It turns out that nurses may not be getting the same respect and care that they give to their patients and employers. As a result, many nurses are looking for alternative ways to practice nursing or are even leaving the nursing professional altogether.
I became a nurse as a second career. Nursing called to me because I genuinely wanted to help people, and I thought that a nurse’s schedule would work better for me as a mom. Now, seven years into my nursing career, my passion for nursing is still high.
Yet I, like many other nurses, struggle with burnout. I have even started looking outside of patient care for alternative ways that I can practicing nursing to deal with my struggle.
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Reasons Why Nurses Quit
#1. Not having control over work schedules
Hospital nurses are expected to work all hours of the day and night, holidays, and weekends. And on top of that, many nurses don’t even have control of their schedules (unless they work per diem – which has been a game-changer for me). I can’t tell you how many times I have missed Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s parties, Easter Sunday, Fourth of July weekend, and so many other special events with my family.
Now that I have my own kids, missing these events is so much harder for me, especially if I have to work on one of their birthdays. This past Christmas, I was lucky enough to NOT work on Christmas Day, but I worked the entire two weekends before, the two days before Christmas, and the day after Christmas. I missed several Christmas parties, and I was so tired on Christmas day that I could barely keep my eyes open.
Thankfully I am not working graveyard shifts anymore, but if I did I would have quit being a nurse a long time ago. Working night shifts literally made me feel like I was going to explode. I felt sick all the time, I was in a constant fog, and I even started to get a little depressed.
Here is an idea that can help: Work per diem or switch to another nursing position that requires a more regular 9 to 5 work schedule such as occupational health or the Cath lab.
#2. Bullying in the workplace
You have probably heard the phrase “nurses eat their young.” That is just a clever way of saying that there are many experienced and burned out older nurses bullying less experienced nurses. It’s also a primary culprit as to why nurses quit working inpatient care.
I remember one of my own experiences with bullying very clearly. When I was a new nurse grad, a nurse I gave report to at shift change would question everything I had done for my patients that day, and drill me about why I didn’t do things differently. Her attitude was awful, and I could tell she hated her job and being on the unit. She had been there for many years, and she treated several other new nurses the same way.
There were days where my shift had gone great – until I had to deal with her at the very end. Then I left the hospital feeling defeated and inadequate just because of some unhappy, grumpy nurse. I did my best to hold my ground and keep my reports as simple as possible.
Eventually, (and thankfully) she quit and we never had to deal with her again. Things got better for me, but unfortunately, there are still nurses “eating their young” who are lurking within the hospital.
Here is an idea that may help: I took a course called “Crucial Conversations” during my second year as a nurse, and it was so helpful for me. It taught me how to deal with difficult situations with other co-workers. Sometimes addressing a bully head-on or finding a way to avoid them entirely is the best way to handle the situation.
#3. Abusive patients or family members
By and large, most patients and family members in the hospital treat the medical staff respectfully. However, that is not always the case.
In my seven years career as a nurse, I have been kicked, swung at (thankfully never hit head-on!), had a full urinal thrown at me, been cussed out, and told I should “kill myself.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are patients who, despite having full capability to execute all activities of daily living by themselves, take advantage of nurses and other medical staff by asking that everything is done for them. It’s as if we have nothing to do all day except be a personal butler. At least it can feel that way sometimes. I’d rather not be a character from Downton Abbey, though!
Often when people are in the hospital, it is because they are sick and need to be there. Nurses are happy to bend over backward to give the best patient care we can for those patients. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of the caregivers, and over time, it leads to decreased morale and, ultimately, burnout. This is another big reason why nurses quit the profession.
Here is an idea that can help: Nurse abuse is never okay and can be traumatizing for nurses. Communicate with management any time a patient or family member is abusive. Ask for help. Call security if you feel threatened. Ask for another assignment or take turns with other nurses giving care to extremely difficult patients. Talk to staff, family, and friends to help talk out your experience. All of these things can help make dealing with difficult patients and their families a little easier.
HEY NURSES! Remember to sign up for your FREE COPY of “The Nurse’s Guide To Health & Self Care” E-book in the sign-up box below! (scroll down)
If you are considering leaving the nursing profession altogether, here are a few ideas to help rekindle your nursing career:
So, it may seem odd at first to hear that I also LOVE talking about nurse burnout. In fact, I think every nurse experiences burnout at some point in their career (if you haven’t please email me back and let me know your secret!).
Here’s the kicker. Once you admit you have an issue with nursing burnout you open yourself to the idea of potential solutions. But if you just pull your hoodie over your eyes and continue to suffer in silence then nothing ever changes. And your burnout gets even worse.
So, let’s talk about solutions for nurse burnout! (Solving problems is always better than complaining anyway).
Last week I had an amazing opportunity to interview with nurse coach and fellow ER nurse, Jessica Smith about bouncing back from burnout!
Our Bouncing Back From Burnout YouTube interview can be found here:
During the interview, we discussed:
How you can find a work-life balance with a busy nursing schedule;
Why nurses need to make their own health a #1 priority;
How getting to the “why” in your burnout can help you find patterns that contribute to your burnout;
And why you should always surround yourself with positive support!
