Monday, June 11, 2018

Non-Traditional Nursing Careers: Where There Is No Box

Ask just about anyone what a nurse does and where a nurse works, and the general response is, "Oh, she works in a hospital." Apropos of that statement, when I tell someone I'm a nurse, they generally say, "So, do you work at the hospital?" I have nothing against hospital nursing, but there's more to our profession than meets the eye, and many of us are waking up to the multiplicity of non-traditional opportunities just waiting to be grasped by the savvy nurse.

Non-traditional nursing careers are multifaceted, and in this new century many nurses are realizing that they can leverage their skills in myriad ways. Whether it's a non-traditional role within a healthcare setting or as entrepreneurs, nurses are taking the bull by the horns and redefining who a nurse is, what he or she does, and what the identity of "nurse" even means in the first place.

Nurse Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere

If you follow nurses on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Linked In, you'll see that nurse entrepreneurs are everywhere. These nurses embarking on business ventures are coaches, writers, patient advocates, IT consultants, Legal Nurse Consultants, independent Advanced Practice Nurses, Certified Fitness Nurses, Laughter Yoga Leaders, filmmakers, public speakers, among other out-of-the-box roles.

Spending their time in the entrepreneurial space, these nurses constantly hone skills that are not taught in nursing school, including marketing, networking, and writing business plans. Groups like the National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA) promote the entrepreneurial lifestyle for nurses, offering advice, training, and advocacy for nurses who want something more than a life at the bedside. Meanwhile, the incomparable Donna Cardillo, also known as "The Inspiration Nurse", has been teaching her Career Alternatives for Nurses course for years.

Nursing Schools Just Don't Get It

Even today, nursing schools continue to preach the gospel of obtaining those two sacred years of med/surg after graduation (a holy grail that's increasingly and absurdly unrealistic for a large number of new grads). Meanwhile, there are those of us who recognize that even new grads need to begin thinking differently right out of the gate. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, public health, biotech, corrections, and other employers are gaining traction among nurses -- nursing is not just about the hospital anymore.

Don't get me wrong. If a new nurse envisions a career in a highly clinical nursing specialty, he or she should by all means pursue an acute care position right out of the gate. I also admit that not having those first few years of acute care or med/surg can hobble a nurse if his or her career direction changes and those skills are needed. However, skills can always be learned, relearned, or sharpened as necessary.

Personally, I announced at my nursing school graduation in 1996 (as the recipient of the Commencement Award for Clinical Excellence) that I was taking a position at an urban community health center rather than seek a med/surg position at a local hospital. In fact, I said that I didn't even plan to ever work in a hospital if I could help it. My peers and professors said that it was "professional suicide" to go against the grain, but I was gainfully and happily employed as a nurse for 21 years until I chose to become 100% self-employed.

Nursing is what you make it, and some of the schools seem to have no idea that the sands have shifted right under their feet and nurses' breadth and depth of opportunity has expanded beyond their narrow vision.

Let's Broaden Our Vision

Nurses need to simply give up the ghost in terms of the outdated fantasy of what nursing is "supposed" to look like, embracing instead what the profession of nursing truly is in the 21st century.

Courageous and forward-thinking nurses are forging new paths, be they nurse entrepreneurs or nurses who find ways to utilize their skills within the mainstream healthcare sector. Some alternative career paths include:

  • The insurance industry
  • Faith community nursing
  • Nursing informatics
  • Aesthetic nurse specialization
  • Life Care Planning
  • Medical writing

We nurses are on our own when it comes to redefining who we are and what we do. Some of us (like the NNBA referenced above) are beginning to train curious nurses just what is indeed possible in the 21st century.

The vision of nursing needs to broaden, and there's no escaping that the profession is changing. From my perspective, the changes are long overdue and are certainly going to be embraced by an increasing number of nurses who need something more than the usual nursing paradigm.

We don't have to allow the media, the general public, nursing schools and members of the old nursing paradigm to define us. We can define ourselves, thank you.

What kind of nurse do you want to be? Who are you becoming? How do you define what it means to be a nurse? Unlike the nursing boards, every answer to these questions is correct, and no matter which one you choose, you're on the right track.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

As of May of 2018, Keith is the host of Mastering Nursing, an interview-style podcast showcasing inspiring, forward-thinking nurse thought leaders and innovators. 

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George.

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