Nurses Shift From Bedside to Nontraditional Roles


More nurses are moving away from the stereotypical role as a bedside nurse and applying their skills to non-traditional roles.

There is no doubt that a nursing shortage is occurring within our profession. Researchers have hypothesized several contributing factors to this, including, but not limited to, an aging population, lack of nursing professors, burnout, and more recently, a transition to nontraditional nursing roles, also known as a paradigm shift from bedside nursing.

Nontraditional nursing roles are on the rise, and many nurses are exploring roles that they were unaware they could do. As these roles are diverse, they can include positions such as nurse navigators, nurse informatics, nurse scientists/researchers, nurse entrepreneurs, and clinical nurse educators. Roles such as medical science liaisons and marketing/sales consultants have also been explored; however, they have been referred to as the “dark side” of nursing because some feel that this group has abandoned the nursing profession for the pharmaceutical industry.

Recently, my colleagues and I conducted a survey of 29 nontraditional nurses to discover their reasons for leaving their traditional nursing roles. We found that the top 3 reasons reported by the nurses who left their traditional nursing roles were lack of professional development and opportunities, lack of support from management, and organizational issues.

More than 75% of these nurses were in their traditional roles for more than 10 years. They felt that their traditional roles required them to hold too much responsibility, and that they received little to no reward for their efforts. They also attributed lack of flexibility and work-related issues as causes for leaving their traditional roles.

I serve in both a nontraditional and a traditional role by choice; however, there are many unique opportunities for nurses seeking nontraditional roles that can be rewarding. The healthcare landscape continues to change, and opportunities for nurses keep growing as the industry evolves.

I am not encouraging nurses to leave traditional roles; however, I do want to raise awareness that our nursing skills can be applied to a broader range of roles and responsibilities. We are no longer the stereotypical bedside nurses dressed in all white. So, the next time you are seeking a new opportunity that requires clinical experience but in a nontraditional way, just remember, “yes, nurses can do that too!”


Smith M, Garvin W, Vanak JM, and Vanak J. Nursing is more than a shift: A quantitative study to explore non-traditional nursing roles. Presented at: the Annual National Black Nursing Association Conference; July 30-Aug. 4, 2017; Las Vegas, Nevada.

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