Alternative careers for healthcare professionals

April 27, 2021

Lindsay Caplan

Avoiding burnout in healthcare occupations 

Burnout can be defined, in the healthcare field, as compassion fatigue. It can take a large physical and mental toll on nurses, physicians, and other professionals who provide patient care or work in emergency situations. 

Signs of burnout can manifest in fatigue, feelings of dread, feeling overworked and underappreciated. This often occurs when nurses are constantly in high stress environments, providing emotional support and giving all of themselves to others without taking the time to care for themselves.  

Secondary traumatic stress is another form of burnout. Especially in the midst of the pandemic, the burnout rate in healthcare has significantly increased due to the emotional toll that being on the front lines has taken on those involved. 

According to the National Academy of Medicine, at least 50% of caretakers across medical fields report symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion, cynicism, lack of motivation, and low sense of accomplishment. This can lead to a decline in overall mental health, poor performance, medical mistakes, high turnover rates, and potentially life altering consequences.  

Precautions can be taken to avoid burnout or to address it in its early stages. Improving schedules, with shift lengths of no longer than 9 hours, can be beneficial for a healthy, balanced life with time and energy left for loved ones and external activities. Taking advantage of vacation days helps in getting some separation from the job. It is also important to seek out support to vent frustrations and discuss challenges, so that they can be worked through with peers or a therapist before they get too severe, or start to affect other aspects of your life.  

Your transferable skills

But, stay calm if you’ve gotten to the point where nursing is no longer for you. Throughout your nursing career, you have learned vital transferable skills that can be utilized for success in a variety of different fields. Some of these skills include:  

Effective listening

Effective listening is actively absorbing the information given to you by a speaker, demonstrating interest, and providing feedback to the speaker so that they know the message was received. Nurses demonstrate this to create trustworthy relationships, keeping the best interests of their patients and families at heart.

Communication

Communication in nursing defines the exchange of information, thoughts and feelings via the use of speech or other means like gestures. The nurse is able to pick up on verbal or nonverbal communication due to their understanding of body language. The patient conveys their fears and concerns to their nurse to help them make a correct diagnosis and to communicate how they are feeling about their treatment plan. The nurse also uses communication to ensure that the patient understands their specific situation and care plan.  

Empathy and compassion

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is the capacity to feel what another person is going through, and to share their emotions and feelings. It involves recognizing and validating their feelings, including fear and anxiety. Compassion is similar but specifically involves making patients more comfortable when they are in pain or suffering from stress. Nurses have a wide depth of emotional intelligence that benefits them not only in the workforce, but in their personal lives.

Clinical health knowledge

Clinical health knowledge encompasses the medical and practical knowledge gained by studying the field and working in a healthcare setting. This can be procedural, anatomical, or disease related. Knowledge in this field is very specific, as it requires specific studying, and is highly sought after.  

Multitasking and time management

Nurses are constantly balancing multiple patients, obligations, and requests, all of equal importance and equal urgency. They have to decide which situations require immediate attention and set their own schedules for rounds to ensure that everyone is cared for, all while staying on track and handling additional requests that may arise. It may seem overwhelming at first, but eventually becomes routine and develops their ability to handle anything that arises.

Problem solving and adaptability

Sometimes, situations arise that have never been seen before and that baffle medical staff.  Nurses are trained to come up with responses to these difficult scenarios, using critical thinking and identifying both the cause of the problem as well as potential solutions. These solutions may not always work the first time. They even may require different methods than the nurse is used to using. This is where adaptability comes in. Nurses develop the ability to make quick, efficient adjustments to new situations.  

Teamwork

While nurses may address patients individually, they never work by themselves. Nurses work with a team of healthcare professionals, including other nurses, doctors, and medical assistants. They are able to easily work with others by communicating, delegating responsibilities, collaboratively solving problems, or asking for and giving help as needed.  

Professionalism and cultural awareness

Nurses are held to a certain standard of professional character and self representation that shines a positive light on the hospital and makes patients feel comfortable and trusting in those caring for them. They provide top-quality care to patients while remaining accountable, respectful, and maintaining integrity. Regardless of what situation arises, or how they are spoken to by patients, they carry themselves in the best possible manner. Part of professionalism is also cultural awareness, or being mindful and having knowledge of other cultures and how that may affect the way patients behave or view medicine.  

Strong work ethic

Nurses are some of the hardest workers out there, caring for their patients tirelessly and ensuring that each task is completed to the best of their abilities. They are constantly attentive in their assessments, and believe in the cause that they are working for. They leave no job undone, and never shy away from a challenge. This is a skill that serves well in all aspects of life, especially other careers.  

Documentation and attention to detail

Nursing documentation is the record of nursing care that is planned and delivered to clients by nurses or caregivers. Everything is documented, either electronically or on paper, from the time that vitals are taken to the medications that are administered and the overall well being of the patient. This, combined with acute attention to detail, ensures that no steps are missed in the plan of care and that a specific procedure is followed each time. It also includes catching any mistakes and checking the work of others.

What other fields can these skills be used in?    

1. Clinical nurse educator  

Clinical nurse educators are the individuals who you most likely learned from in nursing school, whether it be in a classroom, clinical, or laboratory setting. They are responsible for training and development duties in healthcare facilities and in schools. They focus on ensuring that nurses have the skills and training to succeed in their individual units, often formulating plans on how to implement this training of their own volition.

They possess the skills of keeping track of many moving parts, building relationships with those they work with by connecting and relating on a personal level, performing research on changing rules and regulations, and mentoring others. Sometimes, these professionals choose to practice nursing a few days a week on the side; in other cases, they are nurses who find more joy in educating or those who are retired from the position.  

