Beyond Primary Care: 11 Nontraditional Nurse Practitioner Careers

Bedside nurse in hospital setting holding a clipboard
Bedside nurse in hospital setting holding a clipboard

Have you been thinking about becoming a nurse practitioner? Are you curious about the road less traveled? If so, you are in the right place! We’ve rounded up 11 nontraditional nurse practitioner career options that may intrigue you.

At Wilkes University, we know that nurses are talented individuals with boundless compassion and critical thinking. We help them use those qualities to become nurse practitioners who are highly qualified for traditional and nontraditional career paths. In this blog, we will help you explore some of these thriving nontraditional nurse practitioner careers you can pursue with an MSN-NP degree and additional certificates or on-the-job training.

1. Dermatology Nurse Practitioner

Dermatology nurse practitioners care for patients of all ages to treat conditions related to skin, hair and nails. They work in dermatology clinics, academic settings and specialty clinics providing general dermatology care. Opportunities exist to specialize in pediatric, surgical or cosmetic dermatology. Skin conditions treated by NPs include:

  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Cutaneous lymphoma
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Alopecia
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • Skin cancer (the most common type of cancer in the United States)

Due to the rise in skin disease and an aging population, this specialty is consistently growing. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), skin disease affects as many as one in three Americans.

2. Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner

Aesthetic nurse practitioners (NPs) work in medical spas and dermatology clinics, participating in procedures that help patients feel more confident about their appearance. They enjoy a generous salary, work autonomously, and are more likely to have a positive work-life balance. Many nurses in this specialty often advance their careers by becoming NPs to achieve a goal of opening their own practice. NPs can perform cosmetic procedures that reduce varicose veins, decrease fine lines, tighten skin, remove tattoos and minimize sun damage, such as:

  • Botox
  • Dermal fillers
  • Sclerotherapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Thermage
  • Mesotherapy
  • Laser therapy

Becoming an aesthetic NP does not require certification. However, it usually requires experience working with plastic surgeons or dermatologists as a registered nurse for at least two years before entering the field as an NP.

Asian American telehealth nurse practitioner

3. Telehealth Nurse Practitioner

Many Americans lack access to safe, high-quality care, especially in rural areas. The nation is simultaneously facing a decrease in healthcare providers in addition to a growing elderly population with chronic diseases.

Advances in technology have helped the healthcare industry provide care in new and evolving ways, including telehealth. Innovative companies are hiring NPs to treat patients remotely via telemedicine at a fast-growing rate.

Telehealth is being used in:

  • Primary care
  • Cardiology
  • Endocrinology
  • Mental health
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Chronic disease management
  • Wellness programs
  • Men’s health

Many NPs work in telehealth full-time. For those uninterested in a full-time position, there are opportunities for supplemental income with part-time, contract and PRN (pro re nata, or as needed) positions.

4. Bariatric Surgery Nurse Practitioner

Bariatric nurse practitioners care for patients before and after weight-loss surgeries. They evaluate patients’ history, risk factors and lifestyle to determine which type of surgery they need. They review choices such as restrictive or malabsorptive surgeries as well as a newer procedure that prompts weight loss by interrupting nerve signals between the stomach and the brain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 42.4% of adults in America are diagnosed with obesity. Bariatric surgery NPs are experts in the medical and psychological components of weight-loss surgery and play a key role in preventing long-term weight regain after surgery.

5. Developmental and Behavioral Nurse Practitioner

Developmental and behavioral NPs are pediatric growth and development experts and provide essential care for children that miss developmental milestones. They specialize in screening, prevention, early recognition and treatment.

These nurse practitioners often care for patients with autism spectrum disorder, learning difficulties and ADHD. They may also care for children with mental and emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, mood disorders, substance abuse, personal crises, stress and personal relationship conflicts.

NPs specializing in developmental, behavioral and mental health work in traditional office settings as well as nontraditional settings such as:

  • Critical access or psychiatric hospitals
  • Public health
  • Group homes for children with special needs
  • Indian reservations

The Wilkes University Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) track is a great entry point for this specialty. It helps you acquire skills to complete mental health assessments and treat mental and emotional disorders across the lifespan.

6. Locum Tenens — Travel Nurse Practitioner

Locum Tenens NPs are similar to a pinch-hitter or substitute teacher in that they temporarily take the place of another person. They fulfill travel contracts as temporary staff in medical facilities all across the nation to fill staffing gaps for a large variety of settings, including:

  • Inpatient (hospitalist)
  • Emergency departments
  • Critical care
  • Community health
  • Medical offices
  • Military bases
  • Home health

Travel NPs enjoy frequent changes in their environment, competitive pay, travel reimbursement, housing stipends, flexibility and a growing amount of opportunity.

