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Beyond the Bedside: 15 Non-Clinical Jobs for Nurses

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Clinical nursing is one of the most rewarding professions. Bedside nurses make a demonstrable difference in the lives of patients at every stage of life, in sickness and in health. It’s also one of the most challenging professions for several reasons. For example, there are significant nurse shortages around the U.S., and nurses shoulder higher workloads than ever before. New technologies and changing patient expectations are increasing mental demands on nurses. And RNs routinely have to deal with fear, stress, and resource challenges. Bedside nurses, in particular, may spend long hours on their feet in unpredictable environments.

For some nurses, the intensity of clinical work is part of what makes it so fulfilling. For others, this intensity can lead to burnout that takes a toll on job engagement, job satisfaction, and overall quality of life. That’s why it’s so important that all registered nurses understand that bedside work isn’t the only option. There are many non-clinical jobs for nurses with the right skills and credentials, and the scope of those roles is expanding. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects nursing employment to grow 9% over the next several years, and many new positions employers create will be non-clinical nursing jobs in medicine or roles for nurses outside of health care.

If you’ve ever questioned whether clinical nursing is the right path for you, it makes sense to research your alternatives and the education you’ll need to transition into non-clinical roles. Some non-clinical nursing jobs are open to RNs with associate’s degrees or BSNs, but many of the career paths in this guide require advanced credentials such as the University of Michigan’s Online Master of Science in Nursing Leadership, Analytics, and Innovation.

What Is Non-Clinical Nursing?

Non-clinical nursing jobs are roles that do not primarily involve observing, treating, or even interacting with patients. Nurses’ responsibilities in non-clinical roles vary by work environment and job title.

In health care environments such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, non-clinical nurses may do administrative work that supports patient care. Some nurses become departmental managers, overseeing nursing operations. Others work in case management or insurance. In academic environments, RNs educate the next generation of nursing professionals and conduct research. In legal and law enforcement environments, nurses in non-clinical roles keep the wheels of justice moving by providing expert medical testimony, supporting criminal investigations, and advocating for victims. In government agencies and non-profit environments, nurses tackle public health challenges and develop policy.

Working in a non-clinical nursing job doesn’t necessarily mean never caring for patients. Some nurses are happiest doing a mix of clinical and non-clinical work, and there are career pathways for RNs that combine the two. Nurses in some administrative roles, for example, may step in to provide or consultant on patient care when necessary.

How Do You Become a Non-Clinical Nurse?

Because there are numerous categories of non-clinical nursing jobs, there’s no single advancement pathway in non-clinical nursing. Certification, education, and work experience requirements vary significantly from role to role. Nurses fresh out of associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree programs are less likely to work in non-clinical roles, however. Many employers prefer to promote nurses with both medical expertise and an understanding of what it takes to keep health care facilities up and running. Consequently, non-clinical jobs in nursing often go to licensed RNs with clinical experience and advanced education.

There are non-clinical nursing master’s degree programs specifically designed to help nurses gain the skills necessary to transition into more senior non-clinical roles. The University of Michigan’s Online MSN prepares experienced nurses to step into roles in medical administration, advocacy, research, education, informatics, and public health. Graduates can also step into a growing number of leadership roles in nursing and health care.

15 Non-Clinical Nursing Jobs

The list of non-clinical jobs for nurses is expansive and doesn’t begin and end with the roles below.

Case Manager

Nurse case managers coordinate elements of patient care with physicians and other staff members — often in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, home care systems, and specialty facilities that work with patients whose chronic illnesses require complex coordinated care. Their efforts reduce costs, decrease readmission rates, and improve the quality of patient care in various health care systems.

Many nurse case managers have at least two years of direct patient care experience plus an MSN and, in some cases, certifications related to case management. According to the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC), 98% of RN case managers also have years of experience in hospital case management, managed care, and care transitions.

Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses work in the criminal justice system — often as part of medical examiners’ and coroners’ offices — and may participate in investigations related to assault, abuse, neglect, sexual crimes, and murder. Some present medical evidence in courtroom settings, serving as expert witnesses. Others work with patients in ways that don’t involve providing care (e.g., documenting injuries or collecting tissue samples). It’s not unusual for forensic nurses to do part-time nursing care work in private practices or hospitals and on-call investigative work for local law enforcement agencies or victim-focused non-profit organizations. In this specialty, nurses can explore non-clinical work without leaving the bedside.

