Nursing is a tough job. You need the medical knowledge to help prevent pain and heal injuries, but you also need the emotional skills to help people through some of their toughest moments.
This combination of technical and empathetic skills makes nurses great candidates for work in UX design. Nurses also possess other important UX characteristics, including time management, organization, and teamwork.
One of the best parts about UX design is that almost anyone can transition to this field. While these two paths may not seem to have much in common, UX designers with medical backgrounds are actually in high demand.
If you’re thinking about taking your nursing career in a bold new direction, read on. This installment of The Guac will walk you through a quick comparison of these two paths and explain how to get started as a UX designer.
Grab some chips and let’s dig in!
UX (user experience) design is a field of work dedicated to helping people have better interactions with products of all kinds. UX designers help build mobile applications, websites, and even consumer goods that are user-friendly and enjoyable.
UX professionals often work with a team of researchers, developers, analysts, and more. They follow a multi-step design process to build user-centric products that succeed in the market.
UX designers start their process with user research, analysis, and ideation to explore the problem they are trying to solve. Once they have a clear understanding of the users and their needs, UX designers then move on to wireframing and prototyping the actual app, website, or product. Finally, they test their creations and work with a team of developers to bring their prototypes to life in the final product.
If you have a favorite social media platform, video streaming service, or video game that you just love to use, you can thank a UX designer! Someone behind the scenes worked hard to create a fantastic experience for people like you.
While nurses and UX designers may have many qualities in common, the careers themselves look a bit different.
For example, while nursing requires a very specific educational background, UX designers come from all disciplines and degree levels. Another key difference is the work environment. UX designers can be found in many different kinds of settings, while most nurses work in medical environments like hospitals and health clinics.
Check out the chart below for a comparison of the key aspects of these careers:
Average Base Salary
Job Growth Outlook
7% (faster than average)
**8-22% (much faster than average)
Entry-Level Education Required
Associates Degree, though Bachelor’s Degree (BSN) preferred
Varies, but many hold at least a Bachelor’s Degree
Hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient clinics, home healthcare services, and nursing care facilities.
Tech companies, ad agencies, and other creative corporate environments. Many UX designers also freelance.
*This chart is based on the career path of a registered nurse. Other types of nurses, such as CNAs or LPNs, will have different career path data.
**Job growth outlook for UX designers is not currently measured by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS forecasts 8% job growth for web developers and digital designers, however, other sources forecast even greater demand for UX designers.
Did you notice a pattern? Even though the job duties between these two paths seem quite different, both involve instructing others, working on a team, and using observations to inform important decisions.
If you’re thinking about transitioning to UX from nursing, you’ll be surprised to find how often you rely on your nursing skills to succeed.
Here are a few more specific transferable skills that help nurses fit into the world of UX design:
Nurses rely on both verbal and written communication to work effectively. For example, they often teach patients how to take their medication and manage their symptoms when they go home. Nurses must also communicate efficiently when working on a busy unit with other doctors and nurses.
These communication skills come in handy as a UX designer. Designers often brainstorm together aloud in meetings, and they’re constantly using messages, emails, and verbal communication to share their ideas. Without good communication, it’s hard to keep everyone on the same page, causing confusion and delaying the design process.
As a former nurse, these communication skills will likely come second nature as you transition to UX design. You’ll have the leadership and teamwork skills to help teams reach a consensus before moving forward with a plan.
Time management is also second nature to most nurses. After all, nurses are trained in triage. They must constantly evaluate which patients most urgently need their care.
While UX design work is rarely as high stakes as nursing, designers must also frequently prioritize tasks. Designers work within tight deadlines and limited budgets, so they have to focus on features they can design within the given limitations. Designers who work on Agile teams are especially familiar with task management as they complete Scrum sprints.
If you’re a nurse, you’ll be prepared to identify and address pressing issues first, and you won’t be miffed if some tasks simply have to wait. Your ability to cut to the chase will make you a valuable motivator on any design team.
The most important transferable skill nurses bring to UX is empathy. Empathy helps nurses understand their patient’s symptoms so they can provide excellent care. Empathy also allows UX designers to identify their users’ needs and pain points.
UX designers spend a significant portion of their time trying to understand their users better through research and testing. If you’re a nurse transitioning to UX, you’ll be able to put yourself in a user’s shoes during these processes. Your professional empathy will help you conduct better research and create designs well-tailored to users’ specific needs.
Along with empathy, UX designers and nurses both have to ask the right questions. Just as nurses have to speak with patients and listen to understand their symptoms, UX designers have to ask targeted questions to understand user’s pain points.
