Everyone working in the medical profession during the pandemic has faced serious challenges. Nurses, in particular, have been on the front lines through multiple waves of Covid-19. As a result, up to 500,000 nurses are planning to leave the profession by the end of 2022.
But where are they planning to go? Nursing is a highly specialized profession, requiring high levels of training and certification. For many nurses, who have invested time and money into their chosen field, a career change feels unthinkable.
In fact, moving out of nursing and into a new field is more viable than many might expect! During the course of their training and professional lives, nurses acquire high levels of transferable skills. With a little flexibility, it’s perfectly possible to apply those skills to a new career.
If you’re a nurse and you’re considering a career change, this is the guide for you! In this article, we’ll cover the following points:
Even before the pandemic, nursing was known as a demanding profession. It requires grueling physical work and a high level of patient interaction. Depending on the setting, it can also demand long hours and inconsistent shifts – neither of which make for a healthy work-life balance.
The pandemic heaped an immense amount of additional pressure onto nurses. Staff sickness in care settings meant that nursing staff often had to work double or even triple shifts, simply to ensure adequate patient care. What’s more, nurses risked infection with Covid-19 themselves, particularly before vaccinations or antivirals were made available.
High demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) meant that many nurses had to work without adequate protections in place. Understaffing in hospitals and care homes left frontline staff short-handed, unable to provide patients with the care they required. Crucially, nurses’ pay did not increase to reflect these new challenges.
Altogether, working conditions for nurses have become deeply discouraging. Many have lost their prior enthusiasm for their work, and have begun to feel powerless to change their working conditions. And with no clear end to the pandemic in sight, many feel that a career change is their only option.
Until conditions improve, nurses will likely continue to leave the profession.
While it is a highly specialized profession, nursing is not completely self-contained. The skills that nurses learn during training and develop during their working lives can be applied in a wide range of other contexts, too. Here are just a few transferable skills common to nurses:
It might sound like a dispassionate way to describe patient care, but the skills involved are essentially the same. As frontline medical professionals, it’s vital for nurses to know how to assess their patients’ needs, respond to them quickly, and maintain a friendly and supportive demeanor throughout.
The same is true, albeit with significantly lower stakes, for customer service professionals. Being able to appraise a customer’s situation and react to it, all while maintaining a congenial and helpful persona, is critical in any public-facing profession. As a nurse, you may even find customer service relaxing – after all, very few customer service scenarios come down to life-or-death.
For nurses, there is no such thing as a regular work day. There’s always the risk that something unexpected will require your attention, derailing all your plans. As a profession, nursing requires you to be adaptable, especially when the stakes are high.
This is a skill you can foreground on your resume, no matter what career you’d like to move into going forward. Most workplaces appreciate an employee who can adapt to changing circumstances without breaking a sweat. It shows a high capacity for independent thought and problem-solving, which is a necessity in just about any role.
Nursing demands a surprising amount of administrative work. Part of the job involves maintaining up-to-date patient records, to ensure continuity between shifts and care professionals. Even when things are busy, nurses have to make sure they dot their i’s and cross their t’s when it comes to paperwork.
In just about any office-based role, the same is true. Particularly in administration, PA work, or finance, it’s absolutely imperative to leave a clear and consistent paper trail. Knowing how to do that under extreme pressure will give you a competitive edge.
Nurses don’t work in isolation. They have to coordinate patient care with other medical professionals – most significantly, they often have to work alongside doctors. What’s more, maintaining adequate coverage on a shift requires nurses to collaborate effectively with each other.
Most job descriptions will ask for applications from team players, or from people who are open to collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders. It’s a transferable skill in extremely high demand, no matter your field. As a nurse, you will have an abundance of collaborative experience to point to in an interview situation.
You should also keep in mind that, as a nurse, you may have been asked to coach or mentor other nurses working alongside you. If you’re hoping to move into a role with management responsibilities, that experience will also put you in a great position.
If you’re considering a move away from nursing, it’s important to understand what you might want to do instead! As with any career move, it’s crucial to know what you want to get out of your new role, and to understand how it might suit your existing skills and experience.
But to get you started, here are some of the most common second careers for nurses leaving their profession. Whether you’re looking for something similar to nursing, or something completely different, we’re confident that you can find something to suit your hopes and plans!
Average salary: $32,000
Do you love being able to make a meaningful difference to the lives of your patients? If you’re enthusiastic about patient care, but burned out by the high pressures of a hospital or other clinical setting, you may be a great fit for a career in home care.
