Taking a Closer Look at the (Relatively) Least Stressful Nursing Jobs
By Will Erstad on 12/02/2019
Nursing has always sounded like an appealing profession. You get to help people, it’s a well-respected field, the earning potential is solid and the path to becoming a nurse is relatively short compared to some other healthcare careers. But you’re still a little unsure about one thing—the potential stress you’ll face in this career.
You’ve seen enough medical dramas with nurses frantically rushing around as patient monitoring systems blare out a symphony of warning beeps to know that things can get pretty intense for some nursing positions. But are there less stressful nursing options that are a little easier on your psyche? In this article we’ll tackle that question and explore whether there’s really such a thing as a “stress-free” nursing job.
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Do “stress-free” or “easy” nursing jobs really exist?
You might not like to hear it, but the honest answer is not really. Every job in the world comes with stresses—even the extremely Zen yoga instructor at your local gym has occupational worries. Stress is a fact of working life, and nurses are certainly not exempt.
Every nursing role involves working either directly or a step removed from sick or injured patients whose wellbeing is at least partially in your hands. That alone means the stakes for nursing and many healthcare roles are relatively higher than some careers.
That being said, the stressfulness of a particular nursing role can vary quite a bit from person to person. Some might think pediatric nursing is a breeze while others find non-bedside nursing jobs to be much more manageable.
“Each person perceives ‘stress’ differently,” says RN Catherine Burger of RegisteredNursing.org. “I know many ER or ICU nurses who would never describe their very stressful jobs as such; they use words such as ‘exciting’ or ‘interesting.’”
So the main takeaway is that determining the least stressful nursing jobs really depends on who you ask, because it’s all relative. But with that in mind, it can still be helpful to understand the root causes of the perceived stress of a particular nursing position.
What are some common causes of nursing stress?
The truth is that there is no universal list of the easiest nursing jobs; stress is just a natural element of the position and it comes in different forms. So finding the right fit for you may be a matter of identifying what types of stressors you handle best.
Potential sources of nursing stress include:
- The number of patients assigned per shift
- “Shared trauma” from patients dealing with severe injuries and illnesses
- High-pressure care decisions
- Mental and physical fatigue
- Level of technical skill needed
- Poor culture of safety
- Conflict with nurse coworkers
- Administrative pressure
- “Bureaucracy” interfering with patient care
Odds are good that in any nursing specialty you’ll experience at least some of these stress sources. Registered nurse Nicole Nash-Arnold of Nurse Manager HQ says much of it comes with the responsibility of caring for someone.
“Our role is to advocate for our patient's best interest, and if that puts you in a position where you must enter a conflict with someone, including work colleagues or your employer, then that is your professional responsibility,” Nash-Arnold asserts.
“I do not know of a single nursing role that is not affected by the ‘do more with less, faster and by yesterday’ method of modern medicine,” Burger says. “Organizations need to be efficient in order to survive the business of healthcare, but this stress is typically passed down to the staff performing the work.”
While some of these stress factors may be out of a nurse’s control, our experts share that maintaining an excellent working relationship with coworkers can help smooth over quite a bit. Nash-Arnold says building strong connections is one of the keys to managing stress as a nurse.
“It's a way of ‘decontaminating’ from the stress when you develop relationships at work,” Nash-Arnold says. “High-trust teams tend to have more fun. Humor is a well-established tension relieving technique and will directly impact a nurse’s resilience to stress.”
9 Lower-stress nursing jobs
As you’re well aware of now, there’s no such thing as stress-free or easy nursing jobs. But there are options that may involve less of the high-pressure situations that some nurses encounter. Keep reading to learn about some of the least stressful nursing roles that might appeal to you.
1. Nurse educator
Nurse educators are medical professionals who train nurses and aspiring nurses. Some nurse educators are employed by healthcare systems to provide continuing education training for licensed nurses who are already established. Other nurse educators work for academic institutions to train nursing students. This role is an excellent option for those who crave a low-stress nursing environment but want to retain their medical training and stay on top of new developments in the healthcare world.
Keep in mind that employers are typically seeking nurse educators who have extensive clinical experience and an advanced education—so you’ll likely need to work your way toward this role for a bit before reaching the relative calm of nursing education.
2. Long-term care nurse
As you might expect, long-term care (LTC) nurses provide care for patients whose injuries, illnesses or conditions require extended medical oversight. Typically these nurses work with elderly patients in nursing homes, assisted living communities or PACE facilities. LTC nurses administer medications, conduct regular check-ins and address any urgent health issues.
The stressfulness of LTC nursing can vary quite a bit from facility to facility. Many may find the nurse-to-patient ratio of this lower-acuity specialty to be challenging, but others particularly enjoy the opportunity to build longer-term relationships with elderly patients and their families.
