Nursing Careers Beyond the Bedside

Nursing Careers Beyond the Bedside

When many people think of a nurse, they most likely picture someone wearing scrubs and working directly with patients in settings such as hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices. But there are nursing careers that don’t focus on providing direct patient care, but still greatly impact the health outcomes of communities.

If you’re a brand new nurse, a few years of clinical experience can be great training ground in gaining valuable first-hand knowledge of the issues, challenges, and best practices that nurses can only learn in the field. But keep in mind that there are many rewarding careers outside of clinical settings.

Here are a few careers to consider to take your nursing career beyond the bedside.

Leadership Roles

Nurses in leadership roles perform a wide variety of duties and need many skills beyond providing patient care. Positions in nursing leadership include nurse manager, health care administrator, or care manager. These roles are more administrative and require strong leadership, financial and strategic planning skills.

Nurses working in leadership positions manage nurses, create budgets for their departments, and develop, plan, and implement programs and procedures for improved patient outcomes.

If working in a leadership role interests you, be sure to develop your leadership skills early. Get involved with nursing associations and seek out leadership roles whenever you can. And be sure to look for opportunities to mentor other nurses. If you’re still in school, look for leadership opportunities within your student nursing association.

If you’re serious about a career in nurse leadership, consider earning an MS in Nursing Leadership degree.

Nurse Educator

If you are interested in one day teaching the next generation of nurses, consider a career as a nurse educator.

Nurse educators teach nursing to college students and practicing nurses in academic and/or health care facilities.

Nurse educators develop curriculum and must have a high level of nursing experience and expertise. You will be required to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing, be an RN, and complete a graduate-level nurse educator program to succeed in this specialty.

Health Policy

If you have a passion for advocating for legislative change, a career in health policy may be for you. Health policy nurses work on a variety of public health issues such as tobacco control or care for the aging.

According to, health policy nurses work to create an overall healthier society through advocacy, research, and analysis. They work in health service research firms, legislative offices, health care provider associations, or hold elective office.

In order to succeed in health policy, you’ll first need to obtain a master’s degree in nursing and complete a 10-week health policy program. You’ll also need strong leadership, communication, and analytical skills.

Gain experience by getting involved in nurse advocacy as a volunteer. The American Nurses Association is a great resource to get started in advocacy work.

Nurse Recruiter

Transitioning from direct patient care to nurse recruiting can be a fast-paced and exciting career for nurses who are interested in the human resources side of health care.

In a nutshell, nurse recruiters screen, interview, and recommend candidates for open positions in the health care industry. Recruiters also provide career guidance to candidates, negotiate job offers and stay up-to-date on the latest job search trends.

Nurse recruiters possess strong communication and sales skills. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as a strong clinical background to gain entry into this field.

Thinking about career options beyond patient care can open up many opportunities for nurses and may just be the perfect fit for you.

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Policy Engagement: A Call for All Nurses

Policy Engagement: A Call for All Nurses

The need for nurses to become familiar with and engaged in the policy-making process has never been greater. While nurse leaders throughout time have emphasized the need for nurses to become more involved in advocating for patients and the profession, the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the release of the Institute of Medicine’s The Future of Nursing report both call for the transformation of health care delivery and underscore opportunities for policy engagement.

The renewed interest in policy engagement for nurses is further evidenced by the proliferation of health policy books and resources for the nursing profession and the increased emphasis on including health policy content in nursing education programs. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing developed a set of core competencies for integration into nursing education programs, all of which emphasize the need for nurses to develop competencies in this area.

Practice, Research, Policy: Connecting the Dots

I recall the aha moment when I realized the importance of identifying the policy implications of my practice and research. While I had worked in underserved communities for many years, it was not until I started conducting breast cancer disparities research with underserved women that it occurred to me that someone (e.g., survivors or cancer organizations) was advocating for legislation to improve access to cancer screening services. Concurrently, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act of 1990 directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program to assist low-income and uninsured women in gaining access to breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services. Expanding on the need for follow-up care, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act was signed into law in 2000, helping to ensure access to breast cancer treatment services for low-income and uninsured women diagnosed with breast cancer.

As a volunteer for the American Cancer Society and the chair of public policy for the Chicagoland Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I started participating in lobby days advocating for more affordable and accessible cancer prevention and treatment services.

Building on my desire for more engagement, I began lobbying with my professional nursing organizations to advocate for funding to support nursing education and research. Thankfully, I realized the strong connection between practice, research, and policy—and now encourage nurses to do the same.

