If you are ready for a change, here are 25 different ways to be a nurse. If you already have an RN license you will qualify for most of these (some require a BSN or specialty certificate). If you are interested in jobs that require an advanced degree check out our listing here.
The best nursing job will be the one that best suits your unique values and skills. If you are in a hospital setting, a good move may be within the hospital so that you retain your seniority and benefits. Make a list of what you dislike and like about your current job. Is your dissatisfaction due to your manager or the chronic understaffing? Interview other nurses in the hospital to find a place with a supportive manager or a unit that is better staffed.
If you are ready for something completely different, here are some ideas. First, think about what you value in nursing. Which of the below matter most to you? Which ones do you not value?
|I like to work autonomously and independently||I like to work as part of a team|
|I like a demanding workload that makes the day go by quickly||I like a manageable, predictable workload with breaks|
|I’m okay with less pay if the context is right and I enjoy the work||I want better pay (even if it means a longer commute or less satisfying work)|
|I don’t mind being managed as long as I can focus on the work||I prefer to manage others|
|I like work that I’m already very competent in||I like challenging work that challenges me to learn new things|
|I want work that keeps me moving, active, and is physically demanding||I prefer work that won’t stress my body, or exhaust me|
|I prefer to work in one place||I want work that allows me to travel|
|A steady work schedule is most helpful||Flexible work hours are important to me|
|I enjoy a high level of patient contact||I like administrative tasks|
|I want to do one thing at a time||I’m okay with multitasking|
Ambulatory Care Nurse
What to expect: From doctors’ offices to ambulatory surgery centers, there are many practice settings available. Nurses are typically required to do quick assessments and interact with lots of patients. The work demands an attention to detail, the ability to triage, good communication skills, and adaptability in the face of time pressures. Often, the work is less physically demanding than work as a hospital staff nurse, and may mean more regular hours.
Challenges you may face: Office personalities may make or break the work environment. The work can be task intensive, require that you juggle multiple demands at once, and the paperwork can be extensive. It may require extended periods of being on your feet (although telehealth nursing is an exception to this). The job may require supervising paraprofessionals.
Median Pay: 63,000
What to expect: Camp nursing can be a way to increase your passion for the profession even if your work is on a volunteer basis, or just a couple of weeks a year. Although the majority of camp nurse positions are in the summer, some year-round positions do exist. Camps tend to be in beautiful settings, and most of them are dedicated to doing good. The typical work load for youth camps includes medication administration and treatment of minor injuries. Higher level nursing care is required for camps specializing in experiences for youth or adults with illnesses.
Challenges you may face: Dealing with anxious or apathetic parents can be difficult. Some kids may present with a psychological or behavioral crises, and the nurse may be expected to have an in-depth knowledge of relevant medications and appropriate interventions. You may be the only health professional in a remote setting, and thus you may be “on-call” much of the time and expected to have excellent first-responder skills in the case of a medical emergency.
Median Pay: Varies widely–some positions are volunteer, some offer a stipend, some offer competitive salaries
Case Management Nurse
What you can expect: This job focuses on preventative care: keeping patients healthy and out of the hospital. Nurses in this specialty work with hospitals, insurers, and government health agencies to keep specific populations (people with HIV, renal patients, homeless patients, etc.) healthy. The job requires administrative skills, appreciation for the unique challenges facing at-risk populations, as well as a knowledge of change theory and motivational interviewing.
Challenges you may face: You may feel you are supposed to cushion complex and challenging patients from the bureaucratic, grinding gears of health-care institutions. It may be discouraging to see patients persist in self-harming behaviors. The job requires extensive paperwork, the ability to follow-through, and the ability to coordinate various providers for the sake of a patient.
Median Pay: 62,000
Correctional Facility Nurse
What you can expect: Correctional facility nursing is usually less busy than hospital nursing, allows significant autonomy (sometimes you may be the only medical person on site), and offers good benefits (many of the jobs are government jobs). Primary tasks include intake, medication administration, and assessments to determine if someone needs to see a physician or go to the hospital. About 60% of the U.S. prison population consists of minorities, so an appreciation of other cultures and the obstacles that minorities face are valuable traits in serving this population.
Challenges you may face: Life in correctional facilities is regimented and the bureaucracy can be frustrating. Professional boundaries in regard to patients are crucial. Differentiating between true sickness and people faking illness (in order to go to the hospital) can be difficult. Maintaining appropriate distance from patients, while offering needed psychosocial support, can be a tough balancing act.