Nurses and UX designers also have to make careful observations. Whether conducting diagnostic testing or user testing, a keen observational eye is critical to spotting issues.
Your ability to ask good questions and notice patterns as a nurse will help you excel when crafting UX design solutions.
While many of these nursing skills transfer easily to UX design, there are other skills you will need to pick up to transition to this field.
Here are a few things you’ll need to learn to land your first UX design job:
As we mentioned above, UX designers must conduct research at the beginning of a project to identify their user base and pinpoint the problem at hand. While nurses are familiar with research and excellent observers, there are specific UX research methodologies you’ll need to learn.
UX research often includes writing surveys, conducting interviews, performing card sorting tests, and more to uncover a user’s perspective. Be prepared to learn at least some of these methods as you transition to UX design.
Wireframing is the process of creating simple grayscale mockups of an app or product to get an early idea of its layout, navigation, and components. Then, prototyping brings wireframes to life with images, color, interactivity, and more. Both wireframing and prototyping are essential tasks for UX/UI designers.
If you are a nurse, you may be more familiar with communicating ideas with words rather than through sketches or other visualizations. As you transition to this field, you’ll have to spend some time learning the basics of wireframing and prototyping before you can design entire products.
Don’t worry, though! Anyone who has used an app or website already has an idea of what makes a product great.
Start by observing what does and doesn’t work well in the digital interfaces you use every day. Then, you can learn design best practices through a UX boot camp or other UX design programs in just a few weeks.
Information architecture is the art and science of figuring out the most logical way to organize information within a product. UX designers must determine how websites and apps should be structured so users can easily find what they need without feeling overwhelmed.
As a nurse, you’re already well acquainted with keeping large amounts of information organized. Between managing patient records and taking information-heavy courses like Anatomy & Physiology, you’ve already got a knack for categorizing data.
However, you’ll need to learn information architecture best practices to hone this skill and apply it in a UX design job. With the help of a UX boot camp, you can learn how designers decide how to categorize, label, and structure content to help users access critical information.
As a nurse transitioning to UX design, you’ll need to learn the tools of the trade. From design tools like Figma and Sketch to mind mapping tools like Miro, UX designers use a surprising variety of platforms each day.
Luckily, learning these tools is much faster than learning UX concepts and skills. To start learning UX design tools, we recommend jumping into a practice project and taking these tools for a test drive. You’ll get familiar with them quickly and feel more confident during your UX learning program and beyond.
As we’ve shown, nurses can become excellent UX designers. If you’re ready to explore new horizons with your nursing experience, becoming a UX designer could be a fantastic choice.
However, you don’t need to give up nursing to learn UX basics. In fact, picking up UX skills like writing user stories and conducting user research could make you a better nurse. You’ll know how to empathize with your patients throughout their medical journey and find more targeted ways to meet their needs. UX design knowledge can also make you a better leader and team player.
If you do want to make the switch and learn UX design, start with these steps:
1. Determine Why You Want to Become a UX Designer
At Avocademy, we encourage students to do a little soul-searching before embarking on a new career. Before starting a UX mentorship program, consider your motivations. Are you looking to leave medicine behind, or do you want to use your nursing knowledge in your future UX role? Are you hoping to become a UX expert or just looking for a change?
Thinking about your “why” can help you choose the right UX boot camp or UX learning pathway and identify potential specializations to pursue.
2. Determine Your Timeline & Budget
Luckily, you don’t need 4 more years of college to become a UX designer. However, UX programs can take between several weeks to half a year or more to complete.
Program costs vary widely too. Some programs are completely free, but getting a full Master’s Degree in a UX-related field can set you back over $30,000. Be sure to set realistic expectations to reach your goals without getting into unnecessary debt!
3. Select a UX Learning Program
With your motivations, timeline, and budget in alignment, it’s time to learn UX design! You can:
Each of these options can be a great choice depending on your needs. Take time to research options before selecting a pathway.
4. Create a UX Portfolio
Once you complete a few UX projects through your learning program, you’re ready to start building a UX portfolio. A UX portfolio provides case studies of your past designs for employers to review during the hiring process.
Have your portfolio critiqued by UX experts so you can make a great first impression!
5. Apply to Jobs & Start Your UX Career!
With your amazing portfolio ready to go, you can start hunting for that UX dream job.
At Avocademy, we find that students usually need between 3-6 months and 150 or more applications to land an entry-level UX position. Be patient and keep applying to successfully transition from nursing to UX design!
If you’re a nurse interested in learning UX design, schedule an Avocademy mentoring session.
We believe anyone, including nurses, can become exceptional UX designers. Whether you’re looking for a new career or just looking to learn new skills, we’ll help you get started.