Health Care Risk Manager

Risk managers in nursing are responsible for developing processes and policies that minimize accidents, errors, and other issues that could prompt malpractice suits or governmental investigations. They may also design and organize safety and compliance training for providers and other staff members and develop metrics for measuring patient satisfaction and safety.

These non-clinical nursing professionals need a thorough understanding of the rules and regulations that govern health care operations as well as the potential liabilities health care facilities face. Many risk management RNs have master’s degrees in addition to clinical and management experience.

Human Resources Manager

Medical recruitment, staffing, and onboarding are already very different from human resources management in other industries. Staffing issues plague nursing, and these issues have a significant impact on patient safety and mortality. Research suggests nurses with leadership and administrative skills may be uniquely qualified to address staffing issues. They know how to match clinical skill sets to job openings and how significantly staffing impacts facility safety, practitioner wellbeing, patient satisfaction, and patient outcomes. That’s why nurses who want to improve patient care and the patient experience in a non-clinical capacity are often attracted to HR positions. In human resources management, they can oversee nurse staffing, physician staffing, recruiting, and training.

This non-clinical nursing specialty lets nurses utilize their expertise as part of the judicial system. Legal nurse consultants, or LNCs, assist in medical-legal cases (e.g., personal injury suits), review claims for insurance companies, and audit records for health care facilities. Sometimes the work of legal nurse consultants overlaps with that of forensic nurses or risk managers. Because it is a legal nurse consultant’s medical expertise that makes them valuable in courts and other legal settings, most have five or more years of clinical experience. The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants also provides an avenue of certification for experienced LNCs who want additional credentials.

Medical Writer

Nurse writers work in academia, clinical settings, insurance, and clinically adjacent fields such as pharmaceutical development and medical device manufacturing. They create and edit content for textbooks, training manuals, medical documentation, research summaries, and health education materials for providers and the general public. Employers in and out of medicine hire nurse writers versus generalists because nurses can create content that is medically accurate and adheres to regulatory standards. Registered nurses who become medical writers often have BSNs but may also have master’s degrees or additional training in communications.

Nurse Administrator/Nurse Manager

The overarching goal of nursing administration is to provide the highest quality patient care with the available resources — and to represent the needs of nursing departments in strategic decision-making. Nurse managers combine clinical experience with management skills to oversee operations, personnel management, budgets, and staffing in nursing departments. Some nurse leaders spend their days managing other nurses while others do more operational administration. Earning an MSN from U-M School of Nursing can help you transition from informal nursing leadership into formal nurse leader roles such as nursing director, nurse executive, health care team lead, clinical lead, health services lead, and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO).

Nurse Educator

These professionals are licensed RNs who share their significant patient care experience in academic settings. They are responsible for educating nursing students in hospital- and university-based associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree programs, as well as in continuing education courses. Nurse educators must have a thorough understanding of the clinical fundamentals of nursing as well as the regulations that govern nursing practice in a variety of settings. Their day-to-day responsibilities include not only teaching but also developing curricula, advising student nurses, assessing student progress, and conducting research. University of Michigan online MSN candidates can pursue an optional Certificate in Nursing Education while enrolled.

Nurse Ethicist

This relatively new non-clinical nursing role lets RNs become ethical guides for health care providers, facilities, and networks. They work closely with physicians, nurses, and patients to help them navigate challenging medical decisions without violating ethical standards. They may also step in to consult on cases involving potentially dangerous treatments, end-of-life decisions, and disagreements between providers and patients. There’s not yet a standard path that leads to careers in nursing ethics. Still, most nurse ethicists have many years of clinical experience, advanced degrees, and professional backgrounds that include work in challenging subfields of medicine like hospice care or oncology.

Nurse Informaticist

Nursing informatics attracts nurses who want to enhance health care for patients and providers. These are the data scientists of the nursing world, equipped to analyze information related to operations, costs, and patient care. Informatics is an advanced nursing subfield that requires specialized training. Nurse informaticists tend to have strong computer skills, statistics skills, and even programming skills. Most master’s in nursing programs offer analytics as a concentration option or nursing informatics courses as electives. U-M’s Online Master of Science in Nursing in Leadership, Analytics, and Innovation program includes informatics in the core curriculum, and students can pursue an optional ​​Certificate in Health Informatics.

