Ask any passerby on the street to describe nurses. You’ll likely hear a description of a woman in scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck, caring for patients in a hospital. While that picture may be accurate for a certain percentage of nurses, there are plenty whose professional life looks much different, including those who have embraced the world of nurse entrepreneurship.
A Look at the Numbers
There are plenty of statistics that we know about nurses:
Two hundred seventy thousand may not seem like an enormous number of nurses in business, yet over a quarter of a million is not a bad showing, especially when many people — including nurses — don’t even recognize entrepreneurship as an option. No matter, the reality is that both anecdotal evidence and objective data demonstrate that nurse entrepreneurship is a growing and powerful trend among nurses seeking career paths outside the mainstream, where they have ultimate control over their professional fate.
What Do Nurse Entrepreneurs Do?
The breadth and depth of nurse-run entrepreneurial endeavors make for an impressive list. Potential entrepreneurial pathways for nurses include, but are not limited to:
- Freelance writer/journalist/blogger
- Motivational/keynote speaker
- YouTube or TikTok personality
- Owner of a nurse-run home health agency
- Independent nurse care manager
- Inventor and marketer of medical products
- App developer
- Legal nurse consultant
- Private practice (RN or NP)
- Medical spa owner
- Cannabis nurse consultant
- Infusion nurse
- Private duty nurse
- End-of-life/hospice/palliative care consultant
- Massage therapist/bodyworker
- Yoga instructor/yoga therapist
- CPR, BLS, ACLS, First Aid instructor
- Nurse consultant or coach (e.g., fertility, career, mindfulness, writing, nutrition, fitness, health and wellness, elder care, lactation, childbirth, relationships, business, etc.)
- Online or in-person course creator
- Diabetes educator
- Foot care service provider
- Nurse staffing agency
- Medical scrubs designer and marketer
There are numerous real-life examples of these and other nursing businesses operating in the marketplace at this very moment. Nurses are designing, patenting, and marketing their own medical products; providing coaching and consulting in an enormous variety of specialty areas; creating online and in-person courses for medical professionals or laypeople; and so on.
The National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA) and the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders (SONSIEL) are two leading organizations supporting nurses in business, and there are webinars, courses, meetups, and conferences offering services and inspiration to nurses pursuing such career avenues.
Just-in-Time Learning and Critical Thinking
What might lead a nurse to hesitate about an entrepreneurial project could be that nursing school needs to prepare us for that milieu, and the venture’s complexity may seem particularly overwhelming. However, in the business world, many skills (e.g., accounting and bookkeeping, invoicing, marketing, social media, writing web copy, etc.) can be acquired on an as-needed and just-in-time basis. Furthermore, other professionals can be hired to assist us with such tasks or at least teach us how to tackle them ourselves.
Nurses are entirely accustomed to just-in-time learning since they fundamentally understand that there will often be times when they need to learn a new skill “just in time” because you can’t know everything. Some new competencies must simply be learned on the fly.
The truth is that numerous nurses have found that the critical thinking and problem-solving skills developed and honed through working as clinical nurses lend themselves to the sphere of business. Puzzling through obstacles, creating workarounds, and otherwise spitballing methods for getting things done come naturally to nurses. The enormous success of a growing community of nurse entrepreneurs is a testament to nurses’ ability to pivot into business.
Despite the narrow view of what nurses are capable of, the possibilities for nurse entrepreneurship have never been more robust. When a nurse is worn out from clinical, academic, or leadership roles and needs a novel direction to take their career, business remains a direction worthy of examination. Nurses make powerful and influential entrepreneurs, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to what’s truly possible.
Daily Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.
Adaptability, organization, and communication are among the skills you bring to patient care every day and are some of the same qualities that can help you succeed away from the hospital as a nurse entrepreneur.
Nurses have a variety of traits that qualify them for an entrepreneurial path. For one thing, “nurses are the best problem solvers, and that’s a quality that will take them quite far regardless of their setting,” says Michelle Podlesni, RN, president of the National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA), said to be the only nursing organization dedicated to nursing entrepreneurs.
