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Knowledge Base » Care » Alternative careers for healthcare workers

Alternative Careers for Healthcare workers

Last updated on 20th December 2023

A healthcare professional is someone who has been formally trained to provide healthcare treatment and advice.

Healthcare professionals can work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals.
  • Clinics.
  • Private practices.
  • Community health centres.

Some examples of healthcare professionals include:

  • Doctors.
  • Nurses.
  • Pharmacists.
  • Therapists.
  • Healthcare assistants.
  • Paramedics.
  • Midwives.
  • Health visitors.
  • Dentists.

More than 40,000 nurses left the NHS in England in 2021-2022. Nurses, ambulance staff and junior doctors are among healthcare workers who have recently taken strike action over disputes with the government over pay rises.

This has significantly impacted patients, and the care available to them; however, the healthcare professionals who have taken strike action have not taken this decision lightly, with many feeling that they are working in unsafe environments, and unable to provide adequate care to their patients.

The latest NHS Vacancy Statistics show that, overall, full-time equivalent staff vacancies in NHS trusts in England increased from around 133,100 in the quarter to June 2022 to around 133,400 in the quarter to September 2022 as more and more staff members leave the NHS.


Why may healthcare workers change to an alternative career?

Healthcare workers may choose to transfer their skills to a different career path for a variety of reasons. Working in healthcare can be a very rewarding career, and most healthcare workers feel that it is more than just a job; they are devoted to providing their patients with the best care possible. They are passionate, hardworking individuals who want to make a difference in people’s lives by providing good quality healthcare.

Working in healthcare can be a fulfilling and rewarding career choice with many positives, including:

  • Job security.
  • Job satisfaction.
  • A sense of purpose and fulfilment.
  • The opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.
  • Professional development opportunities.
  • Collaboration and teamwork.
  • Variety of responsibilities on a daily basis.

The reality of working in healthcare, however, can be difficult for many reasons.

Healthcare workers may experience:

  • High levels of stress.
  • Limited career growth depending on your area of work.
  • High levels of paperwork.
  • Long and irregular/unsociable working hours.
  • Burnout.
  • Moral injury.
  • Workplace anxiety.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Exposure to illness and disease.

Staff in healthcare settings can often be overworked, in an understaffed, high stress and under-resourced environment. Many healthcare professionals feel that their working environment is unsafe due to this.

Long-term stress can have negative effects on a person’s health and wellbeing. Chronic stress can have negative health impacts on your mood, immune and digestive systems, and cardiovascular health.

Regularly feeling stressed can cause:

  • Headaches.
  • Insomnia.
  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Heartburn/indigestion.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased risk of heart attack.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Digestive problems.

Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Stress is not a mental illness in itself; however, excessive and persistent stress can trigger mental ill health in some individuals, or exacerbate an existing mental health condition.

Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but if your job is causing you to feel stressed on a regular basis and you feel that this is impacting on your health and wellbeing, this may be a reason to consider an alternative career. For further reading on how to reduce work-related stress, please see our knowledge base.

The shifts are often very long with unsociable hours. For many healthcare professionals, this involves working night shifts. Night shift work is widely studied as generally being detrimental to a person’s health and wellbeing.

Working night shifts can:

  • Interfere with natural sleep rhythms.
  • Increase the risk of heart attack.
  • Increase the risk of depression.
  • Increase the risk of anxiety.
  • Increase the risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.
  • Increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems.
  • Change metabolism.
  • Suppress melatonin.
  • Deprive your body of essential vitamin D.

Many professionals within the health and social care sector also report burnout. In 2019, ‘burnout’ was recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. Burnout is a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical and mental stress.

It is caused by feelings of frequent tiredness, deflation, feeling trapped, and lacking a sense of personal achievement or feeling valued. Burnout usually happens when someone is feeling overwhelmed or emotionally drained.

Common symptoms of burnout include:

  • Feeling helpless, trapped or defeated.
  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time.
  • Feelings of self-doubt.
  • Having a cynical or negative outlook.
  • Procrastinating or taking longer to get things done.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.

Burnout can be defined, in the healthcare field, as compassion fatigue. It can take a large physical and mental toll on nurses, physicians and other professionals who provide patient care or work in emergency situations. If someone is experiencing burnout as a result of their job, this may be a driving factor for wanting a change in career. For further reading about how to prevent burnout, please see our knowledge base.

Secondary traumatic stress is another form of burnout. This appeared to be highlighted especially in the midst of the pandemic. The burnout rate in healthcare has significantly increased due to the emotional toll taken on those on the frontline during that time.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on healthcare workers worldwide. Healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses and other frontline staff, were at the forefront of the pandemic response where unprecedented demands were placed upon them.

This caused physical and emotional exhaustion, burnout and mental health problems. They had to work long hours, sometimes without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and were exposed to the virus, putting themselves and their families at risk. The pandemic also led to a shortage of healthcare workers in some areas, with some healthcare workers falling ill or having to quarantine due to exposure to the virus. This placed additional pressure on other healthcare workers who remained working in environments that were short-staffed.

Workplace anxiety is also known as occupational anxiety or work-related anxiety. It is a type of anxiety that is experienced in someone’s work environment or job. Workplace anxiety is a common problem that affects employees in many industries and job roles but it can be more common in the health and social care sector due to the high stress environment.

MIND offers help and support for people who are concerned about work-related stress.