To Get You Started, Suggested Activities Include the Following:

• Complete a health policy course during your nursing education and your nursing career.

• Become more involved through your professional and specialty organizations.

• Attend state lobby days sponsored by your nursing organizations or home institutions.

• Participate in virtual lobby days.

• Invite congressional leaders to tour your nursing program, professional meetings, or community activities.

• Look for policy implications in presentations, publications, and textbooks.

• Seize the opportunity to identify public policy implications in your everyday practice.

• Incorporate a policy component into your clinical experience (e.g., student interviews with state lawmakers and city council members, and student attendance at public hearings).

• Tap into your institution’s Office of Government Relations.

• Read policy-related journals (e.g., Nursing Outlook or Policy, Politics, and Nursing Practice).

• Become familiar with websites that offer health policy resources (e.g., National League for Nursing, American Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association).

• Tap into your professional organization’s resources for policy development.

• Share your personal experiences in the policy arena.

Regardless of practice setting, there are public policies and legislative initiatives that influence the scope of nursing practice or the amount of available resources to provide patient care or support nursing education. For example, the recent push toward full scope of nursing practice has already influenced the way advanced practice nurses practice in each state. Members of the nursing community, along with a number of stakeholders, are working with state and federal legislative officials to see what legislative and regulatory actions are needed to ensure that nurses are practicing to the full extent of their preparation. The outcomes of these efforts will have huge implications for the nursing profession and the patients we serve. Akin to this are the provisions outlined in the ACA, many of which have direct implications for nurses. Key provisions focused on primary workforce, patient-centered care, nurse-managed health centers, school-based clinics, quality improvement, and patient safety, to name a few. These provisions present opportunities for nurses to pursue leadership roles that will enable them to help implement aspects of the ACA legislation.

What a great time for nurses to contribute to the policy discourse that is taking place on the local, state, and federal level. From the new grad to the more seasoned professional, nurses are encouraged to become familiar with the policy-making process and identify ways in which they can make a meaningful contribution to improving the quality of patient care and advancing the profession through advocacy and political activism.

Health Policy Resources

American Association of Colleges of Nursing Government Affairs

American Nurses Association Policy & Advocacy

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

GovTrack (site for tracking legislative bills)

Kaiser Family Foundation

National Conference of State Legislatures

National League for Nursing Advocacy & Public Policy

Office of Legislative Policy and Analysis

Office of Minority Health

Nurse Attorneys Work for Change

Nurse Attorneys Work for Change

You might have heard of nurse attorneys, but do you know what they do? Is it something you might consider as a career?

Nurse attorneys usually work in an several roles, using their dual degrees in nursing and in law to match their interests with a need. Holding dual nursing and law degrees also means a nurse attorney is in a unique position. They can use their nursing degree or law degree exclusively and have no overlap, or they can use both together.

Nurse attorneys can help the public at large by advancing health care policy in both government or private sectors. They can also use their legal expertise to work in courtroom settings either as a lawyer or as an expert. When health care issues are prominent, they use their professional expertise to inform about everything from health disparities to legal liability issues. And they can work as experts with insurance companies especially as health insurance continues to undergo a massive shift in the United States.
In a strictly health care role, nurse attorneys can advocate for and be in a position to bring change in a health care setting or in an administration role. They can also bring their knowledge into a medical editor position on journals or in other medical publications.

How can they do that? Using both degrees helps nurse attorneys spread knowledge about issues that affect health care workers and patients and bring about the change in the most effective arenas to make make change happen. They can work with or for hospitals and health care facilities, lobbying organizations, nursing associations, and as advocates when health care issues are especially at stake. Nurse attorneys are able to speak out on insurance issues, health law practices, and hospital policy because they have the academic and hands-on experience in both sectors. They can also provide consulting advice to health care professionals who need specific legal advice.

If you’re considering a nurse attorney path, concentrate on getting your BSN and some nursing experience before applying to law school. (Some, of course, do the reverse and attend law school first, then get their nursing degree.) Getting the nursing experience helps you use your degree to the fullest and narrows down your professional and personal focus so you’ll be able to shape how and where you apply to law schools. Would you like to work most on legal issues that impact nurses and nurse practitioners? Does the idea of helping a nurse navigate all the legal steps to start a solo practice interest you? Or would you like to work on health care policy the most?

The American Association of Nurse Attorneys has lots of information about this career and how to use it in the way that will meet your own goals.

The satisfaction from overlapping these two degrees holds big appeal for nurses and lawyers who want to use their knowledge to bring about the most impact. If this interests you, a career as a nurse attorney might be a great option.