“Nurses have a lot of qualities very similar to what entrepreneur qualities are across the board,” said Podlesni during an interview. Podlesni has compared the traits of RNs and the characteristics of entrepreneurs. She says nurses have excellent communication skills, can prioritize, know how to organize, and are adaptable. In addition, they have sound judgment, dedication, and a commitment to continuing education.
Podlesni’s path offers a study in becoming a nurse entrepreneur. She started as a Navy corpsman, then attended nursing school and worked as an ICU nurse. She then transitioned to a case management position with an insurance firm. After that, she worked in various other companies, winding up in executive management.
She subsequently started her own senior care company and became an author, speaker, coach, and consultant, becoming president of NNBA in 2014. In addition, she contributed a chapter to the Springer book Evidence-Based Leadership, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Nursing and Healthcare. “I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for years,” she says.
COVID’s Impact on Nurse Entrepreneurs
As might be expected, COVID has sparked additional interest in nurse entrepreneurship. “We definitely have gotten a lot more interest and membership growth,” says Podlesni.
In 2013, she wrote “UNconventional Nurse: Going From Burnout to Bliss!” Then, 30% of nurses were considered burned out, she says. Now, 50% of nurses are looking to leave, she says, pointing to a recent survey with that finding.
Conversations Podlesni has with nurses about COVID take two forms. The first is the nurse who is looking to do something different. The second is with business owners who need help dealing with the impacts of the pandemic on their businesses. Podlesni says she saw nurse entrepreneurs take advantage of legislation allowing more use of telehealth because of COVID.
Types of Businesses
Consulting services rank as the top type of business for nurse entrepreneurs notes Podlesni. “It’s unbelievable the knowledge and experience nurses have that translates so well to providing consulting services, depending on the specialty they’re involved in.”
Education and training represent another big area for nurse entrepreneurship. Elder care is a further area of opportunity, she notes. She says that with insufficient facilities available to care for those over age 65, how seniors will age in place and maintain their health provides an “endless array of services” in the senior care market. Other popular areas for entrepreneurship include mental health and wellness; holistic nursing; informatics; and legal nurse consulting.
Getting Started as a Nurse Entrepreneur
Nurses, notes Podlesni, need to be mindful of the business aspects of healthcare, including such areas as technology, legislation, and socioeconomics. Such awareness can alert them to opportunities. “Nurses just becoming more aware and understanding that they have potential to practice independently as they choose” is important, she notes.
Nurse entrepreneurship involves “nurses understanding and believing in themselves, that they can create a business and independence that allows them to have the lifestyle they choose to lead,” says Podlesni. “I think that’s what most nurses want. They want more autonomy.”
With constant upheaval and changes in the health care system, nurses need to diversify their knowledge, including learning how to incorporate sound business decisions into their practice. Many nurses today are choosing the entrepreneurial path to coincide with their nursing career in order to protect the longevity and financial future of their careers. The National Nurses in Business Association (NNBA) is helping nurses unite in their own businesses with the Nurse Entrepreneurship and Career Alternatives Conference running October 14-16 in Las Vegas, NV.
NNBA is a professional nursing association for nurses transitioning from traditional nursing to small business ownership and self-employment. Membership provides nurses with the knowledge and tools to meet their entrepreneurial goals and connect with members of an extensive network of colleagues and resources to help navigate their business success.
The theme for this year’s NNBA conference is “Advancing Nurses Through Entrepreneurship.” All practicing nurses, aspiring nurse entrepreneurs, and current nurse entrepreneurs who wish to grow their business can attend the educational and professional development event. Attendees will benefit from nationally-acclaimed speakers and business owners, learn tools and take-a-ways to start their business, and receive information on how to make their current business more successful.
Conference highlights will include more than 19 sessions on nurse’s roles in the new health care landscape; transitioning to being a nurse entrepreneur; how to start or grow a business; effective business management; marketing and diversifying a business; social media tips from nurse writers and bloggers; and more. Attendees can also expect to hear from keynote speaker Dr. Louise Jakubik and attend optional pre-conference workshops about elder care business, blogging, podcasting, and other career and business insights essential to entrepreneurship.