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  • 07 March 2019
  • 6 min read

Thinking about a different nursing pathway?

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  • Ruth Underdown
    Adult Nurse
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  • 5227

You may have gone through your nursing career believing that you belong to one role, and then realise a few years down the line that actually, this isn't what you want to do anymore. And that's okay. In nursing, there are so many different paths that you can go down - Ruth shares how you can follow these different paths, using her own experience as proof.

Feel burnt out in your current nursing role? That's okay, there's so many more opportunities out there for you - read on to find out how you can develop your career as a nurse.

Nursing is not a single job, it is a career choice with more options than you can possibly imagine.

When someone says that they are a nurse, it often brings up the image of a Florence Nightingale caricature. The lady with the lamp there in your hour of need.

Plumping pillows, making beds and providing personal care to those who cannot do it for themselves.

And yes, to a large extent, these tasks remain at the very fore of front-line nursing.

After all, if you can’t bear to provide comfort such as making someone feel clean and comfortable, then a nursing job is probably not the career choice for you, and you would be unlikely to pass your placements during your training days, however, a nursing qualification is the first step to a wide-ranging career that can take you all over the world, give you skills you never imagined and a career that is never dull.

There are roles across the NHS and private sector which offer opportunities in all sorts of sectors and subsectors which range from research, lecturing, sales, administration, planning, regulation and management.

When you start out however, not all these choices are apparent, and many roles are still evolving.

Having completed your training, you will most likely have an idea about where you want to start your career.

You will probably apply for a position in a place where you have been on placement and enjoyed the experience or somewhere that appeals to your interests.

After you have established yourself, probably after a few years, your circumstances may have changed, or your interests may have developed, and this could mean that you begin to look elsewhere.

Few nurses stay in the same position and department for the whole of their careers these days.

Gone are the days of the ‘dead men’s shoes’ nursing positions – where you would have to wait for someone to retire before you could be promoted into a more senior position.

Your CPD may also help you identify where you want to go and what you want to do - read our blog, your guide on your CPD, for more information.

There are so many different paths you can take as a nurse - the world is your oyster!


If you are looking at changing direction, you may have to drop back to a band 5 position if you have been in a more senior role to learn the nursing job from the bottom up.

This can be a scary prospect because it does have financial implications but the opportunity to progress may be faster based on your previous experience.

The other thing to consider is that some areas will require additional qualifications or ‘equivalent experience’ in the specific area.

This does not necessarily mean that you will need to undertake further education, but it may be helpful as it will give you a piece of paper that evidences your ability to perform a task or part of your role within your scope of practice.

Some autonomous roles will ask for you to be nurse prescriber for example and of course, you must have undertaken and passed the relevant course to be able to assume this role.

It's never too late to take on a different path or become qualified in a new area.

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Personal experience

As a personal example, I set out with a career in emergency nursing in mind.

I wanted to be there in the thick of it. Resuscitation, trauma, emergency after emergency.

I thought I would love it for the challenge it would bring both to my ability and knowledge but also give me the opportunity to learn and extend my skills.

And I did love it, to start with.

But then I had a family.

And then I came to the point where I had just seen one too many young people die, and the pressures were extraordinary.

It wasn’t enjoyable anymore.

I burned out.

I decided to look for something that would be more about the prevention of these awful emergencies.

This led to me taking a protracted journey with many deviations on my way to working in older people’s care.

On the way, I worked in many environments including school nursing, nursing homes, palliative care and admission avoidance.

The one place I never envisaged myself working was in a care home.

As an emergency nurse, we would look down on those nurses who chose to work in them believing that they were easy jobs for nurses who couldn’t cut it in front line emergency care.

How wrong was I?

Every day was a challenge to get the drug round completed in a timely fashion whilst being compassionate to the individual needs of the patient.

Compassion and care being something that I felt I had been completely unable to give in the emergency department due to the time constraints now placed on us.

The result was that I became better at my communication skills – 30 residents with advanced dementia and very specific individual needs won’t just take their medications because you ask them to!

I learned a lot about myself on the way, but I also regained my love of the job that I had set out to do 20 years ago. Nursing home nursing may not be glamorous, but it gave me back the love of the job that I thought I had lost forever.

After 17 years, I have found a role where I am happy to be a frontline nurse once again, caring for my patients and being the nurse I always wanted to be.

I have gained knowledge and experience in a diverse range of positions, from staff nurse to clinical lead, but I have returned to be a staff nurse in my current role allowing me to provide hands on care and doing the job I enjoy.

Any path taken on your nursing journey is unlikely to be a dead end.

There are opportunities in so many different directions these days and all of them will lead you to new destinations.

You may find yourself in 5- or 10-years’ time in a role that you never new existed or hadn’t even considered.

That certainly happened to me. 

Also related to this blog, here's how you can change your career and become a nurse.

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About the author

  • Ruth Underdown
    Adult Nurse

Since qualifying in Adult Nursing in 2002 I’ve worked as a specialist nurse with the NHS, and in the private sector as a general nurse and sessional nurse for a hospital at home team (I’ve been about a bit!). Advice

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  • Ruth Underdown
    Adult Nurse

About the author

  • Ruth Underdown
    Adult Nurse

Since qualifying in Adult Nursing in 2002 I’ve worked as a specialist nurse with the NHS, and in the private sector as a general nurse and sessional nurse for a hospital at home team (I’ve been about a bit!).

  • 0
  • 5227

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