence. FNEs practice in a variety of environments including outpatient hospitals, acute care centers, community clinics, correctional facilities and crisis centers.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) are a type of FNE who specialize in assessing, evaluating, and documenting injuries to patients who are the victims of assault. Since SANEs work with patients who have undergone traumatic experiences, having the mental stamina to handle second-hand trauma is important.
The average annual salary for an FNE is $63,253. Most FNEs begin their careers by taking forty-hour SANE training course which is followed by an average of forty hours of clinical experience. There are also master’s degree and board certification options available, but neither is essential to begin practice. Specific requirements vary from state to state on education, certification and experience required to conduct forensic exams.
4. Diabetes educator
According to the CDC, 10.5% of the US population has diabetes and therefore require specialized health care services and education. Studies have shown that nurse-driven education can significantly improve health outcomes among diabetics, so diabetes educators are important when treating diabetics. Diabetes educators teach patients and communities best practices for preventing and controlling diabetes. They also help patients better understand care plans and medication regimens. There are many different pathways to becoming a diabetes educator, but the role requires a wide base of knowledge about medications, comorbidities and treatment plans along with impeccable communication skills and empathy.
On average, diabetes educators earn $81,862 each year and practice in both clinical and community settings. The Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES) encourages credentialing via Board Certified-Advanced Diabetes Management (BC-ADM®) or the Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (CDCES), which both require clinical hours and an examination.
5. Nursing Informatics Specialist
Nurses who want to combine health care expertise with an understanding of technology might want to consider a career as a nursing informatics specialist. Nursing informatics specialists design and implement software systems in health care environments to improve care efficiency and safety. Clinical experience is essential in system development because it informs many of the necessary structures. Nursing informatics specialists can work in the clinical institutions, for systems design companies or in public health care policy. Each sphere can leverage a nursing informatics specialist’s expertise in different ways.
The average annual salary for a nursing informatics specialist is $84,804. In American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA) most members have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or master’s degree in nursing. There are graduate degree options in informatics, but they’re not required to get a job. To sit for the Informatics Nursing Certification you have to be a practicing nurse for two years and have a combination of education and experiences that meets eligibility requirements.
6. Nurse Writer
Becoming a nurse writer is another way to combine nursing experience with another area of interest or expertise. There are no specific qualifications for this career pursuit, but being self-motivated and industrious may help you succeed. There are virtual and in-person courses available to improve writing skills. Freelancing websites may be a good way to begin to market yourself as a writer. Working as a consultant in this field involves organization, self-promotion, and willingness to learn. Health care writing in an academic or research institution generally requires a graduate or doctoral degree.
Over the course of their careers, many nurses take a step back from the bedside to pursue other interests while still leveraging their nursing experience. If you choose to pursue one of these career paths, finding a mentor in your field of choice may help you know exactly what steps to take and how to make new professional connections. Each route can lead to a rewarding new phase in your nursing career.