7 Nontraditional Nursing Careers that Give Back

Learn about seven give back nursing programs for nontraditional nursing careers.

As the health care field becomes increasingly complex and specialized, more and more nurses are finding steady, rewarding nursing careers beyond the traditional hospital setting. Nursing programs, such as forensic nursing, military nursing and legal nurse consulting are opening doors—and paychecks—to the savvy nurse. If you have a fascination with cutting-edge medicine, or want to explore new places and meet new people, check out seven nontraditional nursing careers.

1. Travel nursing


From the pristine beaches of Honolulu to the picturesque coasts of Florida, there are thousands of places in the United States, and around the world, for you to pursue a career in nursing. Travel nursing lets you be in control of your nursing career. You choose the location, nursing specialty, and length of commitment for each nursing assignment. With a shortage of qualified nurses in hospitals and clinics across the country, you can find short-term work (typically eight weeks or as long as 26 weeks) in virtually any location and offering generous compensation. Many facilities also provide perks such as free housing, as well as sign-on and completion bonuses to nurses under contract.

Getting started as a travel nurse: You must be a registered nurse and have at least one year of experience in a hospital setting. When you’re ready to work, travel nurse staffing agencies can help place you in a job. Be sure to ask about licensure options since RNs must be licensed in the state they work in.

Travel nursing is perfect for:

  • Nurses who are interested in seeing new locales
  • Nurses who want exposure to different health care organizations and systems

Degree Needed: ADN or BSN 

2. Military nursing


Support our troops both at home and abroad as a military nurse. In addition to the honor of protecting our nation, choosing a nursing career in the armed forces opens the door to a wide variety of educational, travel and career-enhancing benefits. In return for service in the military, you can receive financial assistance for completing nursing programs, generous financial bonuses, as well as low-cost housing, specialized training, and worldwide travel opportunities. Do your part while advancing your nursing career.

Getting started as a military nurse: After completing your nursing education, you’ll need to become licensed. If you plan to enlist in active duty, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to become a military nurse and officer. Serving in the reserves is also an option.

Military nursing is a good fit if you are:

  • Looking for autonomy in your career
  • Willing to work in dangerous locations
  • Interested in helping people in all parts of the world

Degree Needed: BSN or MSN

3. Forensic nursing


Advances in the growing field of forensic science have helped law enforcement agencies bring criminals to justice. From documenting injuries to collecting valuable DNA evidence, as a forensic nurse you will be working on the front lines of justice. You will counsel assault victims, conduct physical examinations and collect evidence. You will also play a direct part in taking criminals off the street by testifying against defendants at trial. It’s important to understand that forensic nursing can be an emotionally difficult career for some.

As the importance of forensic evidence continues to grow, so will the career opportunities in this exciting new field. In fact, registered nurses in general can anticipate a 15 percent job growth rate, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook, is much faster than the national average for all occupations. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Getting started as a forensic nurse: RNs can earn an undergraduate degree and subsequently enroll in a forensic nursing certificate program. The other option is to earn a graduate degree with a focus on forensic nursing. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers an advanced forensic nursing credential, although this isn’t required in order to practice. You can also become certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) through the International Association of Forensic Nurses.

Forensic nursing is a good fit if you:

  • Already have stability and balance in your life
  • Enjoy researching and collecting information

Degree Needed: BSN or MSN

4. Legal nurse consulting (LNC)

healthcare and medicine concept - close up of female holding clipboard with cardiogram

Be a medical detective and use your nursing expertise to analyze complex medical records for your legal team. Apply your medical skills in the courtroom by testifying in court as an expert witness on a wide variety of medical malpractice, civil rights, product liability and personal injury cases.

Law firms seem like an obvious setting for legal nurse consultants, but you can also find them working for the government. Within the health care sphere, legal nurse consultants are employed at HMOs, insurance companies and medical facilities.

Getting started as a legal nurse consultant: Post-graduate legal nurse consulting certificates are available from some schools, but you’ll first need to earn your RN. You’ll also need several years of clinical experience. Professional certification is available.

Legal nursing is perfect if you are:

  • Interested in going beyond the bedside
  • Resourceful and organized
  • Looking to stay in nursing, but need a change

Degree Needed: ADN or BSN

5. Surgical nursing

Operating room nurse

As a surgical nurse, you will assist during delicate organ transplants, precision laser incisions and quadruple heart bypasses, to name a few. From preparing patients before surgery to assisting the surgeon in the operating room to charting progress in recovery, surgical nurses are there for patients every step of the way. Monitoring vitals signs, alleviating discomfort and comforting anxious patients and their families are all rewarding parts of a career in surgical nursing.

Getting started as a surgical nurse: Just like other nursing fields, you’ll need to be a licensed RN to work as a surgical nurse. After that, it’s all about getting experience in the operating or recovery rooms and becoming certified by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board.

Surgical nursing is a great career path if:

  • You want a busy day, every day
  • You find it easy to comfort others in times of stress
  • You are organized and detail-oriented

Degree Needed: BSN

6. Holistic nursing

Woman doctor using a mortar and pestle, herbal medicine

If your nursing approach leans more toward a mind-body-spirit approach, a holistic nursing career may be just the right path for you. Instead of utilizing only Western medicine, holistic nurses use alternative and natural therapies. You’ll incorporate bodywork and meditation, among other modalities, into your patients’ treatment plans.

According to the American Holistic Nurses Association, many nurses work as consultants or coaches. Others find luck working in acupuncturist offices.

Getting started as a holistic nurse: After getting your nursing degree, you can enroll in holistic health certificate program to hone your skills in the alternative medicine field. Credentialing is available through the American Holistic Nurses Certification Corporation (AHNCC).

Holistic nursing is perfect for:

  • Nurses who want to work in holistic health settings
  • Nurses who want to broaden their level of expertise

Degree Needed: ADN, BSN or MSN

7. Nursing informatics specialist

Portrait of a female doctor using a tablet

Are you bilingual? That is, are you fluent in the technology and nursing languages? If you can decipher both, nursing informatics can be a great career option. You’ll be the chief communicator between nurses, patients and health care providers. Project management and systems maintenance are just a few parts of the job.

Nursing informatics is a growing field as technology continues to infiltrate medical facilities. Will you be there to make sense of it all?

Getting started as a nursing informatics specialist: Like other nursing specialties, you’ll need to be an RN to start. Gaining valuable work experience in health care information services will be integral. Certification from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center is available.

Nursing informatics is a good fit if:

  • You’re passionate about technology
  • You’re interested in working as a nurse programmer or manager

Degree Needed: BSN or MSN