Some healthcare workers may also feel stuck in their role with a lack of opportunity for career progression. This may be because the working environment is so busy and stressful that there is little time to reflect or focus on career progression.

Due to the intensity of the working environment, there may be little time for further training, updating skills and evidencing knowledge in order to progress. This may mean that the only way a healthcare worker feels able to do something else or earn a higher salary is to have a career change.

If you are struggling with your mental health and need some support, the NHS offer information on how to access mental health support in your area.

Healthcare worker working night shift

What are transferrable skills in healthcare workers?

Transferable skills are a core set of skills and abilities which can be applied to a wide range of different jobs. Transferable skills are incredibly valuable to employers. There are many skills gained through working as a healthcare worker which are transferable to other careers.

Examples of transferrable skills include:

  • Creativity.
  • People skills.
  • Communication skills.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Teamwork.
  • Adaptability/flexibility.
  • Time management.
  • Problem solving.
  • Critical thinking.
  • Attention to detail.
  • The ability to multitask.
  • Staying calm under pressure.
  • Medical knowledge.
  • Research.
  • Caring and compassionate approach.
  • Empathy.
  • Knowledge of the importance of diversity, inclusivity and safeguarding.
  • Emotional resilience.
  • Collaborative working.
  • Multi-agency working.
  • Conflict resolution.
  • Taking initiative.
  • Organisational skills.
  • Networking.
  • Writing skills.

Examples of alternative careers for healthcare workers

Healthcare workers have a wide range of skills and knowledge that can be applied to many different industries and settings. A change in role doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the health and social care sector altogether. There are many different opportunities within the healthcare sector and there can be many transferable skills between roles and departments.

Some examples of alternative careers for healthcare workers include:

  • Medical writing – This can include creating content for scientific publications, medical educational materials, regulatory documents and marketing materials. If you are a healthcare professional with strong writing skills, this area of work may be an option for you.
  • Medical sales – This can involve selling medical equipment and products to hospitals and clinics.
  • Health and wellness coaching – This involves being employed to help individuals develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to improve their overall wellbeing.
  • Healthcare IT – This involves analysing and managing health data in order to improve patient care, and the delivery of healthcare.
  • Telehealth – This involves interacting with patients remotely.
  • Healthcare research – This involves carrying out research in order to develop new treatments and therapies for various medical conditions.
  • Healthcare education – This involves training and educating other healthcare professionals or student healthcare professionals.
  • Healthcare administration – This involves managing healthcare organisations, overseeing their operations, and ensuring there is compliance with regulations.

Examples of specific roles in healthcare and examples of alternative careers include:

  • Registered nurse – If you are a nurse working in a hospital and would like to remain working in the sector, there are several options for you to do this. This may include community nursing, outpatients, clinical research, teaching as a nursing instructor, counselling, management or legal roles.
  • Doctor – Alternative roles for doctors will depend on experience or speciality. Alternative roles may include working as a medical writer, medical consultant for healthcare organisations, medical researcher, medical journalist, medical educator, health IT specialist and medical sales (for example, for pharmaceutical or medical device companies, promoting and selling their products to healthcare providers).
  • Healthcare assistant – There may be an opportunity to further your training and qualifications in order for you to progress to a different band. The NHS uses a banded pay scale, and each worker is expected to meet certain experience or qualification requirements to work at certain band levels. If you are a healthcare assistant and you are looking for career progression beyond the healthcare assistant role, a combination of workplace learning and university education would be required for nursing associate roles or to become a registered nurse. A role as a therapy technician, working alongside physiotherapists, occupational therapists or speech and language therapists, is a good alternative to being a healthcare assistant. A radiography assistant or imaging support worker are also options worth considering. Becoming a ward clerk or a discharge facilitator are other options. Outside the sector altogether there are many roles that require transferable skills for customer service focused roles.

Positives of choosing an alternative career

The positives of choosing an alternative career may include:

  • Working in a slower paced, less stressful environment.
  • Increased job satisfaction.
  • Personal growth and development.
  • Gaining new skills and building upon your existing skills.
  • Gaining confidence in another area.
  • Pursuing a passion for something else.
  • To work more sociable or flexible hours.
  • Potential of increasing your salary.
  • To further your knowledge/training in a new area.
Choosing alternative career as counsellor

Negatives of choosing an alternative career

There is, of course, always the potential that choosing an alternative career will not be a positive experience.

The negatives of choosing an alternative career may be:

  • Your new position could result in increased stress and anxiety.
  • There will usually be a probation period. This may mean that you do not feel the same level of job security as in your previous job and may feel under extra pressure to perform well.
  • The loss of seniority and benefits which you may have built up in your current job if you have been there for a long time.
  • You will need to adapt to a new working environment.
  • The need for additional education or training.
  • Financial instability related to job changes.

Clearly, there are pros and cons to any career change and there may be some level of risk involved; however, with careful planning and preparation, the positives can outweigh the negatives and lead to a more fulfilling and rewarding career. The knowledge, skills and experience you gain from working in healthcare, regardless of your role, can be assets to any future employer and you will have many options available to you.

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About the author

Claire Vain

Claire Vain

Claire graduated with a degree in Social Work in 2010. She is currently enjoying her career moving in a different direction, working as a professional writer and editor. Outside of work Claire loves to travel, spend time with her family and two dogs and she practices yoga at every opportunity!

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