Nontraditional Careers in Nursing: Options for Nurses

Susan E. Lowey, PhD, RN, CHPN


March 15, 2017

In This Article

The Nursing Workforce and Changing Demographics

While a majority of nurses currently work in the hospital setting, the nontraditional (nonhospital) nursing sector is growing.[1]

There are currently over 2.7 million registered nurses in the United States.[1] This figure is expected to increase 16% by the year 2024, with nursing employment surpassing the growth of most other health-related occupations.[2] The upcoming expected growth of the aging population, particularly the baby-boomer generation, will require a larger nursing workforce to provide and coordinate care. The increased prevalence of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, will also precipitate the need for a larger nursing workforce.[3]

Patients are living longer but often with multiple chronic conditions and functional impairments. While there will always be a need to have a robust nursing workforce within the inpatient hospital setting, future projections show an increased growth of nursing jobs in nonhospital community-based healthcare settings.[4] More patients will require comprehensive outpatient nursing care to manage both acute and chronic conditions.

The function of nurses is to promote wellness through prevention, to restore health and functioning to those affected by illness or injury, and to advocate for the care of individuals, families, and communities.[5] The changing dynamic of the nursing workforce will extend these activities to a wide variety of nonhospital settings.

As the use of outpatient services increases, the number of inpatient hospital discharges is expected to decrease 3% while the number of outpatient-related services is expected to increase by 17%.[6] Leading the top of this growth in nursing employment settings is home healthcare, which is expected to increase by 43% over the next decade, followed by ambulatory care (40%) and long-term care (24%).[4]

There are many employment and career options nurses can pursue. Information about career planning and trajectories is often lacking in nursing school due to time constraints in educational programs already heavily packed with content. The options for nurses to pursue a nontraditional career in nursing are abundant yet not widely taught or advertised during nursing school or beyond. Information offered to students should include the origins of the nursing profession, which interestingly has its roots in the community, not the hospital.[7]


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