2. Teacher 

Similar to the role of a clinical nurse educator although slightly less specific, the skill of multitasking and addressing different needs simultaneously can serve you well in any classroom setting, especially one with young children or those with special needs. This involves recognizing which cases are the most urgent and need the most time, yet still managing to divide the time evenly. Teachers possess the skills necessary to instruct others, which closely compares to the daily nursing duties of explaining treatment regimens, medical procedures, and answering questions.    

3. Analyst  

The problem solving skill can be easily transferred to the role of an analyst, as analytical and problem-solving skills needed to interpret situations to come up with alternate solutions are essential for both roles. This can come in the form of data analysis, market research analysis, operations research analysis, or financial analysis. The wide range allows these professionals to work either on their own schedule or for a larger firm in any area that they have previous experience in, or that may interest them.  

4. Social worker

Social workers help clients handle everyday problems. They often assist those who are dealing with neglect, abuse, domestic violence, mental health problems, and substance abuse. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. The experience dealing with those suffering from similar issues in a hospital setting, as well as the empathy and communication skills, make former nurses the perfect candidates for this role.  

5. Caregiver, also referred to as caretaker  

While caregiving or caretaking is similar to nursing, it is on a more personal level at a smaller scale. One example of this is a caretaker at a retirement home, where different adults need different levels of care and specific approaches to best match their needs and ways of life. Another example is a personal caretaker for either children or adults with disabilities or special needs who may need specific care and assistance to live their lives as capably and independently as possible. It could also simply be for children, who need looking after while their parents are fulfilling other obligations, in the form of a nanny. The skills of caring for others are easily transferable, with or without the medical aspect.  

6. Human resources manager  

Nurses are skilled in following procedures and documenting processes, which is an important skill in human resource management to ensure compliance with regulations, including the documentation of all interactions. There is an aspect of communication involved in this role, as well as mediation if conflict resolution is imminent. Ultimately, nurses chose nursing as a career because they had the best interests of their patients at heart; that mindset can easily be transferred to the employees that they work for and represent.  

7. Customer service representative  

Speaking with patients daily is, inherently, a form of customer service. It requires listening skills, empathy, and knowledge of human psychology to interpret situations and to decide on the most effective way to communicate with each specific case. Examples of a customer service role include that of an office manager, executive assistant, personal assistant, or front desk representative for any company. And, best of all, there is always a demand for roles of this nature, as they have a somewhat high turnover rate and can be found in most businesses.  

8. Medical biller  

While still in the healthcare field, it is a departure from the caregiving role of traditional nursing. Medical billers collect payment from patients and insurance companies. Using health codes, they draft bills and send them out to the relevant parties. They also keep track of the finances on both sides, insurance and patients. A background in medical services can be beneficial in submitting the accurate codes for payment, as well as knowing what each service is, and having the ability to communicate effectively.  

9. Health writer  

Health writers apply their knowledge of the medical field to create publications about various topics in healthcare, ranging from health magazine articles to newsletters to information pamphlets for patients that they receive at their doctor’s office. Their knowledge of these specific topics and their communication skills can provide insight on how best to convey information in a written manner.  

10. Nutritionist  

This next field has aspects rooted in traditional nursing, where there is a focus on improving the overall health of a patient by making healthy choices for their whole body. Nurses are aware of medication interactions and which diet choices can benefit patients based on their specific case. The role of a nutritionist is to advise patients on how to improve their health through nutrition. This can be in extreme cases like severe eating disorders, or other situations including a professional athlete looking to up their game by fueling their body, or an individual looking to lose weight in a healthy way.   

11. Health service administrator  

Health service administrators work behind the scenes at hospitals or medical facilities. They fulfill a similar role to that of an office manager, managing day-to-day operations and overseeing the hiring process. A background in health is usually a requirement to have a deeper understanding of the workings of the practice. Depending on their place of work, they can also be involved in advising on policies and processes. Overall, they are the glue that holds medical facilities together, and are essential to the functioning of every hospital. 

12. Researcher 

This is a much more general field, but one that there is always a need for. Research can consist of 2 different branches – clinical and laboratory research. The laboratory side is the person that you generally think of when you see the word research – someone with a white lab coat studying genomes under a microscope and performing PCR tests or other experiments. Clinical research consists of conducting trials on a group of people, such as trials to test the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. A background in science and medicine is essential for progression in this role, and research itself is vital to the development of treatment and diagnosis of illness.  

13. Medical sales executive

Medical sales executives work with medical products, supply companies, and the medical professionals who are their customers. They educate these professionals on the use of different items and keep them informed about new technologies that may be used to better their practices in terms of efficacy and efficiency. They are able to answer questions about products, offer training on medical products, and introduce, based on their knowledge of the field, products to best suit individual professionals. They are knowledgeable, highly regarded and trusted by medical professionals.  

14. Nurse consultant  

Nurse consultants work on the legal side of hospitals, offering advice and consultation to legal teams working on cases in the medical field. They can evaluate charts, define terms, and act as expert witnesses in certain cases. They may offer recommendations on individual treatment plans, or evaluate the current qualifications of nursing staff. This field is a broad and can be whatever you make it to be.  

The relief that comes with having many options 

The takeaway from all of this – if you are feeling burnt out and want a career change, it is never too late. Having experience as a nurse or any other healthcare professional puts you at a great advantage, in terms of skill set and overall knowledge, to transfer to another career.  

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