Median Pay: 82,000
Flight/Critical Care Transport Nurse
What to expect: Flight and critical care transport nurses are responsible for initial assessment, and patient care and management during transport. These jobs typically require ACLS and other certifications as well has a work experience in critical care. “Down time” on these jobs varies by agency, but sometimes it is significant and this job may be a good choice for someone studying for another degree. Some ambulance companies offer on-call pay for nurses who are available to transport critical care patients between hospitals.
Challenges you may face: Shifts can be long (24 hours is not unusual), and if a transport is in progress, a shift may go longer than expected. Pay varies widely (and may be excellent if the transport agency is associated with a hospital) but is sometimes less that one might hope given the expertise and experience required. Being the first responder to extreme trauma can be emotionally difficult.
Median Pay: 63,000
What to expect: Forensic nurses care for victims and perpetrators of trauma. This can include domestic violence, sexual assault, and neglect. The work involves patient care, working with law enforcement, collecting evidence that can be used in court, and working with the legal system. Many nurses in this field become certified as SANE nurses (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners).
Challenges you may face: The field is relatively new and finding a job in some cities may be challenging. The work requires a high level of attention to detail, and the bureaucracy of the legal system may be frustrating.
Median Pay: 80,000
Home Health Nurse
What to expect: These nurses work with patients in their homes to do wound care, diabetic teaching, draw labs, do medication teaching, and administer IV antibiotics. Advantages of the job include single-tasking (just one thing at a time!), considerable autonomy, giving care in homes rather than institutions, and flexibility in terms of how the work day is structured. The role may include case management. Nurses make up the plan of care goals and interventions, execute the plan, and see the success or failure of it over time.
Challenges you may face: Home health is notorious for the extensive paperwork. More time may be required to document a visit than time actually spent with a patient. Pay is often based on a per visit basis. This means that traffic, or a particularly complex patient can mean putting in “overtime” for free.
Median Pay: 62,000
What to expect: Hospice nurses participate in the sacred time–a time of both difficulty and opportunity–around a patient’s death. The job requires a knowledge of palliative care measures as well as a sensitivity to psychosocial, familial, and cultural factors. Nurses administer pain medication, instruct those involved in the care of the patient in comfort measures, and help the patient and others navigate the stages of dying. Like home health nursing, it allows for considerable autonomy and usually takes place in the home. For nurses with the disposition for it, it can be emotionally rewarding work.
Challenges you may face: Since patients may get into a pain or a crisis at any time, hospice nursing often involves being on-call, or doing some visits at night. Family and relational dynamics can be challenging. Interventions are not always successful, and some deaths may not be peaceful. Absorbing the grief of others may take an emotional toll.
Median Pay: 65,000
What to expect: If you’ve ever thought “this electronic documentation system is so clumsy!” and have laid awake thinking about how to make it better, nursing informatics may be for you. These nurses help design programs for healthcare systems and help to generate and analyze health-related data. These nurses work in a wide variety of settings: hospitals, insurance companies, and government agencies. While Registered Nurses can get entry level jobs in this field, it is helpful to have a background in, or degrees related to, computer or information science, business, math, or management.
Challenges you may face: While these jobs tend to pay well, it may require considerable effort to find a job, and it might mean relocation. It can be a challenge to “translate” the experience of nursing to technology people. The field is young, and as such is not always well understood by other disciplines.
Median Pay: 93,000
Intravenous Therapy Nurse
What to expect: This role allows a nurse to develop expertise in a valuable skill set. In many institutions, the intravenous therapy nurse plays a vital role in the insertion of peripheral and central lines (depending on state practice guidelines), and their management. The job may include educating staff, development of protocols, the collection of data on infection rates, and following patients in an institution with PICC or central lines. It is a job that involves short, defined interactions with patients and staff around a specific task.
Challenges you may face: The job may require you to deal with irritable or angry patients who experience a difficult catheter insertion, or a complication related to their line. It may involve confronting staff who fail to adhere to institutional protocols.
Median Pay: 64,000
What to expect: Usually on a volunteer or modest stipend basis, (please see here for paid travel nursing), these nurses serve out of a passion to promote the health of others. Settings can vary widely from urban to rural and hospital to tin-roofed shelter. Nurses can choose from a variety of work from surgical to preventative care. Working with other passionate, inspired professionals can be an un-anticipated reward of the work. The chance to provide life-changing direct care, without much bureaucracy and paperwork, can be a benefit of this work.
Challenges you may face: The allocation of scarce resources can be emotionally difficult. Travel in difficult circumstances, jet-lag, cultural differences, communication in a foreign language, unfamiliar food, and sparce accommodations, may prove challenging. If you are interested in doing this for extended periods, one suggestion is to choose an organization, do a short-term trip with them, and then evaluate whether to do a longer-term assignment.