Occupational Health Nurse

Occupational health nurses create and implement health and safety programs that prevent illness, injury, and death in dangerous working environments. They may also conduct audits to ensure that hazardous workplaces are compliant with safety regulations. They often work in factories, mines, industrial settings, the military, and government agencies. The hazards these non-clinical nurses address in their work include disease transmission, poisoning, injuries caused by heavy equipment, and injuries caused by misuse or non-use of safety equipment. The goal of occupational health nursing is to ensure that professionals who do potentially hazardous or deadly work remain as safe and as healthy as possible, preventing or reducing disability claims, on-the-job injury claims, and absenteeism. MSN candidates at the University of Michigan can select the Occupational Health Nursing concentration when enrolling in the Leadership, Analytics, and Innovation program.

Patient Advocate

Advocacy has always been part of nursing. The American Nurses Association (ANA) even includes advocacy in its definition of nursing: “Nursing is the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, facilitation of healing, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations.”

Nurses who work as patient advocates serve as a liaison between patients and health care providers, facilities, and networks, facilitating communication in all directions. Their responsibilities include outlining the benefits of specific treatments or explaining patient rights, privacy regulations, and payment options to patients and their families on behalf of medical organizations. They may also represent the interests of patients in discussions or disputes with facilities, insurers, and pharmaceutical companies.

Public Health Nurse

Clinical nurses focus on one patient at a time, while public health nurses care for the health of entire populations. They often work for government agencies, researching widespread health challenges and possible solutions. Some develop and oversee community health education programs or public health initiatives. Others write grant proposals, conduct population research, evaluate the progress of social programs, and lobby for more effective public health outreach. Because the master’s is an entry-level degree in public health, many public health nurses have graduate degrees in nursing, health policy, or public health.

Quality Improvement Coordinator

Quality improvement coordinators manage health care teams with the express goal of developing care standards and improving and maintaining care quality. Nurses in this role monitor data related to departmental activities to track costs, efficiency, patient satisfaction, and other quantifiable metrics. Many clinical nurses who transition into this role have academic and professional backgrounds in nursing management, and some QI coordinators have specialized training in nursing informatics or data analytics.

Research Nurse

Nurses in research collaborate with scientists in various fields (e.g., pharmaceutical development and bioinformatics) and settings (e.g., research laboratories, universities, and medical device manufacturing) to create new medicines, treatments, and procedures. Research nurses have numerous responsibilities. For example, they assist in the creation of studies, collect data in clinical trials, serve as compliance monitors, and report research findings. Nurse researchers typically have a graduate degree in addition to clinical experience, and it’s not unusual for nurses to transition into this non-clinical specialty later in their careers.

Deciding If This Is the Right Time to Transition Into a Non-Clinical Nursing Job

Bedside nursing is rewarding, and many clinical nurses report being “highly satisfied” with the path they’ve chosen. At the same time, 43% of nurses in hospitals and 37% of nurses in nursing homes report symptoms of burnout, and nurse turnover rates are alarmingly high. If you’re feeling the effects of long hours, short staffing, and high nurse-to-patient ratios, you may be motivated to seek out a different kind of health care career.

You’re not alone in exploring this career trajectory. Nurses who leave bedside positions often transition away from clinical patient care because they want more regular hours, less stress, or a consistent work-life balance. Some RNs thrive in clinical environments. Others flourish in administration, education, management, or research.

Whether this is the right time for a career pivot — a professional change related to your first career — is something only you can determine. If you do decide to look for opportunities in non-clinical areas of health care, you’ll be in good company. According to one U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, adults change jobs about 12 times in their professional lives. While shifting directions in your nursing career can be an overwhelming prospect, taking a step-by-step approach can ease some of the pressure you feel. Exploring graduate education is an excellent place to start. Earning a non-clinical MSN such as U-M School of Nursing’s Master of Science in Nursing in Leadership, Analytics, and Innovation will streamline your transition from clinical to non-clinical nursing, give you more freedom to be choosy about job opportunities, and prepare you to join the ranks of nurse leaders and health care influencers.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Nursing in Leadership, Analytics, and Innovation program admissions requirements and tuition, graduate financial aid, or the remote student experience by registering for an upcoming online event on the School of Nursing website. When you’re ready, apply using the NursingCAS application.