During the global COVID-19 pandemic, many nurses and other frontline health care professionals suffered from burnout, among other challenges. Now, they’re looking to change gears.
Nurses' concerns during the pandemic included staff shortages, lack of support, moral distress, feeling undervalued, and emotional and physical exhaustion.
As nurses facing burnout in the field consider their next move, there are several career paths they might look into: health educator, social worker, physical therapist, online nurse practitioner, clinical documentation specialist, medical and health service manager, medical scientist, nutritionist, pharmaceutical sales representative, or medical writer.
In general, people join the nursing profession for their compassion and love of helping others. However, even when the world isn’t amid a global pandemic, nursing is a tough job with long hours and plenty of stress. When you throw COVID-19 into the mix, there’s even more risk of nurses facing burnout and mental health issues — leading to the need for a fresh start.
One study shows nearly half of frontline health care workers experienced burnout during the first months of the pandemic, from May to October 2020. Of the specific medical roles questioned in the study, nurses and nursing assistants were among those reporting the most stress, anxiety, and depression.
Another study showed that nurses were likely to suffer from PTSD, with 42% saying they’ve experienced symptoms. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also projects as many as 500,000 experienced nurses will retire by the end of 2022. If you’re ready for a career change — don’t worry, you’re not alone.
How to Know If It’s Time to Change Your Career
It’s not easy leaving a job — especially one that requires as much training and specialized skills as nursing. It’s a difficult decision to make and not always obvious when you should consider an alternative career. However, if you’re facing a stressful work environment, finding a new opportunity could be best for your health.
Below are a few signs to look for when deciding whether you should leave your career as a nurse:
Staff shortages. If your employer is experiencing staffing shortages — and they likely are, as 24% of medical facilities reported nursing staff shortages in early 2022 — then more work will fall on the shoulders of you and your colleagues. Being overworked can lead to burnout.
Lack of support. Working as a nurse during a global pandemic can be stressful. According to one survey, 45% of nurses say they don’t have adequate emotional support.
Moral distress. Ethical dilemmas are prevalent in health care. When overworked, nurses are more likely to be exposed to morally challenging situations, especially when there are more patients to care for than a medical facility might normally see. One study showed that health care workers who cared for COVID-19 patients during the pandemic showed more symptoms of moral distress, including anxiety and depression, than those working with other patients.
Underpaid. While nurses were essential workers during the pandemic, many felt undervalued by their employers. A recent study found that 59% of respondents think nurses are underpaid.
Concern about exposing loved ones. If you have high-risk family members or friends that you’re worried about exposing to COVID-19, this could be a reason to leave the field. One study showed that 76% of health care workers were worried about bringing the virus home to their children, and about half were concerned they could expose their spouse, partner, or older family members.
Emotionally and physically exhausted. Another reason to step away from nursing is if you’re experiencing emotional and physical exhaustion. In one study, 82% of health care workers who responded said they experienced emotional exhaustion during the pandemic, and many also reported physical symptoms and tiredness. Sixty-seven percent of nurses said they were more likely to feel tired after a shift than other medical professionals.
The 10 Most Common Careers to Consider When Leaving the Nursing Field
As you consider your next step after leaving nursing, it’s important to consider how your skills might transfer to other fields. Below are some of the top career options for nurses, whether you’re looking for full-time or part-time work.
1. Health Educator
Health education is a blossoming field that’s expected to grow by 17% from 2020 to 2030. In this role, public health educators teach and promote wellness to community members.
People in this career often host events and programming on various health-related issues. You might work for government agencies, nonprofit groups, community organizations, hospital settings, medical facilities, religious institutions, nursing homes, and more. Meanwhile, a nurse educator teaches other nurses.
Health education specialists usually need a bachelor’s degree in health education, but many employers will accept majors in other health care-related fields, such as a bachelor of science in nursing.
2. Social Worker
Social work is another field where nurses can make an easy transition. Both positions focus on helping others, requiring a lot of empathy. At some medical facilities, both social workers and nurses might be used as acute care case managers who are cross-trained in certain tasks (like discharge planning). Being quick on your feet and having strong problem-solving skills are important in both roles.