3. Nurse administrator
Nurse administrators still work in healthcare facilities, but they take a step back from the hustle and bustle of direct patient care. Instead, they spend their days focused on administrative duties like planning, directing and coordinating medical and health services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).*
Nurse administrators work in any setting with a significant number of nursing employees. Their job duties include developing training procedures, creating schedules, conducting performance reviews, maintaining financial records and meeting with other healthcare administrators.
The stressfulness of this position is likely to be highly subjective—managing budget pressures and staffing crunches certainly isn’t a walk in the park. That said, it’s definitely a change of pace from direct patient care and some may be better equipped for handling pressures of the administrative nature.
4. Clinical research nurse
Clinical research is a key component of medical innovation. Every new drug, treatment or medical device undergoes several stages of clinical trials and testing, and clinical research nurses play an important role in this process. They’re responsible for screening and recruitment of patients for clinical trials, ensuring accurate recording of important patient information and working to maintain regulatory and study protocol compliance. Research nurses often work primarily with a consistent and specific subset of patients—for instance patients dealing with kidney disease or cancer.
While details of the work (and the levels of stress involved) may vary depending on the type of clinical research being conducted, these positions typically offer fairly standard work schedules that provide a mix of direct patient contact and administrative work.
5. School or summer camp nurse
Nurses who love kids couldn’t ask for a better position. Schools and summer camps often hire RNs to provide basic care for their staff and students. These nurses can expect to handle basic first aid situations, as well as administer daily medication (such as allergy medicine).
These nurses are avoiding the hectic atmosphere of hospitals, but they’re still able to practice their medical skills in an energized environment. The ailments they treat are generally run-of-the-mill, so there’s a much lower chance of being faced with stressful medical emergencies. One potential stress factor is that school nurses are often a team of one, so you’ll need to be comfortable with working independently and prioritizing care.
6. Clinic nurse
Nurses can work in a variety of clinics, but many consider one of the least stressful nursing jobs to be working in a generalist physician’s office. Nurses who work in doctor’s office—think of a pediatrician’s office or family medicine—see a steady stream of patients every day. However, unlike some hospital nursing units that can be unpredictable from day to day, clinics are scheduled in advance so you typically know what’s coming next.
Clinic nurses work to assess patients, administer medical tests such as drawing blood, and educate patients on a variety of health topics. They may also be responsible for telephone triage, meaning they talk to patients on the phone answering any health questions and determining whether patients should be seen in the clinic or not.
7. Nurse informatics
For those nurses who are looking to transition away from a patient-facing role, but still want to be involved with patient health, a career in nursing informatics could be perfect. Nursing informatics is a field where healthcare information technology meets clinical practice. Nurses in this role serve as a connecting point between the information technology professionals developing health records systems and the nurses (or other care providers) who’ll be using these systems on a daily basis.
This highly-specialized role requires an interesting mix of skills—they’re part user interface expert, tech translator, educator and systems designer, among other things. While this technical role is sure to have its share of stressful elements, it may be an appealing route for experienced nurses looking to get out of the direct patient care routine.
8. Lactation consultant nurse
Another potentially appealing niche nursing role is that of a lactation consultant. These professionals assist new mothers with common breastfeeding concerns like latching issues, pain while nursing and infants not gaining weight at the desired pace.
Lactation consultants are responsible for a lot of documentation as well—they keep track of patient concerns, educational topics covered during visits and may collect feeding statistics for larger hospital reporting initiatives. This role is a great fit for nurses who enjoy gently educating and encouraging patients and working with families who are entering an exciting new phase in life.
9. Telehealth nurse
If you’ve ever called a healthcare provider for a quick question about a nagging health issue, you’ve likely interacted with a telehealth nurse. This healthcare offering is growing in popularity as more patients have access to the devices that make this diagnostic service viable.
Telehealth nurses will spend their time fielding patient questions, monitoring patients with long-term needs (for example, patients undergoing chemotherapy may have home health monitoring systems installed) and conducting check-ins with those whose vital signs change significantly. Additionally they’ll follow up with physicians and other healthcare providers to determine next steps for a patient. Typically telehealth nurses will work with a high volume of patients, but most interactions are not in dire circumstances, which is why it’s often categorized as a low-stress nursing job.
Find the right nursing fit for you
Like with any job, the work of a nurse comes with plenty of potential stressors. But that’s no cause for concern. As we said before, the stressfulness of a nursing role is fairly subjective—but there are certainly options that are less-hectic.
No matter the role you pursue, you’ll want to know more about your options for becoming a nurse. Learn more about the steps along the way in our article, “How to Become a Nurse: A Beginner’s Guide.”
*U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook [accessed October 2019] Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.