As a home carer, you will work with elderly or disabled clients to enable them to live independently in their own homes. As a result, the work can be physically demanding, with long hours spent on your feet and an element of heavy lifting. But you will be focused on one client at a time, without the competing demands of a hospital or care home setting.
Having trained as a nurse, you will have a substantial head start on the educational requirements of a career in home care. Most home care roles only require a high-school education, with employers providing certification opportunities and on-the-job training. Fortunately, your nursing experience will stand you in great stead with any home care agency – it will show that you are more than capable of meeting the requirements of the job!
If you’re a compassionate, patient-focused person with patience, stamina and resilience to spare, consider a move into home care. Without the stresses of a highly-trafficked clinical setting, you can return to what appealed to you about nursing in the first place – supporting patients in need of your help.
Working as a pharmaceutical sales representative can be a great way to apply your medical know-how while standing apart from front-line care. If you’re looking for a career with a gentler pace, but one that will still allow you to use what you’ve learned as a nurse, this could be the right move for you.
Pharmaceutical sales reps liaise with healthcare professionals who can prescribe medications. Their aim is to introduce new pharmaceutical products to the market. Having worked as a nurse, you will have the necessary familiarity with medical terminology – as well as the expected standard of communication in clinical settings – to thrive in this role.
You will need to know your products inside-out, applying your well-honed research skills from your time training to become a nurse. You will also need to work collaboratively with the rest of your team, in order to meet sales targets. But given the education needed to become a nurse, you can apply for roles in pharmaceutical sales confident that you’ll be qualified.
A career in pharmaceutical sales will make your medical training worthwhile, without exposing you to the extreme stresses of clinical practice. If that sounds like the right fit for you, why not consider making an application?
Admin might not look like the most natural fit for a former nurse! While nursing is physical, fast-paced and intensely specialized, most admin roles are sedentary, and don’t require specific training or certification. But if you’re hoping to apply some of the organizational skills involved in nursing, while trying out life in a very different work environment, admin could be the best decision you ever make.
Roles in admin are wide-ranging, but the basic skills involved are fairly consistent. Whether you’re a personal assistant, a receptionist, or even a healthcare administrator, you will need a keen eye for detail and a strong ability to manage your own time. Customer service skills are a necessity, as are clerical skills like note-taking, email communication, and familiarity with common IT software.
Fortunately, all these skills are also foundational in nursing. You will have plenty of experience keeping records, completing paperwork, and dealing with competing priorities from day to day. You can also apply your softer interpersonal skills to any administrative role, using them to maintain good and collaborative relationships with your team and any external stakeholders.
If the physical stresses of nursing are beginning to wear on you, a career in administration will allow you to use what you’ve learned in more lateral ways, all while maintaining a more physically restful lifestyle. Consider the field of admin where you might like to specialize, and work from there!
We’ve written elsewhere about getting ready to switch careers at 30. But no matter how old you are, much of that advice still applies! When preparing to apply for jobs in a new field, here are some tips to keep in mind.
This is the first step, and it’s the easiest one – we’ve already listed some of the skills you will have acquired as a nurse! But once you have a new career in mind, it’s useful to re-evaluate your skills and think about how they might apply to your new field. What can you already do that will be useful in the future?
Once you’ve thought about that question, you can build your application around the answer. But it’s also important to consider what you don’t know, and to do what you can to fill any gaps in your knowledge. Look into online training or certifications, if you find yourself lacking a particular skill that’s in high demand in your new industry.
As a nurse, you probably have a substantial network of colleagues and contacts in the medical field. But if you’re looking to move out of that field, you will need to start building a network elsewhere. The right contacts can give you a competitive advantage when searching for a new job, so don’t delay!
Look into online groups relevant to your new industry, whether on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Go along to local meet-ups or relevant events, and introduce yourself to other attendees. Be friendly, respectful and interested in what they have to say, and you could make a connection that may change the course of your career.
Last but by no means least, you will need to build a new resume to match your new career. If you don’t have work experience in your new field, don’t panic! Just make sure your transferable skills and experiences are front and center in your new resume, to show a hiring manager at a glance why you could be the employee they’re looking for.
Make sure you base your new resume on the field you’re looking to enter – your new role will inform what your resume looks like, what it showcases, and what it moves into the background. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our great selection of resume templates! We have one to suit every industry, so you can give yourself a head start in your search for the perfect new career.
Content Writer + Resume Expert
Waverly is a freelance writer, former HR officer and current international traveller. They believe in doing your research, showing up prepared, and bringing your passions with you to work. They've helped countless job seekers create better resumes and cover letters to improve and grow their careers.
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