Non-Clinical Nursing Careers
Few fields offer as many diverse and meaningful career paths as nursing. In addition to caring for patients, modern nurses work in a growing number of non-clinical fields from information technology to legal consultation. Drawing on their unique skill-sets and experiences, these professionals make significant contributions to hospital quality and public health while ensuring that underserved patients have access to needed care.
Thanks to the rapid growth of the health care industry and the changes triggered by health care reform, opportunities for non-clinical nurses (or NCNs) are expanding rapidly. Areas where these professionals are in demand include:
- Case Management. Nurse case managers work with providers, insurance companies and other agencies to coordinate patient care. In this role, they facilitate communication, ensure safety and help patients access needed services.
- Quality Improvement. Hospitals and healthcare systems often recruit nurses to help in strategic planning. This involves reviewing patient outcome data, monitoring trends, processing incident reports and coordinating continuous improvement initiatives.
- Health Information Technology (HIT). These technology-savvy nurses audit medical records for errors, clarify discrepancies and coordinate corrections. They also assist with the implementation of electronic health record systems, gather data and work to improve the flow of patient care.
- Legal Consulting. When a malpractice case is filed, nurses assist the legal team by serving as consultants and expert witnesses. This emerging career path is now backed by a professional organization, the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC).
- Health Education. Nurse educators help patients with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses learn the skills and behaviors they need to manage their conditions and prevent life-threatening complications.
- Patient Advocacy. Sometimes patients need help navigating the medical landscape. Advocates help patients to communicate with providers, agencies and third-party payers to ensure that they receive the services they require.
- Medical Writing. Many nurses apply their expertise in pharmacology, disease process and other clinical topics to the world of communications. Textbooks, clinical exams, patient communications and regulatory reports are just a few of the materials often written by nurses.
Non-clinical nurses (NCNs) work in a wide variety of settings, including:
- Hospitals and other health care facilities (most common)
- Community and government agencies
- Schools and universities
- Law firms
- Insurance companies
- Pharmaceutical corporations
- Medical equipment companies
- Publishing companies
- Private practice
Most NCNs work full time during regular business hours. Travel is occasionally required in order to meet with clients, make presentations or evaluate patient care.
While some degree programs train nurses specifically for non-clinical roles, a large majority of NCNs begin their careers as registered nurses (RNs).
Licensure as an RN requires an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from a state-approved training program. Training takes 2-4 years to complete and includes both classroom and clinical instruction. Many nurses first obtain an associate’s degree and complete a bachelor’s degree while working.
Community colleges, career centers and universities offer training programs in nursing. Financial aid is available through federal and private loans, grants, scholarships and employer-sponsored tuition assistance programs.
Training and experience requirements for NCNs vary across settings. However, most positions require 2-5 years of experience in direct patient care. Additional requirements include the following.
- For case management: Specialty certification and/or two years experience in the field.
- For HIT: In-depth knowledge of charting, and computer skills. A growing number of HIT nurses hold graduate degrees in nursing informatics.
- For legal consultants: 1-2 years of experience in the legal field, and knowledge of medical law. A law degree is required for some positions.
Licensing and/or Certification
All states license registered nurses.
Employers of case managers and legal consultants strongly prefer candidates with specialty certification. These credentials are administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board, respectively.
Not all positions require advanced certification. Patient advocacy, for example, is a relatively new occupation that is still formulating national standards. While some training programs offer certificates in patient advocacy, employers do not universally recognize these.
Since credentialing in many NCN fields is evolving rapidly, professionals should stay abreast of licensing and certification requirements within their specialty. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a reliable resource for this information.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Most non-clinical nursing positions require a solid foundation of experience in patient care, preferably in an inpatient acute care setting. Success as a bedside nurse requires excellent analytical thinking and communication skills.
In addition, all NCN fields have job-specific requirements. Medical writers, for example, need an in-depth knowledge of medical terminology as well as strong composition, grammar and typing skills. Patient advocates rely on their verbal skills and powers of persuasion to effectively communicate their clients’ points of view.
Opportunities for Advancement
Experienced non-clinical nurses often transition to supervisory or administrative roles, including chief nursing officer, director of nursing or director of clinical services. Others conduct research, teach at the university level or serve as consultants to government or private industry. Opportunities are greatest for professionals with advanced degrees and strong track records as supervisors.
If you would like to gain the necessary education to pursue a non-clinical nursing career, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.
Salaries of NCNs vary widely across specialties. Except where noted, the following figures represent annual earnings.
- Case management: $55,000 or more
- Quality improvement: $45,000 - $89,000
- HIT: $98,000 on average
- Legal nurse consultant: $125/hour with a law degree
- Health educator: $35,000 and up
- Patient advocate: $50,000 and up
- Medical writer: $35,000 to $65,000
- Nurse administrator: $100,000 to $200,000
In 2011, the health care industry created more jobs than any other, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of nurses is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. Preventive health care (a non-clinical nursing area) is fast becoming a major focus of both providers and insurance companies.