The employment of social workers is expected to jump 12% by 2030. Social worker licensing requirements vary by state, and most need a bachelor’s or master’s degree to work in the field. Meanwhile, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree, supervised clinical experience, and a state license.
3. Physical Therapist
As a nurse, you likely have the medical know-how to succeed as a physical therapist and carry years of experience working with patients. Both roles require patience, empathy, and good communication.
Physical therapy is a fast-growing field, with the number of jobs available expected to increase by 21% by 2030. While a nursing school background helps, a doctorate in physical therapy is required to join the profession. You’ll also need to pass a state licensure exam.
4. Medical and Health Service Manager
Since experienced nurses are already familiar with how hospitals and other medical facilities operate, becoming a medical and health services manager should be an easy transition. In this health care administration position, you’ll work less with patients and focus more on the business activities of the health care provider employing you and their dealings with insurance companies.
It’s a growing field that’s expected to see a 32% jump in job openings by 2030. At least a bachelor’s degree is required to become a medical and health services manager, and nursing is a common degree for those who enter this field. Some employers and certain positions might require a graduate degree, as well.
5. Online Nurse Practitioner
For anyone interested in becoming a nurse practitioner, the first step is to become a registered nurse. Nurse practitioners coordinate patient care (both primary care and specialty services).
Becoming a nurse practitioner is a natural evolution for nurses looking to change careers. A graduate degree is required, so you’ll need to earn a master’s degree to move forward if you haven’t already.
Significant growth is expected for this career path. Nurse practitioner employment is projected to increase by 45% by 2030. Post-COVID, the demand for telehealth services remains strong. The demand is about 32 times higher than before the pandemic, meaning there should be significant career opportunities for online nurse practitioners.
6. Clinical Documentation Specialist
A clinical documentation specialist is a registered nurse who manages and assesses a patient’s medical records and health information. They review the diagnosis codes in these records and ensure they correctly reflect a patient’s diagnosis. It’s a natural next step for a nurse looking to shift gears.
This role requires a bachelor’s degree and nursing license. Employers usually expect those in this role to have two to five years of nursing experience.
7. Medical Writer
Medical writers create print or digital articles and other materials related to medical and health care fields. This is a natural step for nurses seeking a new career path. You also need to be a strong writer.
Medical writing is a skill that’s in demand. Employment for medical and other technical writers is expected to increase by 8% by 2028.
8. Pharmaceutical Sales
Though you don’t typically need a medical background to launch a successful career in pharmaceutical sales, moving into the industry from a nursing job will give you an advantage. Understanding medical and pharmaceutical terms from your first-hand experience will only give you a leg up. You’ll also need strong networking, interpersonal, and communication skills to excel as a sales rep.
Most entry-level medical or pharmaceutical sales representative positions call for a business or science background and a bachelor’s degree.
Becoming a nutritionist is a natural fit for nurses interested in educating people about their diet and how it affects their health and wellness. The Nurse Nutritionist Certification Board, an affiliate of the Nutrition Certification Board, makes it easy.
The board offers certification to licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses who have valid state licenses and want to become nutrition coaches. The educational requirements for this program include 60 credits in intermediate or advanced nutrition, an additional 30 credits in coaching, and a 500-hour internship.
10. Medical Scientist
Medical scientists research and test everything from medical theories and the root causes of diseases to treatments, devices, and pharmaceutical drugs. They typically work in health care facilities or laboratories.
A nursing degree is a good first step in this field, as it gives you a base understanding for the role. Most medical scientists have a Ph.D., generally in biology or similar science. Employment for medical scientists is anticipated to grow 17% by 2030.
Are You Looking to Change Careers? Joblist Can Help
If you’re burned out on your nursing career and looking for a new job, Joblist can help you discover new fields to consider. Our platform personalizes your job search, uniquely tailoring it to your skills, experiences, and interests.