Careers Stemming from an Education in Health Care Policy

Careers Stemming from an Education in Health Care Policy

In 1996, two game-changing pieces of health care legislation had the attention of the industry. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was being enacted, and the Balanced Budget Act (BBA) was being debated. Nurse leaders crowded into public hearing rooms to try to understand the potential ramifications of HIPAA and to protest the challenges they foresaw if the BBA’s provisions were enacted. Many nurses watched in dismay, feeling like victims of federal policy-making engines. Some tried to learn more about political action in an effort to save their businesses and help their patients. Out of that experience, and others that followed, political activism started growing among nurses. Nurse professionals learned that if they weren’t more involved in influencing health care policy decisions, then they would have to live with the results.
We are in the midst of another dramatic upheaval in health care regulation, with most of the provisions required by the Affordable Care Act going into effect between now and 2014. Instead of being victims of the process, nurses are at the table more than ever before, and our involvement is making a difference. By fighting in the political arena for safe, high-quality health care, we give our patients a voice and function as true patient advocates at and beyond the bedside.
In addition, a growing number of nurses are finding that involvement in health care policy leads to new and exciting careers that didn’t seem possible just a few years ago. A new nursing specialty in health care policy is evolving and expanding. If the thought of making a real difference in the world gets your heart racing, healthcare policy nursing might be the career path for you.
What Does It Take to be a Successful Health Care Policy Nurse?
The most important trait of a nurse in the health care policy arena is a desire to make a real difference. If you believe that health care around the world can be improved, and you want to help make that happen, then you can learn the rest of what you need to know. Other favorable characteristics include:
  1. Willingness to engage in negotiation and the give-and-take of debate
  2. Persistence in researching the facts of a situation and maintaining a long-term commitment to policy developments
  3. Listening skills to help you understand the agendas of various stakeholders
  4. Communication ability to help you educate others on the issues
  5. Organizational skills to help you stay on top of multiple initiatives
What Paths Can I Take to Become a Health Care Policy Nurse?
Very few nurses start their careers with an in-depth understanding of how health care policy work is done. Some graduate nursing schools have recognized this need and offer educational programs in this growing specialty to registered nurses who have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Chamberlain College of Nursing, for example, offers a health care policy specialty track in its Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. Students in this track complete a core of six MSN courses in theory, informatics, leadership, research, advanced nursing roles, and health care policy before progressing to six specialty classes. The specialty courses address health care systems, economics, global health, and leadership, all from a politics and policy perspective. A 100-hour practicum under the mentorship of experienced health care policy nurses leads to a capstone project that puts concepts into practice and gives students valuable experience in the work of this specialty.
After completing an educational program in health care policy, a nurse can be well-equipped and well-connected to launch this exciting career. It is possible to embark on a health care policy nursing career without an advanced degree, but many employers prefer it. Prior experience is often preferred; however, nurses who have completed a graduate program with a strong practicum have often gained significant experience in the field through rigorous academic work. Practicum projects such as researching a health care policy initiative and writing a summary for a political officeholder, or working with a community organization to secure political support for a new program, provide the experiential base employers seek.
Where Do Health Care Policy Nurses Work?
Health care policy nurses are sought after to evaluate the impact of health care policy changes, to advocate for patients and organizations as educators, writers, speakers, or researchers, and to help nurses mobilize around political action. These specialty nurses can work with lobbyists, politicians, consulting firms, health departments, education foundations, nonprofit groups, and government organizations in a wide range of roles. Some health care policy nurses enter academics, while others become community leaders or political officeholders themselves.
The range of tasks they perform can include analyzing health care policies, laws, and regulations, advising policymakers, leaders, and the public, administering grants, researching public health care issues, or planning and proposing new health care policies. Health care and education systems hire healthcare policy nurses as spokespeople, analysts, and regulatory officials. Wherever health care policy and health care organizations intersect is a place where these specialized nurses may be needed.
Why Should Nurses Enter the Policy Arena?
Health care policy nurses are the experts, the people that others turn to for advice on how governments should structure their health care systems to best meet the needs of their populations. Nurses who care about making a difference, who are passionate about health care issues, and who are willing to persevere through the challenges and triumphs of change can fashion a career that can have a broad impact on the world. There are currently seven nurses in the U.S. Congress, and their presence at the federal table means that our profession is being heard. Nurses know patients better than anyone, and it is our job to protect the safety, quality, and efficacy of global health care in every way we can.