If you're a registered nurse (RN), you may be wondering whether you still have the desire to provide one-on-one patient care in a hospital or clinic environment for the rest of your career. Others can find that the first year or two of hands-on practice just may not feel right. What are your options if you aren't sure a traditional nursing career is right for you? Read on to learn more about some unconventional career paths and unique locations for those who have recently earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
For those who enjoy travel:
Nurses who like traveling both domestically and internationally and who don't mind the "on call" lifestyle may want to look into a nonprofit international medical program like Doctors Without Borders. These types of organizations employ doctors, nurses and other trained medical personnel and dispatch them to various locations around the globe to provide free or low-cost services to those in need. This could be an entire metropolitan area with citizens who are suffering the aftermath of an earthquake or tsunami or an isolated community without regular access to medical care.
These programs are often funded by grants or private donors, allowing you to earn a fair wage while caring for some of the world's most underserved people. Those who are still repaying student loans may also find some relief by pursuing employment with a nonprofit international nursing program -- either through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program for federal student loans or a private loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) for other loans.
For those who enjoy research and writing:
Nurses with more interest in the "whys" and "hows" of illness than in providing hands-on patient care may find that a position as Nurse Researcher (NR) can be both professionally and financially rewarding. An NR is responsible for conducting scientific research that can impact patient care -- from formulating hypotheses and designing studies to collecting tissue or fluid samples from patients to use as data points.
You'll need to be able to clearly communicate your findings in writing in a way that's comprehensible both to high-level scientists and the general public. Most NR positions will require at least a Master of Science in Nursing, although many employers will provide some reimbursement for courses if you pursue this education while remaining employed there.
Most full-time NR positions are funded by grants, which can sometimes mean changing jobs or projects every few years as funding sources shift. However, NRs can have a great deal of professional freedom to choose when and where they work, making this a good position for those who aren't drawn to the long shifts inherent with many patient care-centered positions.
Others who want to have a direct impact on patients while fulfilling a desire to research and write may want to consider going to law school. Although the employment market for new attorneys is weaker than it has been during previous generations, those who enter law school with a nursing background can have a competitive advantage in the personal injury and medical malpractice litigation fields. You may also find that your nursing knowledge helps you when prosecuting violent crimes, as you'll already have plenty of experience in explaining complex medical jargon to a group of laypeople.
For those who want to make healthcare accessible to all Americans:
Those with a desire to serve a historically underserved population -- but who don't want to leave the U.S. to do it -- may want to investigate employment in parts of rural Appalachia or other areas where demand for physicians has led nurse practitioners (NPs)to fill the void.
Because many parts of Appalachia are fairly remote and many citizens are too poor to afford their own vehicles, a relative lack of primary care physicians has made healthcare inaccessible to entire counties. A single nurse practitioner in one of these underserved areas is able to perform physical examinations, prescribe and administer medication, stitch wounds, and even arrange for admission to a nearby hospital for those who need more extensive medical attention.
One national organization that helps place nurses and other trained professionals in areas in need is Americorps, although there are a number of private organizations that perform similar services. As with international nursing programs, you'll likely qualify for some federal or private student loan relief and potentially even tax benefits during the time you're actively working for a domestic nursing organization.