Alternative Careers for Nurses: Non-Hospital Options

Nursing student writing on paper in class with peers

Nursing has a rich and remarkable history. Many equate the start of formal nursing with Florence Nightingale, who started by caring for wounded British soldiers in the Crimean War — literally in the field. However, when one first thinks of nursing, they often think of a hospital setting. Most TV shows and movies also depict nurses in hospital settings, and indeed, nursing — the largest healthcare workforce1 — is still predominantly hospital-based. Historically, however, most nursing care took place in the home, and it was not until the 19th century, when hospitals started being built, that care began shifting from home to hospital. It is then fair to say that public health nursing was the first-ever nursing specialty!

In This Article:

Exploring Alternative Jobs for Nurses and Finding Your Niche

One of our greatest gifts as nurses is that there is a niche for each of us. Although many will enjoy hospital-based nursing, this article focuses on alternative careers for registered nurses within public health nursing. Much like hospital nursing, where there are specialties in different areas, public health offers many areas where a nursing career can be focused.

When thinking of public health nursing, many think of the visiting nurse, which is the predominant service of the public health nursing workforce. However, there are many different types of visiting nursing services under the public health nursing umbrella, including but not limited to:

  • Maternal–child health
  • Home health
  • Hospice
  • Palliative care
  • Hospital-at-home programs

Within these specialties, there are equally many roles comparable to similar positions in hospital-based nursing, such as those of educators, quality and safety specialists, managers/administrators, epidemiology/infection control and researchers, to name just a few.

Additional specialties, such as geriatrics, veteran care or pediatrics, can also be found in the abovementioned fields. This list is not exhaustive. Public health nursing can include numerous focuses and specialties as well, such as:

  • Military nursing
  • Insurance nursing
  • Long-term care
  • Rehabilitation nursing
  • Environmental/climate change nursing
  • International nursing
  • Occupational health
  • School nursing
  • Mental health
  • Informatics
  • Advocacy
  • Health policy
  • Emergency preparedness

The key to public health nursing is the focus: public or community health. It does not include acute care nursing, which is another specialty.

What Does It Take To Pursue Alternative Jobs for Nurses?

In addition to researching what is available in your location, as noted above, public health nursing requires taking the initiative, working autonomously and working with various stakeholders, including the interdisciplinary team, patients, families and communities.

As in most nursing roles, advocacy and education are integral to public health nursing, but the scope of the advocacy and education is often wider, extending to the community, city, county/region, state or even nation. I always recommend increasing your knowledge base to maximize your impact and opportunities.

Public Health Nursing Education Requirements

In most cases, a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required for public health nursing positions. For leadership/specialty roles, nursing experience with advanced education is preferred. Graduate Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) public health nursing education often focuses on learning about the advanced scope and standards of practice, applying different models and theories, gathering and interpreting data, epidemiology, contributing to the science and how best to effect change. My education has helped me learn how to study patterns, distribution and social determinants of public health issues within a population or community and, importantly, how to navigate health policy.

Public Health Nursing Skills and Training

The beauty of public health nursing is the challenge of depending on skills and training, as well as the ability to work with patients, families or communities in their setting rather than the brief “moment in time” they might spend in an acute care hospital.

You also learn to have a more robust voice through public health training; this helps you better engage stakeholders and advocate for patients and their communities when you have been part of that community. As nurses, we are taught from the beginning of our nursing training and education that we are the patients’ advocates.

Through continued education and experience in public health nursing, I have learned how to use my voice to help change health policy, provide education and create innovative models of care to better meet the needs of my patients and communities.

What To Consider With Alternative Jobs for Nurses

If you are considering nursing jobs outside of the hospital and moving to a public health focus, there are several factors to consider. The practice of public health nurses is typically autonomous — most often, visits are in the home or community setting. Public health nurses rely on their assessment and communication skills to establish relationships with multiple individuals, families, and communities, as well as other healthcare team members and stakeholders. Public health nurses in all fields must be able to advocate for their patients and the community.

The Need for Nursing Jobs Outside of the Hospital

During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for public health nurses has only increased. I encourage anyone considering transitioning to public health nursing to visit their public health department websites for information about their city and state. Several professional organizations can help inform your decisions, such as the American Public Health Association — which has a vital Public Health Nurse Section — as well as the Association of Public Health Nurses and the Association of Community Health Nursing Educators, to name just a few.

Within the different focus areas of public health nursing, there are also nursing professional organizations such as the Hospice and Palliative Care Nurses Association and the National Association of School Nurses. Reviewing this information can help you decide on a focus area in public health. Often these organizations will also have job boards where you can examine the potential opportunities in the field.

Earning Your MSN: Public Health Nursing

Public Health Nursing is not for everyone. As with all of nursing, there are constant changes, improvements, new technologies and new standards of care. However, if you are not yet a nurse, but you have previous college experience and public health nursing calls you, consider our RN to BSN program. If you are already a nurse who is looking for alternative careers for registered nurses, review our MSN: public health nursing program.

To learn more about these programs, fill out the form on this page to get in contact with a university counselor and start planning your career in public health nursing.

1 Rosseter, R. (2023, July 15). Nursing Workforce Fact Sheet. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Retrieved August 15, 2023.

Approved by Christy Torkildson on Aug. 16, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.