Nurses are an essential component of the American health care system and are continually in high demand nationwide. For years, nurses have elected to leave the field or have sought alternative professions instead of working in a traditional nursing role full-time. The pandemic brought into focus the need for work-life balance across professions. Whether strained from high-stress levels, financial upset, demanding hours or an overwhelming workload, nursing burnout is on the rise, and according to the National Academy of Medicine, at least half of caretakers across medical fields experience symptoms of burnout. A solution, however, exists for those who are passionate about all that nursing offers but are looking to shift their professional focus.
Utilizing nursing skills in a new role
About two years ago, I made the decision to explore nursing opportunities in other fields, with the goal of continuing direct patient care in some capacity. At the time, childcare posed an obstacle to a work schedule that accommodated my needs as a single parent. Aside from seeking help from family, finding childcare that aligned with my work schedule was more than difficult. Daycare centers, not even hospital ones, offered extended hours for parents who work 12-hour shifts. It was a significant challenge for a single parent to work full-time hours while also caring for my children.
Making the decision to leave bedside nursing was difficult. I loved aspects of the traditional nursing role — taking care of patients and helping them through some of the hardest and most vulnerable times of their lives. I’ve always taken pride in being a compassionate and caring person, qualities necessary to enjoy and succeed in nursing.
When I left my patient care role, I decided to pursue a position as a clinical information systems analyst for a local hospital system. As I grew in the position, it became evident that informatics was my niche. Nursing Informatics, defined by The American Nurses Association is a specialty that integrates nursing science with multiple information and analytical sciences, working to identify, define, manage and communicate data, information knowledge, and wisdom within the nursing practice.
I’m now in a master’s degree program specializing in nursing informatics that has enabled me to expand my knowledge and education in the informatics specialty. The field is appealing because it involves incorporating information technology, including but not limited to artificial intelligence, and machine learning technology, in health care, including both hospitals and pharmacies. My hands-on nursing experience gives me a strong foundation of patient care knowledge to base my new skills on.
I’m now employed as an implementation specialist at a company providing automated medication tracking and diversion detection solutions for hospitals and inpatient pharmacies, and I couldn’t be happier. Preventing diversion is an issue I’m passionate about. A recent study has shown 44 percent of hospital pharmacists have experienced a diversion event within the past 12 months and 24 percent are aware of a colleague who has diverted opioids, indicating the growing concern for hospitals. My work primarily focuses on post-live care, the clinical portion of a project’s implementation that allows me to work with nursing directors, supervisors, and managers who are auditing controlled substances within hospitals and health systems. While I’m not on the floor providing direct care to patients, I’m working with health systems as an everyday part of my job who are committed to identifying and preventing drug diversion using AI technology, which in turn, keeps patients and staff safe, a priority goal for nurses and all health care professionals.
Exploring non-nursing professions
Regardless of the type of secondary position you might consider, it’s important to stay current with your nursing license and best nursing practices. Nursing is a field that changes daily: guidelines change, processes change, patients change, acuity changes — hence why it’s critical to stay up to date. Practicing as a bedside nurse provides foundational and hands-on knowledge. Whether a nurse elects to remain in a bedside nursing position or opts for a role outside of patient care, nursing is more than a field that requires practitioners to simply pass a board exam and forget what they’ve learned.
Earning a degree in nursing provides aspiring nurses with a wide range of skills, from anatomy and health to clinical nursing and research. Other critical skills that nurses learn during their studies include practical problem solving, communications, critical thinking, diagnosis, and decision-making. All these factors, while important for nursing, are transferable skills that qualify nurses for a number or roles outside of the traditional clinical setting. Non-hospital careers are becoming a more popular avenue for nurses because they’re able to apply their skills and training while selecting a path that may provide a better work-life balance.
Whether considering a second career as an informaticist, health writer, health service administrator, medical researcher, educator, consultant or medical salesperson, there are several options for a nurse seeking a role outside of traditional nursing. In each of these roles, nurses will find that their educational background and experience positions them to be an ideal candidate. My goal as an RN is to complete my advanced degree in nursing informatics and potentially pursue a doctorate degree. I believe that engaging nurses with technology and applying it to practice is key to staying current and providing patients with the best quality of care possible.
Jessica Hodges is a nurse and implementation specialist.
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