I Feel Stuck in My Nursing Career — What Do I Do?
For many nurses, their profession is more of a calling than a job. But like other professionals, nurses can start to feel stuck in their careers. This can stem from causes within or out of their control.
Some nurses might feel trapped in a stagnant work situation, especially those who aren't in a position to change much about their role, or to change jobs entirely. Others feel their jobs are monotonous, insufficiently challenging, too demanding, or otherwise unfulfilling.
Sound familiar? Fortunately, there are ways to address your professional frustrations. We've gathered advice from professional nurses to help you determine why your career feels stagnant and what you can do about it.
Check out these seven actionable tips from experienced nurses who have successfully addressed similar challenges in their professional lives.
7 Tips for Nurses Who Feel Stuck in Their Career
1. Advancing Your Nursing Career Can Help With Stagnation
If your work is no longer challenging or you're seeking more professional autonomy, certifications or an advanced degree can enhance your career potential.
Crystal Slaughter, an advanced practice registered nurse and nursing program faculty member at Walden University, suggests that specialty nurses who want to remain in their subfield should consider obtaining a certification in that specialty to validate their knowledge. Specialized credentials and advanced degrees expand your skills and demonstrate your commitment to professional development and your career.
While an advanced degree requires more time and money than certifications, it is an excellent long-term investment, especially for prospective advanced practice nurses (APRNs). APRNs can diagnose patients and prescribe treatments, and in some states, they can work with minimal or no supervision from a physician. If you're seeking more responsibility, advanced practice nursing may be the next step.
You can also pursue further education in healthcare management and take on administrative roles. Nurses interested in this path often earn a master's in business, healthcare administration, or public health. Management certificate programs offer a faster, more affordable alternative to degree programs.
2. Try Switching Up Your Work Setting or Speciality
"Finding a new job is important when your work environment is no longer fulfilling, or if you dread going to work," Slaughter advises.
If you're tired of working in hospitals but still enjoy clinical work, alternatives for clinical nursing include, but are not limited to:
- Worksites and worksite clinics
- Correctional settings
- The military
You can also use your nursing expertise in law, insurance, health nonprofits, or government settings.
If you enjoy the hospital where you work but are stagnating in your current nursing department, consider changing specialties or settings, such as going from inpatient to outpatient care. You can also explore office-based options in nursing administration, public/population health, or nurse education.
3. Seek Solace in Your Nursing Colleagues
Kimberly C. Gibbons, who has moved between roles as a nurse midwife, nurse clinical leader, and nurse instructor, reminds nurses that they're not alone in feeling trapped and can reach out to colleagues for advice and encouragement.
"I encourage colleagues to recognize their feelings of stagnation and seek out the mentorship of other nurses and healthcare professionals to better understand the cause of their feelings and identify challenges that would enhance their sense of self-satisfaction in the profession," says Gibbons.
"Every day I meet MSN students who share stories about their journey back into education to advance their current role and overcome stagnation and/or follow their career goals," she adds.
4. Talk to Nursing Professionals Who Are Modeling Where You Want To Be
If you're feeling stuck but don't know what your next move should be, seek a mentor's guidance. You can find mentors at work, through an alumni network, or a professional association. Some associations sponsor formal mentoring programs for members.
Ask your mentor if they've been in a similar situation and how they resolved it. Find out what their journey looked like, ask about their goals and fears, and learn what resources they'd recommend. While no two career trajectories are the same, mentors can provide a fresh but seasoned perspective on your situation.
5. Seek Professional Growth in Your Current Role
Even if it isn't feasible to make a lateral or vertical move, you can still find opportunities for professional growth.
"Collaborating with managers and leaders to brainstorm about specialty projects or other options available within the organization to help overcome stagnation may be helpful," Gibbons advises.
Generally, Gibbons explains, managers and leaders do not want the burden of replacing reliable staff, so they may be willing to consider options for professional growth. Good managers also appreciate initiative, and many will gladly provide employees with more fulfilling responsibilities.
6. Find Fulfilling Outlets Outside of Your Job
If you're uncomfortable discussing your position with management or your supervisor is unable to help, you can still reinvigorate your sense of professional purpose beyond the workplace.
Gibbon notes that there are a variety of ways nurses can find fulfillment outside of work. Some find an outlet by participating in professional organizations, earning certifications, and getting involved in regulatory or legislative efforts.
"There are many professional certifications that recognize skills that can lead to further professional recognition and challenge," she reminds readers.
7. If a Nursing Job Is Not Sustainable, Consider Finding a New Job
If you dread going to work and feel burned out, it's possible that nursing simply isn't a good match for you anymore. You shouldn't feel stuck in an unfulfilling career, especially when your nursing experience can apply to many other healthcare jobs, or even roles outside of the field.
"While this can be a scary time to do this, you will often find a whole new world of opportunities that you did not realize," Slaughter says.
Develop a Plan To Identify Next Steps
If you've already reached the point of feeling stuck, it can be hard to know where to start. Using the steps mentioned above, you can start to weigh your options. Gibbons suggests approaching the situation with curiosity, and developing a plan from there.
Let's begin with small steps:
Start reviewing employment vacancies.
Review educational programs available within your means.
Complete a personal inventory of skills and goals.
Then, evaluate your priorities. Determine what is enjoyable or beneficial to you — in what role are you most effective, and when do you feel the most content in your work?
Additionally, ask yourself:
What do I need from an employer (salary, benefits, location, etc.)?
What is my dream career?
What skills and resources (money, child care, education, etc.) do I need to seek to make that career a reality?
From there, develop a plan — even if you think it's unrealistic — and begin with consideration about the first step.
"Remember: We are nurses. We are resilient. We are survivors," Gibbons says. "We take on challenges, and we use them to make improvements for ourselves and for others. That's who we are."
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