Nursing to Beauty, Beauty to Nursing: Making the Transition

Perhaps you have a penchant for esthetic style and love making the most out of someone's natural physical features. Maybe you can spot a person with a cold from a mile away and are empathetic to people experiencing physical discomfort or illness. As it turns out, the beauty and nursing industries overlap in many ways, and both fields tend to attract people who care deeply about helping others.

Making a difference in someone's life is an extraordinary feeling, which is why these career paths interchange.

This may be why people in nursing who are looking for a new career often transition to beauty—and vice versa. Veteran cosmetologist and cosmetology school owner Kim Burgett has witnessed this first-hand. "Making a difference in someone's life is an extraordinary feeling, which is why these career paths interchange," she says.

If you're considering switching from one career path to another, read on to learn how these fields overlap, where they differ, and what you might expect if you make the jump from one to the other.

Beauty vs. Nursing

How They Are Alike

Whether you work in the beauty industry or in nursing, you'll find that both careers are a labor of love. Aside from the common denominator of wanting to make a difference in people's lives, they are alike in other ways as well.

  • They involve human touch
  • They help people make a physical transformation that betters themselves.
  • They focus on healing, both inside and out.
  • They provide a variety of career opportunities in different
  • They have much-faster-than-average job growth projections.

How They Are Different

However, there are obvious (and not-so-obvious) differences between the fields. Otherwise, why would people choose to switch from one field to the other?

  • Training: You can become a cosmetologist in 6 months to 2 years, depending on your specialty. Although programs for entry level jobs in nursing—such as certified nursing assistant (CNA)—can take as little as 4 to 6 weeks to complete, most nursing careers require a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Salary: Overall, median annual pay is higher in nursing (BLS, May 2018):
    • Nursing
    • Certified nurse assistant: $28,540
    • Licensed practical nurse: $46,240
    • Registered nurse: $71,730
    • Beauty
    • Cosmetologist, hair stylist: $24,830
    • Barber: $27,960
    • Esthetician: $31,290
  • Creativity: Beauty involves artistry, while nursing does not.
  • Flexibility: Beauty professionals sometimes have control over their own hours, while nurses are assigned shifts.
  • Job reliability: Nurses tend to have regular paychecks and benefits.
  • Physical exertion: While both professions require being on your feet all day, nurses also have to be able to move patients who range in physical size.
  • Impact: Nurses often deal with life-or-death situations.
Abby Hinds

Featured Spotlight: Abby Hinds, Nurse Turned Cosmetologist

Abby Hinds was always interested in science and healthcare. She was put in a special medical program at NYU while in junior high school and worked as a candy striper at a local hospital. "Nursing seemed not only like a job but a calling," she says. To follow this calling, she entered a nursing program and became a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

Abby liked being a nurse. "I loved the idea of being a caregiver, feeling like you are doing the best to bring comfort and good health to those around you…I loved being there for patients in need."

However, after two years of nursing she found that she couldn't get used to the suffering of her patients. She says she was "too soft and too sensitive," and that she cried on a regular basis.

During high school, Abby had worked at the cosmetics counter of a large department store in Brooklyn, NY, and realized how much she missed it. She decided to use her knowledge and skills to help people look their best and become more confident. She became an esthetician and then a cosmetologist and worked for the skin care industry-leader Clinique.

Abby doesn't regret her decision. As she puts it, "The beauty business heals as well—in more ways than one. I'd rather deal with the world of beauty and life than sickness and suffering of any kind. The world of…beauty was the best medicine for my sensitive soul."

How to Transition from One Career to the Other

There is no one way to make the transition from nursing to beauty or vice versa. In either case, you will need to enter an educational program specific to the career.

However, there is the possibility that you will be able to transfer some credits. Kim Burgett notes, "Colleges generally accept anatomy and medical terminology hours for credit in a nursing program." The reverse is also true.

Even if you can't transfer actual credits, you may likely have a leg up on other students in either a nursing or cosmetology program. Your knowledge, if not credits, will transfer from one program to the other.

No matter which way you go—from nursing to beauty or beauty to nursing—you will have the satisfaction of moving on to a new chapter in your life. As Kim Burgett puts it, "Changing self-images is very rewarding!"

Nurse Estheticians: The Best of Both Worlds?

If you can't decide between beauty and nursing, you don't have to if you become a nurse esthetician.

Nurse estheticians are registered nurses who focus on skincare. They perform more intensive treatments than traditional estheticians, such as Botox. Nurse estheticians may work in salons and spas, but they also often opt to work in medical facilities helping people who have medical issues that harmed their skin.

This career may also be great for nurses who want to move away from the "heavy lifting" that often comes with traditional nursing, as your clients are less likely to need assistance like being moved into beds or while in the bathroom.

These professionals need to be registered nurses and don't need an esthetics license, though a certification from the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board may be wise to obtain.

What About Medical Estheticians?

For estheticians who want to dip their toe into the medical waters without committing to returning to school, medical esthetics could provide this opportunity.

Medical estheticians often work in clinical settings, including doctors' offices and medspas. They do the same work as regular estheticians and those related to medical issues. Medical estheticians can't do anything that requires a medical license, but they learn to assist with skin issues caused by things like chemotherapy or burns.

Working in medical esthetics could help you know if you can handle the emotional toll that comes with working with people experiencing medical issues. If you opt to get continuing education credits in the field—no specific license or certification is required beyond an esthetician license—this could also help you determine if nursing school is right for you.

Meet the Experts

Kim Burgett

Kim Burgett

Kim Burgett has worked as a cosmetologist, esthetician, and massage therapist in a number of salons. After years in the industry she had the opportunity to buy a cosmetology school, and she jumped on it. There she oversaw the daily operations of the school as acting owner/operator. Kim currently works as lead sales representative at a company that helps match students to beauty programs.

Abby Hinds

Abby Hinds

Abby Hinds, a life-long New Yorker, began her career as a nurse. After working in the healthcare industry for two years, she decided to change course and go to cosmetology school to become an esthetician. Although she was initially employed as a medical esthetician in a dermatologist's office, she found the world of beauty to be more appealing. Abby left the office and ultimately worked for Clinique. She is now retired and spends her time sewing Victorian costumes and playing with her 14-year-old senior "puppy."

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