Median Pay: many of these opportunities are volunteer, or require the applicant to raise money for the trip. Some medical aid organizations offer modest stipends.
Long-Term Care Nurse
What to expect: While many nursing jobs mean caring for people for a couple of shifts, long-term care offers the possibility of developing more meaningful relationships with patients and their families over time. In settings such as skilled nursing facilities, rehab centers, and retirement homes, RN’s often supervise other nurses and aides and play a crucial role in promoting excellence in patient care. RN tasks typically include oversight of patient-care personnel, patient assessments, administration of insulin, and compliance with patient care standards.
Challenges you may face: In this setting RN’s tend to have a lot of paperwork, are expected to cope with staff shortages, and may be the only person in on shift with a professional license. As the person “in charge” you will be expected to deal with difficult staff or patient personalities. Since these facilities operate around the clock, evening or night shifts may be required.
Median Pay: 61,000
Medical Supplies or Pharmaceutical Rep
What to expect: If you enjoy travel, interacting with other medical professionals, and one-on-one or public presentations, this career may be for you. Many of these jobs require sales and the pay is often commission-based. Experience in sales, expertise in a specialty area, and the ability to network are helpful in this profession.
Challenges you may face: Variable pay, stress around sales, and an emphasis on physical attractiveness, are some of the difficulties that nurses in this field report.
Median Pay: 71,000
What to Expect: This role involves responding to patient and family concerns and complaints. It may involve reviewing unusual occurences, prep for JCAHO visits, participation on an ethics committee, and helping an institution increase patient satisfaction. This job contributes to quality care and ensures that patient concerns are heard. It requires a sensitivity to cultural, racial, socio-economic, religious, and psychosocial concerns.
Challenges you may face: It may mean interactions with angry patients and difficult conversations with intimidating doctors or advanced practice clinicians. It may mean participating in disciplinary actions toward medical practitioners.
Median Salary: 69,000
What to expect: Registered Nurses can find instructor jobs at a number of levels: everything from certification classes for nursing aides to skills or clinical classes for RN’s. If you enjoy passing along the hard-earned knowledge you have, if you like mentoring others, or if you have a certain philosophy of nursing you’d like to impart to others, this may be the job for you.
Challenges you may face: Pay can vary widely. Although the “per hour” rate can be good, prep time for class must be taken into account. Dealing with poor student attitudes such as entitlement or apathy can be difficult. Pressure to get good student evaluations (and inflate student grades to avoid tension with students), can be frustrating.
Median Pay: 61,000
What you can expect: Nurse managers can play a huge role in the morale and excellence of a nursing team. If you are the kind of person who thinks about how systems can be improved, enjoys overseeing others, and has an aptitude for administration, a head nurse job may fit you well. Management jobs are less physically demanding than bedside nursing and allow you to use your knowledge to improve working conditions for nurses and care for patients.
Challenges you may face: Sometimes you may feel squeezed between the demands of upper-level management and staff. Dealing with budgets and implementing cuts when necessary can be difficult. Depending on the work culture at your institution long hours may be required. Navigating staff attitudes can be tough.
Median Pay: 58,000
What to expect: Research nurses may assist with clinical trials by finding patients, administering treatments during the trial, and helping with data collection and analysis. Other roles can include chart reviews, literature reviews, and grant writing. Practice settings include research universities, teaching hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and government agencies. If you enjoy administrative tasks and want to be part of advancing medical knowledge, this work may suit you.
Challenges you may face: This work can be intermittent depending on grant funding or project duration. The work often involves working with more paper than patients and an obsessive attention to detail.
Median Pay: 61,000
What to expect: Psychiatric nurses work with other mental health professionals to plan, implement, and evaluate treatment plans that promote the mental health of their patients. If you especially enjoy the psychosocial, behavioral side of nursing, this specialty allows you to focus on those aspects. Psych nurses work in a variety of settings from psych emergency, to acute, and sub-acute settings.
Challenges you may face: While psych nursing can be less physically demanding than many nursing jobs, it can be emotionally draining. At its worst, psych nurses may face verbal and physical abuse from patients. Progress isn’t always easy to see, and supervision of unlicensed personnel can be a challenge.
Median Pay: 63,000
Public Health Nurse
What to expect: If you have a passion for patient education, preventative care, and for caring for underserved populations, public health nursing may be a good choice for you. Hours tend to be regular. Nurses who want a high level of patient contact may want to research city and county openings (and possibly non-profits) while nurses who prefer to work in the areas of policy and epidemiology may want to check out state and federal job possibilities.
