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How to develop a nursing career away from front-line services


Thinking of using your nursing skills in areas other than hands on care? Susan Hughes, a career coach at the Health Learning and Skills Advice Line, explains how to make the move.

For many experienced nurses, there is a desire to move away from hands-on-care, and use your nursing skills in other areas. Fortunately, there is a wide range of different career paths open to nurses, such as management, research, health promotion and teaching.

As an experienced nurse you will already have a set of highly developed skills that employers will value, such as analysis, assessment and research. You’ll also be in a strong position because of your NMC PREP portfolio and any personal development plans will showcase your skills and achievements.

Unfortunately, it’s quite common for people to undervalue what nurses do, so a self-skills assessment will help to identify any unique selling points. It is also important to turn to your KSF outline from current and previous roles to help identify skills outside of hands-on-care. Bear in mind any experience outside of nursing that could be added to skills sets, for example volunteering, community work and membership of organisations. Above all, it is important to be honest - to yourself and any potential employer.

Schools of nursing at the local university will also have information on continuing professional development or post-qualifying programmes, workshops and study that match your career aspirations. Contact your current employer’s training departments and your manager to find out about access and financial assistance to appropriate training. If your employers are unable to completely fund the training, they might be more receptive if there are other offers to part fund it, and/or a demonstration of the benefits.

Using existing networks and contacts to enquire about new openings, opportunities and service developments could be essential in moving away from a role in hands-on-care. Employer websites also often have information about their plans for the next few years, so try to anticipate where and when opportunities will come up.

Preparation is essential for engineering a career outside of hands-on-care. There’s a lot to do and it will take some effort. Planning ahead will help in making the right career choice. Set realistic short and long-term objectives to help measure progress but be willing to reassess in light of new information and understanding. It’s important to keep aware of the range of possibilities outside of hands-on-care and be ready to take advantage of opportunities when they become available.

Run by the Careers Advice Service and sponsored by NHS Careers and Skills for Health, the Health Learning and Skills Advice Line provides careers information, advice and guidance to support people working in healthcare. The friendly, trained career coaches can also give you constructive feedback on your CV and help you with your skills assessment. If you are interested in developing your career, call freephone 08000 150 850 from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week.


Readers' comments (7)

  • What a joke! I have spent years trying to get away from direct line nursing, with a very open mind, after a 20-year career in acute medicine with loads of responsibility and experience. I even undertook a 2-year MSc degree in Healthcare Management which I was told would open up many career opportunities but following which I was no longer able to find a job to match my broad set of skills and wide range of interests in nursing management or any other jobs in the labour market where all required further unaffordable training geared to much younger applicants and the right certificates. In the NHS personnel departments nobody was in the slightest interested and could only propose only junior low paid nursing posts right back at square one.

    Approaching the careers advice department and with an extensive interview at the RCN only bought me a few totally impractical and unrealistic suggestions.

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  • I believe that people working in the offices in the RCN or are remote from the realities of the current labour market as are many non-clinicians working in healthcare administration

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  • It's not always what you know but rather "Who" you know! Need I say anymore?

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  • Perhaps its more to do with flexibility...I moved into Nursing Homes..second job as a matron manager..did that with 3 nursing homes for a few years...had enough..saw an advert for a sight loss charity role..working in an eye clinic..applied..did that for 9 years..then rose within the organisation...managed UK wide contracts travelling the UK...then went into training for another charity...just started a return to nursing course...but will be looking at a role away from front line nursing again...

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  • carol norwell | 8-Mar-2011 1:14 pm

    if you are referring to my first two anonymous comments above, you won't find many nurses as flexible, without the risk of instability, as I am. I have worked abroad in a university hospital in an international city with patients and staff of very many different nationalities. As a result I have had to learn to communicate in three European languages besides my own. In our hospital when our ward was overstaffed we were sent anywhere else in the hospital to fill in so I had the opportunity to gain experience outside general medicine. On our own ward of 20 to 25 patients we often had to work shifts alone or with one healthcare assistant, trained or untrained but usually with adequate experience. Our ward was acute and chronic and every day was entirely different and we never knew what we were going to be confronted with from heart disease to cancer, to tropical diseases, neurological disorders, mental health problems and substance abuse and many more illness sometimes requiring detective competencies for less well known diseases.

    I have also lived and totally integrated in different cultural environments and learned about the functioning of their healthcare systems. I have been a project manager and an assistant matron in an old people's home.

    I also have considerable teaching experience which I also enhanced in my free time teaching English and skiing.

    All this came to a sad end when I had to return to UK for family reasons and my first comment tells the rest where I re-encountered the NHS and hit my head against a brick wall!

    Skills are not as transferable as they used to be as every job now needs paper qualifications and I have done enough courses and am unable to fund endless ones to keep abreast of all the rapid changes. In the old days nurses, especially British trained ones, with all their people skills and other competencies were sought after worldwide but this is unfortunately no longer the case.

    Others are always keen to make suggestions and criticise those unable to find jobs but everybody has their individual experiences in job hunting and employers cannot be forced to offer you a job, especially when you may be one of up to about 100 applicants and may also not have age on your side. The labour market is also very fickle and changeable according to many factors such as the economy and number of applicants at any one time.

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  • carol norwell | 8-Mar-2011 1:14 pm

    further to my comment above, one does also have personal preferences and there is little point in going for a job where one has little interest or feels one may not be able to cope with and this applies also to location and other practicalities which need to be taken into account no matter how flexible one is.

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  • open-mindedness, flexibility, higher education in areas such as healthcare management, and experience outside the NHS working with multicultural staff and patients are not perceived as assets when applying for a job with the NHS. Their needs are for young nurses to work at the bedside for low salaries, or for the few more senior posts preference is given to those who have worked their way up through the NHS even though they do not possess the right training or qualifications for the job. This explains much about the working environment and management difficulties in the NHS.

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