How Nurses Can Cope With the Cons of Nursing

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated October 25, 2022
    Nurses face many stressors each day on the job. Turn to three nursing experts who offer 18 ways nurses can cope with the cons of nursing.
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    • Nurses have options to cope with the stressors and cons of nursing.
    • Taking control of the situation can help lower stress and improve immediate conditions.
    • Nurses can use self-care, logistics, and advocacy to cope with the cons of nursing.

    Nursing is a fast-paced, rewarding, and stressful career. Without proper care, nurses can suffer burnout and depression, which increases the risk they leave the profession. Short-staffing, verbal and physical assaults, rising racism, and salary inequities are contributing factors.

    We spoke with three nurses who have faced many of the cons of nursing that challenge registered nurses (RNs) practicing in high-stress situations. Amanda Lundberg, RN, earned her bachelor of science in nursing while pregnant. She now owns and operates a health and wellness content company.

    Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD, is a nurse attorney who represents healthcare providers, and Stacie Detmer is a certified family nurse practitioner who provides care in St. Louis County. Find out what our nurses identified as stressors currently faced by nurses and tips on how to address them.

    Tips for How to Cope With the Cons of Nursing

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47.8 million people quit their jobs in 2021, which earned the title “The Great Resignation.” However, as Harvard Business Review points out, while the pandemic was a contributing factor, this exodus has been the continuation of a decade-long trend.

    A survey of working RNs found 34% said they would leave bedside nursing by the end of 2022 and another 67% said they would leave in the next three years. Yet, addressing the cons of nursing in the current environment may help lower those numbers, protecting patient care and improving the profession.

    Take Care of Yourself

    Nurses care for others all day, every day. It’s in their nature; it’s what they do. Yet, caring for others without caring for yourself is a recipe for disaster. Self-care is vital to preventing burnout, depression, and career loss. These tips may seem familiar because they are effective.

    Before skimming and moving to the next section, make a commitment to include these in your daily routine and watch your mental and physical health improve.

    “Self-care is important not only as a nurse but as a human,” Detmer says. “Schedule time for yourself at least once a week where you can put everything aside and just enjoy life.”

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      Detmer and Brown recommend exercise for nurses. If you are able, exercise is foundational to good physical and mental health. Data suggests exercise helps alleviate stress and produces a calm mood. Brown recommends meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. “Exercise allows you to let go of what frustrates you, improves energy, and helps you feel back in control,” Detmer says.

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      Food choices can help support your body and health during times of stress. It can increase your resilience by supplying the body with nutrients that may be depleted during stress. Eating processed foods also increases the risk of noncommunicable diseases.

      Instead, choose to eat whole foods, meals you cook yourself at home, and avoid or eliminate processed and ultraprocessed foods.

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      Stress reduction

      Taking care of yourself also means incorporating stress-reducing strategies. For some, that can mean mindfulness or exercise. Others may find stretching, walking, relaxing with a book, praying, meditation, or focused breathing. It’s crucial you find the strategy that works for you.

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      In an effort to fit more into every day, many nurses reduce the number of hours of sleep they get each night. However, during sleep, your brain undertakes housekeeping duties to eliminate toxins and debris and performs functions critical to memory and cognition. These are crucial activities to reduce stress.

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      Lundberg recommends nurses seek out employment where they feel valued and supported. She believes a lack of overall support is a large contributor to nurses leaving the profession.

      “Not all healthcare settings are supportive of their nurses … but there are some that exist. It’s ok to leave a job after 20 years if you just do not like it. Try something new,” she says.

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      For Brown, your mindset is everything. How you think about your situation doesn’t change the condition but it does change your perception and how you react to the challenges. You can cultivate a mindset or attitudes of beliefs that support your success.

      How you handle a situation can trap or release you from self-defeating cycles of behavior. It can also make a significant impact on patient care or the way you interact with management.

    Try Improving Working Conditions

    Logistics links goods and services from a manufacturer to the consumer. How can logistics help individual nurses? It’s a simple math equation that begins with the nurse as the service and the patient as the consumer.

    Logistical tips can help healthcare institutions provide quality patient care with qualified nursing staff and help nursing staff function optimally.

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      Expand your comfort zone

      Brown cautions nurses that they will never know if the grass is really greener on the other side of the fence unless they are willing to step outside their comfort zone. When you consistently operate in what you know without trying something new, it can stagnate your career and your life.

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      Supportive environment

      Working in a supportive environment that appreciates nurses can help advance your career and reduce your potential risk of burnout.

      “We are there with people on the worst days of their lives,” Detmer says. “We are not just the nurse; we live and feel the losses too just as we celebrate the wins. Nursing is an emotional rollercoaster, and we need a strong support system/team behind us.”

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      Time management

      Working with staffing shortages and supply issues can increase the need for strong time management strategies. Nurses have limited time to balance patient care, update medical records, and collaborate with physicians and other healthcare colleagues.

      Establishing strong time management strategies is essential for all nurses on the unit. Strategies that help nurses work efficiently include delegating non-nursing tasks, documenting in real-time in the patient’s room, talking with patients while performing hands-on tasks, or collaborating while preparing for a patient-oriented task.

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      Supply chain inefficiencies

      Nurses have a unique vantage point to identifying supply chain issues and can share how these impact patient care. Before making significant changes to the supply chain, it’s crucial that hospital systems seek input from frontline nurses to better understand how the processes can enhance patient care.

      Nurses can assist in categorizing supplies, using appropriate terminology in a digital system for healthcare professionals, and gathering feedback from staff to share with the steering committee. Nurses are the end-users of the supplies, and they are usually the ones responsible for documenting use, which triggers unit supply orders.

