published on
February 1, 2024

Help, I want to leave NHS nursing! A guide to your options

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Care professionals
Help, I want to leave NHS nursing! A guide to your options

If you’re a nurse who’s spent your career working in the NHS, you might be thinking about other career paths.   

Whether you're burned out (which is sadly increasing in NHS nursing), need a change of pace, or are simply looking for new opportunities, many nurses think about leaving the NHS at some point. 

The good news is, you can still find work that helps you continue to use and grow your skills, while achieving a more flexible work-life balance. 

Here, we’ll look at  the options available for nurses who want to transition out of the NHS, and also explore alternatives for those who ideally want to stay.

Leaving the NHS: your options as nurse

Education and training

If you're interested in sharing your nursing knowledge and skills with the next generation of healthcare professionals, pursuing a career in education and training might be a fulfilling option.

- Teaching roles: Many universities and colleges offer nursing programs that require experienced nurses to teach and mentor students.

- Continuing education: Nurses can also become involved in developing and delivering continuing education programs for healthcare professionals.

Clinical research roles 

For nurses interested in the scientific aspect of healthcare, clinical research roles offer a unique path.

- Contributing to advancements: Clinical research nurses play a critical role in advancing medical knowledge by participating in research trials and studies.

- Varied opportunities: Research positions can be found in academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare organisations.

Agency nursing

Agency nursing is a popular choice for nurses who want to stop working for the NHS full-time but still want to use their skills to support the NHS. 

It offers flexibility, the opportunity for higher rates of pay, and the chance to experience different wards and sometimes specialisms. 

The positives of agency work include: 

- Flexibility: Agency nurses have the freedom to choose their working hours, locations, and the types of assignments they want to take on. This flexibility can be a welcome change for those looking to regain control over their work-life balance.

- Varied experience: Working as an agency nurse allows you to gain experience in a variety of wards and hospitals. This exposure can help you develop a broader skill set and adaptability.

- Better pay: Agency nurses often earn higher hourly rates compared to their NHS counterparts. While these rates may vary depending on the agency and location, the potential for increased income is attractive to many nurses.

- Reduced admin: Agency nurses typically have less administrative work to deal with, as they are not directly employed by healthcare facilities. This can lead to a more streamlined work experience.

- No politics: Agency nurses usually aren’t drawn into workplace politics. Often, this is a welcome change. 

- Pension: Agency nurses will still receive an (optional) contribution to a statutory pension.

I thought long and hard about leaving my full-time role in the NHS. But I found the politics and workload just too much. Since moving to picking up flexible NHS shifts via  Florence, it’s been life-changing. I’m less stressed, I can be around in the school holidays, I have a better work-life balance, and I’m continuing to develop my skills in a variety of wards. For me, it was the right decision, but everyone is different.

Hope Mantey, nurse

Private healthcare

Another option for nurses considering leaving the NHS is transitioning to the private healthcare sector. Here are some considerations:

- Higher pay: Private healthcare facilities often offer competitive salaries and benefits to attract experienced nursing professionals.

- Specialisation opportunities: Private healthcare providers may specialise in certain medical fields, offering opportunities for nurses to focus on areas of interest or expertise.

- Smaller workload: In some cases, private healthcare settings may have a lower patient-to-nurse ratio, allowing for more personalised care and reduced stress.

Nursing and care homes

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities provide an alternative career path for nurses who want to shift their focus towards elderly care. 

Here's what you can expect:

- Patient continuity: In long-term care, nurses build long-lasting relationships with their patients, providing ongoing care and support.

- Diverse roles: These facilities often require nurses to perform various roles, including wound care, medication management, and coordinating with other healthcare professionals.

- Steady demand: As the UK's population ages, there is a consistent demand for nurses in nursing homes and long-term care settings.

- Variety of working patterns: Option to work full-time, part-time or flexibly as an agency nurse.

“I’ve loved my transition from the NHS to working with the elderly. I still get to make a difference in people’s lives, use my skills and work within supportive teams. Now I also get to do it on my terms. My work-life balance is great and I’m able to save money for our future.”

Helen Bennett, Nurse

Staying within the NHS: Exploring alternatives

If you've decided that staying within the NHS is the right choice for you, there are several avenues to consider for career growth and job satisfaction:

Specialisation and advanced practice

The NHS gives many opportunities for nurses to specialise and advance their careers. You can explore becoming a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse consultant among others. 

Specialisation allows you to focus on a particular area of healthcare and often comes with increased responsibility and higher pay.

Leadership roles

NHS trusts value experienced nurses who can take on leadership positions. Consider pursuing roles such as nurse manager, director of nursing, or chief nursing officer. 

Leadership positions come with the responsibility of overseeing teams, budgets and strategic planning.

Research and development

If you have a passion for research, the NHS offers research nurse positions in various specialities. These roles involve participating in clinical trials, conducting studies, and contributing to evidence-based practice. 

Research positions can be intellectually rewarding and contribute to advancements in healthcare.

Education and training

Becoming a nurse educator within the NHS allows you to share your knowledge and expertise with the next generation of nurses. You can teach in nursing schools, provide clinical supervision and design educational programs.

International opportunities

The NHS occasionally offers international exchange programs and collaborations. If you're interested in working overseas, consider taking part in these initiatives, which can provide unique experiences and chances for professional growth.

How do you decide what to do next? 

There is a wide range of opportunities for nurses both within and outside the NHS. You can change your career while continuing to use your hard-won skills and grow professionally, while finding a better fit for your lifestyle.

Here’s how to get started thinking about  which option would suit you best: 

- 1. Write down what you want and what you don’t want from your next nursing role.

- 2. Write down alternative jobs you like the sound of from the list above (and any other research you’ve done).

- 3. Write a list of pros and cons for each option.

- 4. Write down a list of your fears about each one e.g. is it fears about the change in pension, losing your skills, or feeling ‘alone’ within a new role? Getting them on paper is the first step to overcoming them. 

- 5. Then, contact someone who has done the role: Speak to friends and colleagues, or post on a nursing forum or social media. Ask about others' experiences and if your fears are really a reality. 

Now armed with all the information, take your time to consider and explore the options. Ultimately, trust your instincts about what will work best for you and your circumstances. 

If you want to learn more about working shifts with Florence Florence, either in  the NHS or elderly care, start a live chat or find out more here.

You also might be interested in:

- Feeling lonely as an agency nurse? Here's how to fix it

- 9 little things that make nurse life much easier

- 6 tips to help make NMC revalidation simple

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