7. Wellness Clinic Nurse Practitioner

Community-based and nurse-managed wellness centers are directed by a nurse practitioner who manages a staff of public health nurses to collaborate with an interdisciplinary healthcare team.

The wellness team usually includes:

  • Nurses
  • Pharmacists
  • Social workers
  • Therapists
  • Nutritionists

This is a rewarding career in an effective health care model that complements the existing primary care model. The focus is on prevention, self-care, health promotion, disease prevention, and wellness programs.

8. Foreign Service Nurse Practitioner

Are you an adventurous individual who can acquire a top-secret security clearance? A foreign service health NP provides care for government employees and their families who live overseas. These posts frequently include health risks, and the medical care in these areas is often inadequate by U.S. standards. Duties for NPs in foreign service health can vary greatly and include:

  • Advising the ambassador regarding health concerns
  • Monitoring water safety
  • Evaluating local hospitals
  • Monitoring hospitalized patients
  • Planning medical evacuations
  • Managing controlled substances
  • Providing occupational health
  • Preparing for emergency management

In an article from the Journal for Nurse Practitioners, foreign service NPs were asked what makes their job the greatest in the world. They routinely responded, “the opportunity to practice to the fullest extent of my education.”

9. Cruise Ship Nurse Practitioner

If you love the open seas and the waterway less traveled, this may be the perfect fit for you. Cruise ship NPs provide care to both passengers and crew members on commercial cruise ships.

Their responsibilities include:

  • Responding to medical emergencies
  • Tracking illness, injury and GI distress for guests and crew members
  • Maintaining medical supply inventory for the ship and lifeboat canisters
  • Teaching first aid
  • Diagnostic testing including labs and X-rays

Prior to pursuing a career on a cruise ship, NPs should have two to three years of clinical experience, preferably in cardiac care, trauma, emergency, general practice or internal medicine.

10. Movie Set Nurse Practitioner

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of your favorite movie or television show? Have you dabbled in acting or as a crew member for a play in school? Working as an NP for a movie, film or television show may be the perfect way to combine your interest in entertainment with your clinical knowledge and skills.

Medical teams are employed throughout the U.S. to help keep actors and crew members safe and healthy. Teams incorporate various healthcare providers, including NPs, who provide first-aid and care for those who get sick or have injuries while filming.

Most team members are on standby during filming, but they are paid whether they are needed or not. Some even offer their expert advice to filmmakers to help clinical scenes look more realistic.

11. Entrepreneur

Freelance Writer

Creative, business-minded NPs who are looking for autonomy and writing might enjoy starting their own freelance writing business. NPs use their advanced clinical knowledge to write for medical journals, websites, healthcare companies, educational platforms or fellow nurse bloggers.

There are numerous opportunities including blogging or writing a book about their clinical or life experiences. There are so many topics to write about such as general healthcare, specialty-specific information, interests or hobbies.

Writing and editing opportunities range from patient education brochures to clinical information such as: 

  • Clinical content for health care databases
  • White papers
  • Evidence-based practice for scholarly journals
  • Clinical education modules
  • Journalistic articles
  • Continuing education credits
  • Test questions

If you enjoy researching, writing or discussing hot-button health care issues, this nontraditional nurse practitioner job might be the right path for you.

Expert Witness or Legal Consultant

NPs who are fascinated by the legal system can transfer from the hospital room to the courtroom in this unique and nontraditional role. Lawyers frequently hire NPs as expert witnesses to testify in court cases where they provide an expert clinical opinion regarding standards of nursing care related to a case. They can also provide clinical expertise for insurance companies, law firms, government agencies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies as legal nurse consultants.

Woman having her face treated by a cosmetologist nurse

Thrive as a Nontraditional Nurse Practitioner

We’ve rounded up eleven nontraditional nurse practitioner careers outside of the primary care office. The settings range from the courtroom, open seas, to movie sets and more!

Here’s a list of even more alternative jobs for nurse practitioners:

  • Corporate health
  • Forensics
  • Acute care
  • Critical care
  • Stroke programs
  • Neonatal intensive care
  • Research
  • Education consultant

At Wilkes University, we know that pursuing your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a pivotal step into an exciting career with expanding opportunities. We offer three NP concentrations including Psychiatric/Mental Health, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care and Family.

We aim to meet the needs of our students by providing opportunities for success, including clinical placement services. Our high-quality graduate-level programs prepare nurses pursuing their NP to excel in traditional and nontraditional careers.  

Would you like more information about an MSN degree? Check out this article, “Is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Right for You?”