    Advocate for Safe and Fulfilling Working Conditions

    Nurses are strong patient advocates. They support the best interest of the patient while respecting the patient’s and family’s wishes. They clarify communication and ensure the information the healthcare team uses is accurate.

    Nurses act with kindness and respect. They often facilitate open conversations with patients and their families. These are important skills nurses can use to protect their profession and guard against the cons of nursing in the current environment.

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      Voice concerns

      Although nurses are quick to voice their concerns about patient care, they may not be as quick to have an honest discussion with nursing management or administration about the issues they face. Yet, it is essential that nurses become a part of the solution.

      Many nurses are unionizing across the U.S. to improve working conditions and patient care. This increases feelings of control over the environment and encourages nurses to take action to help improve conditions. This in turn helps reduce the risk of burnout and improves nurse retention.

      “As the health systems fail nurses, each individual nurse can advocate for themself. Be it a terrible manager, lack of wages keeping up with inflation, or even a safety hazard, the nurse can alter their circumstances,” Lundberg says.

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      Lateral move

      In some circumstances, it is not the working conditions so much as the environment that is leading to dissatisfaction in your career. In this case, it is better to make a lateral move within the healthcare system.

      “It’s more cost-effective for a company to hire internally, and you usually will get to keep your benefits. Called a ‘lateral move’ in the corporate world, this option may be best if you are consistently not happy in your job … because who wants a cranky nurse, right?” Lundberg advises.

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      Hospital teams

      Nurses have more power in numbers and more authority while working within hospital teams. In some circumstances, individuals offering creative solutions to management may not be as effective as nurses collaboratively working on safety teams or teams addressing staffing shortages.

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      Public policy

      It is important that nurses lobby for their profession at the state and federal levels. Being involved in change can make a difference in your career and the career of future nurses.

      “Nursing is one of the largest professions in the United States and our pure numbers provide power. We need to use our numbers and our voice to work with our legislation, change policy, and continue to improve our profession,” Detmer says. “Be the change you want to see.”

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      Nurses can advocate for their careers by advancing their education. Whether you choose an advanced nursing degree or a move to another profession, education is a key to improving your professional life and taking a step to advocate for yourself.

    What Are the Most Prevalent Struggles Nurses Face Today?

    One of the most difficult struggles nurses face is staffing shortages. There are a large number of nurses closing in on retirement and a large number who have expressed a desire to leave the profession within the next three years.

    Hospitals and states are scrambling to initiate strategies to address the nursing shortage that will help to stem the loss of nurses as nursing programs are working toward admitting more students. Nurses need more mental health days working in high-stress environments to reduce their risk of burnout. Also, hospitals and states must address mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios to protect patient care.

    Nurses face a complex political landscape, where some nurses feel the courts are not supportive of their ability to make decisions. This is integral to Brown’s advice that nurses take care to protect their nursing license by thoroughly documenting what they believe is inadvisable or unsafe care.

    In some states, nurses can be sued even when they are following physicians’ orders. Other states are moving toward criminalizing medical errors. It is vital that nurses advocate for their profession and their colleagues on the state and federal levels to prevent miscarriages of justice or criminalizing unintentional medical errors.

    The current economy has been another stressor on nurses and their families. Although hospitals have been impacted by inflation rates, just over 50% of the income is based on public and government funding. This has created a unique situation for institutions.

    Lundberg believes a lack of support for nursing staff has a significant impact on nurse safety, pay structure, staffing barriers, and the managerial hierarchy.

    Detmer is a nurse practitioner and believes the current laws are not supportive, especially since she is practicing in a state with restricted-practice licensure laws. These severely restricted her ability to function, leading to lower job satisfaction. She left her previous employer to seek an environment with greater freedom.

    While nurses face multiple stressors on the job and in the current financial environment, these tips to cope with the cons of nursing offer staff strategies that can lower their risk of burnout and increase their job satisfaction.

    Meet Our Contributors

    Portrait of Amanda Lundberg, RN

    Amanda Lundberg, RN

    Amanda Lundberg has 10+ years of experience in clinical nursing, focusing on primary care, pediatrics, and family medicine. She earned her bachelor of nursing degree while pregnant with her first child, as well as a degree in cultural anthropology studying human cultures around the world. Lundberg has a passion for wellness and preventative care. She now owns and operates a company, Locksley Content, which writes content for health and wellness companies using her experience as a healthcare provider. She’s also an expert medical contributor at ParentsWonder.

    Portrait of Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD

    Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD

    Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD, is a nurse attorney with over 40 combined years as a registered nurse and attorney. Brown combines a specialty with a legal practice of representing healthcare providers before the licensing board and contracts. She also teaches nurse business owners how to start a business on solid legal ground. She is the immediate past president of the American Association of Nurse Attorneys, an international speaker, and author of several books.

    Portrait of Stacie Detmer, FNP

    Stacie Detmer, FNP

    Stacie Detmer is a certified family nurse practitioner with 20 years experience in the nursing profession. She has spent the majority of her nurse practitioner career focused on primary care and preventative health for the adult population in St. Louis County. Detmer graduated from Maryville University in 2008 with a master’s in nursing. She worked for Esse Health in primary care for 13 years. She is currently teaching future nurses at St. Louis College of Health Careers in Fenton, Missouri, and practicing as a nurse practitioner with United Health Group. Before graduation, Detmer was an RN and nursing assistant at Missouri Baptist Hospital. During her career she has mentored many nurse practitioner students.