Challenges you may face: While some nurses perceive public health nursing as paying less, look carefully at the benefit packages since governments tend to offer superior benefits. The paperwork can be extensive, but if you look carefully, there are public health jobs that have a lot of patient contact.
Median pay: 62,000
What to expect: While school nurse salaries are often perceived as being low (although our research reveals that they are often competitive), school nurses get the summer off and work short days! It can be an excellent job for parents who want the same days off as their kids. School nurses administer meds, check immunizations, give first aid, and collaborate with school personnel around the medical and psychological health of students.
Challenges you may face: Some school nurses report “lots of lice!” Other challenges may include differentiating between students who are truly sick or those who are faking in order to get out of class or go home, disrespectful or abusive students, entitled parents and difficult staff. You may be the only medical person at a school, and you may feel a lack of support for your unique perspective.
Median Pay: 66,000
Substance Abuse Nurse
What to expect: Substance abuse nurses often facilitate acute detox and must be knowledgeable in the signs and symptoms of withdrawal as well as the medications used to treat acute withdrawal. RN’s may also case manage patients, conduct therapy groups, do one-on-one counseling, and administer daily meds to clients. If you have a passion for helping people with addictions and patience for people in crisis and transition, this job may be for you.
Challenges you may face: This is an emotionally demanding job which may require you to deal with patients who are distressed and combative. Relapse rates can be high. Some programs are committed to harm reduction and to housing people who will continue to use an addictive substance. Others focus more on rehabilitation. Make sure you are in touch with your own commitments and values, and be sure to choose a job accordingly.
Median Pay: 76,000
Telephone Triage Nurse
What to expect: Telephone nursing is less physically demanding than floor nursing, and allows you to help people make good decisions in the face of health challenges. Also known as telehealth nursing, it can be practiced in a variety of settings: on-site (hospitals, home health agencies, etc.), in call centers, or at home. It usually involves following a decision-tree protocol to help callers take appropriate action at home, or utilize the correct level of care for a given problem.
Challenges you may face: Pay structures can vary widely. Sometimes it is as simple as “clocking in” but sometimes only “on-the-phone” time is paid, and the documentation is not. Other times, telehealth nurses are expected to be on call, or work nights and holidays. Make sure to understand thoroughly how you will be reimbursed, and what the expectations are for the job. Although the job doesn’t require much lifting or standing, good ergonomics are crucial, and practitioners sometimes report physical problems such as neck stiffness.
Median Pay: 66,000
What to expect: This job usually combines medical skills (tracking labs, peri-operative care, medication expertise) with psychosocial concerns (sobriety maintenance, grief counseling, emotional support). It can involve working with living donors or recipients. It involves developing an in-depth expertise in the field, and working with a team for successful outcomes. Some nurses may choose to take an exam through the American Board for Transplant Certification.
Challenges you may face: Transplant can be a very intense medical and emotional experience. Donors and recipients may decompensate physically or emotionally. Transplant nurses are often on the front lines of dealing with patients during these difficult times. Depending on your role, the job may require being on call, or working at night.
Median Pay: 63,000
What to expect: If you are looking for adventure and the chance to experience other places, all while getting paid, consider travel nursing. While most travel nursing requires you to learn quickly and be flexible, there are longer term assignments available if you prefer them. While requirements vary, RN’s can work with some agencies with as little as 18 months of experience. Figure out what setting you want to work in (foreign, domestic, urban, rural, etc.) and then choose a travel agency that offers that opportunity.
Challenges you may face: At times you may feel like you aren’t adequately oriented to a new situation. Being able to confidently ask for help when needed is an essential skill. Pay and benefits and shift times can vary widely. It pays to do your homework and compare different agencies. Some agencies may want to deploy you in the context of labor disputes. Make sure to understand an agency’s compensation and expectations before signing up. Make sure you interview them, as much as they interview you.
Median Pay: 67,000
Wound, Ostomy, Continence Nurse
What to expect: as a WOCN, you’ll develop knowledge in a specialized field, and be looked to as the resident expert/practitioner in a given hospital or health agency. Wound, ostomy, and continence care are areas in which excellent nursing care is highly correlated with good outcomes. This work is very practical, and can thus be very rewarding as you see your interventions result in success. This role often involves educating nurses and doctors on the latest developments in the field. Certification as a WOCN is essential for many of these jobs.
Challenges you may face: some patient’s may persist in unhealthy choices and thus inhibit or prevent progress toward health. Some physicians may exhibit resistance to new ways of doing things, and you’ll be ordered to implement less than ideal interventions. You may spend time dealing with wound supply venders and making sure that products are reimbursable by payer sources.
Median Pay: 65,000