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Eight Alternative Careers for RNs

Career News August 1, 2013

The occupational outlook for registered nurses (RNs) is positive, especially when it comes to alternative nursing careers. Whether a nurse is a new graduate or a seasoned professional seeking a change in career path, there are dozens of employment opportunities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that occupational growth for RNs between 2010 and 2020 will be twenty-six percent, faster than average. Not all of these nurses will follow a traditional career of hands-on patient care in a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office. Here are eight popular alternative careers for RNs:


When people think of military nurses, they often picture an RN working in a veteran’s hospital. However, the military services offer a number of non-traditional options for nurses. Individuals who aren’t sure that they could easily transition from civilian to military life can become a Reservist while keeping their regular jobs. The Navy Reserve offers a number of alternative opportunities, such as education, manpower system analysis, public health and training management. Eligible Reservists can earn financial incentives or educational loan assistance.


Most medical writers and medical editors are former RNs. Jobs are available both in the public and the private sectors. Some of these individuals edit articles for medical journals. Other RNs work as freelance writers, submitting copy to online publishers for the general public to read. Publishing opportunities also exist on newsletters and other publications from hospitals and non-profit organizations. The American Medical Writers Association maintains a roster of free-lance writers and job opportunities.


Some RNs choose a career in teaching or administration at a college, university or nursing school. The job title might be clinical instructor, assistant professor or administrator. Most positions require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Some RNs enjoy teaching online courses. The American Nurses Association maintains a selection of tools for nurse educators.


Among alternative nursing careers, consulting is a frequent choice. RNs can work as independent consultants for health insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms, nursing homes, hospitals, non-profit organizations and other firms. They perform training, marketing and administrative functions. Sometimes nurses with different interest, team-up to form a consulting practice. For example, one team member might be an RN who provides educational consulting services, while another tweaks proposals for grants. Sometimes consultants work for governmental agencies, such as the State of Michigan, in an oversight capacity.

Human Resources

RNs seeking alternative nursing careers can work in a number of areas of human services, according to the University of Pennsylvania. Typical positions include training specialist, nurse recruiter, benefits administrator, employee assistance nurse and health educator.

Forensics and Legal Consulting

According to the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants, these professionals serve as liaisons between the medical and the legal disciplines as members of a litigation team. These RNs work for hospitals, insurance companies, law firms, consulting firms and government agencies. Most own their own businesses. They work in areas such as personal injury, medical negligence and risk management and come from a variety of clinical backgrounds.

Informational Technology

RNs with an interest in information technology (IT) typically work as a systems trainer, information specialist, consultant or informatics nurse specialist. indicates that individuals can enter the health care IT field from a non-medical IT career or from a clinical background. Work is not limited to implementing or administering electronic coding or billing systems. Healthcare IT professionals often work with medical records software and medical imaging systems.


Universities, teaching hospitals, governmental agencies and other non-profits are the places most likely to offer research positions to RNs. Nurses with strong writing and technical skills might work in various coordinator roles for clinical trials or as research assistants to one of the investigators. The National Institutes of Health hires nurses as research specialists, consultants, nurse specialists in research and clinical nurse scientists.

When it comes to alternative nursing careers, options are limited only by an RN’s creativity. Whether he or she is a newly minted graduate or a professional with decades of experience, there are dozens of career paths available. Knowing about some of the most popular is particularly important for an RN returning after an extended absence from the workforce.

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