4 Questions to Ask Yourself If You’re Reconsidering Nursing
Nurses and the nursing profession are facing turbulent waters. Mass burnout, unsafe working conditions, nurse shortages, and an overall lack of support by hospital administration are leading nurses to reconsider if working in this profession is sustainable.
In fact, 90% of nurses are considering leaving nursing in the next year, according to a November 2021 survey. After two years of battling the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RaDonda Vaught verdict created shockwaves throughout the profession. In this trial, a nurse was found criminally liable for a medical error, which led to some nurses quitting and many more at least considering leaving healthcare.
90% of nurses are considering leaving nursing in the next year.
"I do believe there will be short-term and long-term impact on nurses, and I do not believe it will be a positive impact at first," says Rebecca Morrison, a Canadian-based nurse practitioner.
If you're experiencing burnout or seriously reconsidering nursing, this article describes some options you have and key questions to ask yourself.
The Vaught Trial Has Impacted Nurses' Sense of Safety and Support
As nurses watched the charges Vaught faced and the conditions under which this medical error occurred, many saw themselves in Vaught's shoes. Being overworked and understaffed leaves room for medical errors to take place, just as they did for Vaught.
Donna Schisler, RN, BSN, says that even though she was always cautious about patient safety, the trial has changed the way she moves through her workday.
"The Vaught conviction will push me to be increasingly wary," she says.
Many nurses resonated with the fatal mistake Vaught made when overriding the medicine cabinet and overlooking several warnings because this happens to nurses all the time. It is often faulty on the part of the device. The conviction impacted how Schisler operates day-to-day.
"The big change in my practice will be to wait when possible," she says.
When the situation doesn't allow for waiting, she will have another nurse pull and verify the medication with her. Schisler anticipates that this will become more common.
"I do think some hospitals will take the time to increase safety precautions and ensure that drug dispensing and administration is being done correctly," she says. "There will likely be increased monitoring of medication dispensing and administration, with an emphasis on ensuring nurses follow proper procedure."
Morrison expects the nursing environment to worsen as a vicious cycle leads to more nurses leaving, which will create even more stress, nurse burnout, and potential for errors. Additionally, the lower enrollment of students in nursing schools due to limited nursing faculty and facility space is troubling.
"As a result, there will be more errors — including fatal errors — in care until this imbalance of demand and supply is corrected," Morrison says. "Sadly, historically, this will take time, and likely more lives will be lost before the decision-makers affect positive change."
4 Questions to Ask if You're Reconsidering Nursing
If you're experiencing nursing burnout, it's important to identify what's causing it so you know what to do about it. Schisler advises nurses to take a step back if needed or if they're feeling scared. Additionally, she encourages nurses to advocate for change.
"I want to highlight the need to become involved in finding a solution," Schisler says. "Things can get better for our profession if nurses truly come together and push for change."
Morrison advises nurses to leave if they cannot achieve work-life balance and if they "have exhausted all avenues to advocate for themselves and thus their clients for a safe work environment, and they continue to be unsupported."
Ask yourself these four questions to help identify the source of your burnout and the best steps to take.
"Is it me?"
- Do you still love nursing?
- Do you feel supported by nurse management and nursing colleagues?
- Were you generally satisfied before COVID-19?
- Do you believe your employer cares about and supports your well-being?
- Do you feel more energized after some time away, but as though it's not quite enough?
If so, it's possible that you need to recharge and recover as a nurse rather than leave. When you have time off, make sure that you practice mindfulness, move your body if able, eat a healthy diet, and engage in activities that give you a sense of calm and balance.
To manage stress as a nurse, consider activities like meditating, journaling, a creative expression like art or dance, or something else that restores and energizes you.
Talk to your supervisor about taking time off or other things they can do to help reduce your burnout. A good supervisor knows that time off and rest isn't self-indulgence but vital for your well-being and for patient outcomes.
"Is it my job?"
- Does it seem that if you could rewrite your job description, that would help your burnout?
- Have you lost satisfaction in some aspects of your job but still love other aspects?
- Do you still love nursing but feel as though your work is becoming stale?
- Do you wish you'd explored another specialty or role?
It's never too late to look at another area of nursing. Talk to nurses in other roles and departments about what they do and what they like and dislike.
You may be able to transfer to another role or pursue additional education and specialty certification, or even earn an advanced degree to become an advanced practice nurse. As an advanced pracice nurse, you have more autonomy and a higher salary.
Working from home as a nurse can also contribute to a better work-life balance.
"Is it my workplace?"
- Do you trust your organization's leadership to make the right decisions for nurses and patients?
- Does leadership understand and work to address the root causes of burnout and overwork?
- Do leaders understand the difference between willful or careless mistakes and mistakes made under too much pressure and rush?
If not, you will be happier at an organization that better supports its nurses.
"Would a fireman go into a burning building without the necessary support? No, and neither should nurses," Morrison says.
Your state nursing association or other professional nursing associations can be vital information and contacts for finding a new job. You don't want to jump from one unsupportive organization to another that also fails to support its frontline staff.
Sites like glassdoor.com can tell you about individual employers. While you can't take all reviews at face value, you can get a good sense of an organization's culture by looking for patterns and themes.
"Is it nursing?"
- Have you already explored other positions and organizations and still feel burnt out and unmotivated?
- Is the work itself not satisfying you the way it did, or the way you thought it would?
- When you talk to nurses who are highly satisfied with their jobs, do you think you'd still not be satisfied if you had their role?
If yes, it may be time to consider leaving nursing.
"Take time away to learn a new skill and recharge," Schisler says. "After a period away, you will find you either miss being bedside, or you are more fulfilled outside of the hospital setting."
Nurses have ample transferable skills. You can still use your nursing degree and expertise in other healthcare jobs or explore other fields entirely.
Nurses and nurse supervisors have several ways to protect themselves, their staff, and their nursing license. Check out how nurses and nurse supervisors can contribute to a safer working environment for nurses.
What Nurses Need to Move Forward
Burnout can drain the enjoyment not just from a job but also from your life. Asking questions about the cause of your burnout can help you make the right decisions to address it. If you're burnt out from nursing, just switching nursing jobs won't help. If you're burnt out from a particular job or organization, finding a new role or new employer can restore your motivation and joy in nursing.
Meet Our Contributors
Rebecca Morrison is a seasoned master's-prepared nurse practitioner who specializes in addiction and mental health. She is a member of a number of committees including the creation of provincial acute pain modules.
Donna Schisler is a clinical manager with over nine years of experience as a critical care travel nurse, legal nurse, and clinical manager. She was invited to the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing after graduating from the Methodist College of Nursing. Today, she is a legal consultant and the clinical manager at Advantis Medical Staffing, providing assistance to nurses and helping to educate people about the world of nursing.
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