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Seven alternative careers for nurses

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Whether you’re thinking of applying for a nursing degree or working towards one and considering your career options, did you know there are plenty of other job opportunities outside the traditional hospital setting? While many of our graduates do end up working on hospital wards, a career in nursing isn’t limited to this, and there are several other alternative jobs for nurses you might want to pursue.

Here, we’re exploring just a few alternative careers for nurses you might not already be aware of.

Two student nurses taking part in an arm simulation

1. School nurse

If you’re looking into alternative nursing jobs and think you’d enjoy working with school-aged children, you could consider becoming a school nurse. School nurses are specialist community public health nurses – these are nurses registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) who’ve taken on additional training and qualifications – and can be employed by the NHS, but also by private healthcare companies, local authorities, or charities.

A school nurse uses their skills and knowledge to determine the health needs of children, whether physical or mental, and tries to prevent problems developing early. They also raise awareness of various health issues such as smoking and drugs, promote healthy living, give vaccinations, and support children and young people who have long-term health problems. If you become a school nurse, you get to work with different groups of people including school staff, social workers, GPs, and health visitors. There are also opportunities to progress your career and move into more managerial and leadership roles if you choose to.

2. Cruise ship nurse

An exciting and alternative career for nurses you might not know about is working as a nurse on a cruise ship. As it can be difficult for boats or helicopters to reach them quickly, there’s a need for a team of nurses onboard ships to provide emergency medical care and basic first aid to passengers and crew members. Cruise ships can host a range of medical facilities from smaller walk-in clinics to fully equipped labs, and no two days on the job will be the same – one day you could be treating sunburn, and the next dealing with a cardiac arrest.

Being a cruise ship nurse is very different to other types of nursing. Although it means you get to travel the world, it’s fast-paced, shift patterns can be variable, and you may be expected to be on call after hours. You’d also be away for weeks or months at a time, however, this would also mean having plenty of long periods spent at home. As well as being a registered nurse, you may need further specialised training, plus basic life support (BLS) and advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS) certification.

3. Military nurse

Another alternative nursing job you could pursue is to become a military nurse. Military nurses provide medical care to soldiers and civilians in a wide range of locations and settings, and like a cruise ship nurse, have the chance to travel if they want to (although there are UK-based jobs available too). If you already have a nursing degree and are registered with the NMC, you can join the army as either an officer or a soldier. Both allow you to put your clinical skills into practice, but soldiers follow a regular nursing pathway, whereas officers take on additional management responsibilities alongside nursing.

Full training is provided when you join, and there’s ample opportunity to continue your professional development or engage in further study, funded by the army. You can also choose to specialise in certain areas such as emergency nursing, critical care, trauma and orthopaedics, and many more.

"For as long as I can remember, I’d always been interested in becoming a surgical nurse, having looked up to nurses and the care they give people. Before I graduated, I secured a job within plastic and reconstruction surgery at the RVI in Newcastle. Becoming a surgical nurse is such an incredible opportunity. The confidence I gained from studying at Sunderland has been life changing."

Amy Conway
BSc (Hons) Adult Nursing Practice graduate

4. Aesthetic nurse

Aesthetic nurses, or cosmetic nurses, specialise in non-surgical cosmetic treatments such as Botox, chemical peels, and dermal fillers, usually working in private or aesthetic clinics. It’s an alternative nursing career that’s become an increasingly popular choice over recent years and demand in the UK for aesthetic nurses is growing. The role involves working alongside surgeons and dermatologists with patients who wish to alter their appearance – assessing their needs, developing treatment plans, educating them on the benefits and risks of procedures, administering non-surgical treatments, and providing after-care advice.

Becoming an aesthetic nurse can offer high levels of job satisfaction as you’re boosting patients’ self-confidence, and compared to some other nursing roles, can offer more flexibility, as many are self-employed. As well as your nursing degree and NMC registration, it’s beneficial to gain more experience first to enhance your skillset, and you might need further training in aesthetics. Once you’re qualified though, there are lots of development prospects, as cosmetic nurses are expected to keep up to date with the latest industry trends and treatments.

5. Nursing lecturer

You’ve probably noticed that many of your university lecturers used to be nurses themselves. Some registered nurses choose to move into Further or Higher Education later in their career, but becoming a nursing lecturer is a viable job option at any point after gaining your undergraduate nursing degree. If passing on your knowledge and skills to the next generation of nurses sounds like something you’d enjoy, becoming a lecturer could be the perfect alternative nursing job for you.

Lecturers possess many of the same qualities as a nurse; a desire to help others, excellent communication and organisation skills, and of course, a thorough knowledge of their subject. Becoming a nursing lecturer will enable you to change the lives of many people, as your teaching will have a positive impact on students, and therefore future patients. As well as your degree, you’ll need to have completed or be working towards a postgraduate qualification, and you’d also be expected to complete a teaching qualification once you’ve started in your lecturing role.

6. Nurse researcher

Nurse research might be a great alternative nursing career for you if you’re interested in studying data and conducting scientific research in various areas of healthcare. Research is essential – as proven by the COVID-19 pandemic – and aims to tackle global health problems and improve future treatments, so becoming a nurse researcher would mean playing a valuable role in saving thousands of lives.

Nurse researchers typically work in laboratories, universities, or similar organisations, and as part of the research team, are usually responsible for recruiting participants to clinical trials and offering them support throughout. They administer medication, collect and record data, and ensure all participants are safe and cared for during trials. To become a nurse researcher, you must be registered with the NMC and have some clinical experience, and there’s the chance to progress your career further if you decide to.

7. Sexual health nurse

Sexual health nurses provide care for a diverse range of patients – from many different social and cultural backgrounds – who have sexual health and contraceptive needs. Usually employed by the NHS, sexual health nurses are responsible for assessing patients’ needs to offer the most appropriate care and advice, providing relevant screening and testing for sexually transmitted infections, promoting safe sex and educating people about their health, and fitting or administering various methods of contraception.

If you’re looking for alternative jobs for nurses that offer variation, the chance to work with lots of different people, and clear progression opportunities through the NHS bands, becoming a sexual health nurse could be an excellent career choice for you.


Find out more about what you can do with a nursing degree, explore our Nursing and Midwifery subject area, or book onto one of our Open Days to find out more about our fantastic courses.

Published: 31 May 2024