P.S. If you are a nurse struggling with finding ways to take better care of yourself, here is a FREE E-BOOK . It’s called Nurse, Take Care Of Yourself First. Because nurses work really, really hard. And we need to be taking better care of ourselves. It includes tips for nurses on how to stay healthy during 12 hour shifts, ideas for better self care at home and suggestions for finding a better work-life balance.
Have I mentioned how much more I love my job now since I started working as an emergency room nurse?
A year ago, I was a per diem resource nurse who worked on multiple different med/surg and telemetry floors all over our hospital. Being a resource nurse works well for me due to the flexibility it gives me as a working Mom.
But unfortunately, I was becoming incredibly burnt out. Bitter even. I was losing my passion, and I started to wonder if I was due for a career change-up.
I even went so far as to interview for a few medical device companies as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (I was a medical device salesperson before my career change into nursing). I am so glad I decided not to accept any of those positions!
Instead, I adopted a new specialty as an RN in the emergency room and reignited my passion for nursing and healthcare. When the opportunity came up for me to interview for cross-training into my own hospital’s level 1 trauma center, I jumped on it. I started my ER journey on Easter Sunday, 2017.
I have always thought of the ER as a scary portal into the hospital. We are often overbooked with patients, and the load can be relentless. There are sometimes grim patient situations, and sometimes patients die, despite every life-saving effort.
You will be hard-pressed to find medical professionals who deal with more stress and pressure then emergency room nurses. But I am grateful to expand on my med/surg and telemetry knowledge base and learn a new specialty.
Here are my top 6 reasons that I love being an emergency room nurse:
My IV start skills are so much better.
Since becoming a nurse in the emergency room, my IV start skills have gotten so much better.
In an emergency, we need to be able to start IV’s fast for testing, various medications, pain and nausea relief, IV hydration, and antibiotic therapy, among other things.
Fortunately, in the ER, I get the opportunity to start anywhere from 5 or more IVs in a single shift. So I have the chance to perfect my skills frequently on many patients who are difficult IV sticks.
Many of the nurses I work with have been in the ER for a decade, or longer and their IV skills are unbelievable. Several nurses are even trained to do ultrasound-guided IV starts on patients with hard-to-stick veins.
There is an enormous variety in our patient population.
Every day is an adventure. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but never boring. I have had patients ranging in age from 2 days to 108 years. Patients have arrived with complaints from hiccups, to every type of accident you can imagine and everything in between.
As one would expect, many of our patients are really sick or critically injured. Our patient loads include various types of trauma patients, septic patients, elderly patients, organ transplanted patients, patients with cancer or autoimmune diseases, psych patients, and small children and babies, and so much more. There is rarely a dull moment and always something new to learn.
The teamwork in the emergency room is impressive.
The coordination when a trauma patient arrives is impressive. Patients come into the ER in urgent situations where the cause of injury or disease isn’t yet known. Doctors, nurses, techs, pharmacists, and other medical professionals cohesively work together to give fast life-saving medical treatment.
Also, emergency room nurses often have their own sections, but there are also many “resource” nurses on the floor to assist with additional patient care. When a patient arrives with a more serious condition, there are always nurses who come in to help.
For example, we call a “code” for septic, stroke, and head trauma patients. It is an overhead call to other nurses in the ER that a particular room needs additional help. Within seconds there are a handful or more nurses in the room helping with triage, initial assessments, IV sticks, blood draws, and many other nurse protocols and procedures.
The emergency room moves fast.
Many call it “organized chaos.” The emergency room is a fine-tuned machine with each nurse component working semi-gracefully around one another. From the outside, it might look like craziness, but the madness always has a method.
I am constantly learning.
I am a closet science geek. And I love the cerebral stimulation that I get as an emergency room nurse. I have had the opportunity to see more disease states, complex injuries, and unusual diagnoses then I ever could have imagined even existed.
It would not be an exaggeration to say I learn ten new things every day at work. To top it off, I am surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Many of my co-workers have the same drive for helping people I do. They motivate me to keep learning.
I just have to laugh at some of the stuff I see.
Nursing is a work of heart.
Please forgive me for saying this. This may seem inappropriate, but it is how I maintain my resiliency.
The emergency room is a very emotional place. Patients never want to be there and usually don’t understand, for example, why they have to wait in the hallway an hour or even much longer until their test results are completed, or the medical team decides on a plan for them. They get upset and tired of waiting.
Sadly, sometimes they take out there frustrations on the people working the hardest to get them the medical treatment they need: the nurses.
Sometimes things just get so odd that I can’t help but laugh. There are days when I see people come into the ER saying that they feel like dying, but end up having a diagnosis of constipation. Once I had a college student come in for a temperature of 99 degrees. I’m like, seriously? How do you even get through the day?
I have had so many “I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried” experiences in the emergency room to last me a long time. But that’s one of the reasons I like being in the ER versus other parts of the hospital. It can get weird, but I’m always learning. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to keep learning.
While most people were with their families this Easter Sunday, I was working day one of Emergency Room RN training.
In light this, my family had our Easter celebration and egg hunt with our daughter the day prior. Celebrating holidays the day before or the day after has been one thing I have had to get accustomed to as an RN.
It was surprisingly not as busy as most days in the emergency room, or so I’m told. My preceptor, who has 10 years working in the ER, mentioned that fewer ER admissions occur on holidays then on other days of the year. Apparently, many people like to wait until the day after a major holiday to have a medical emergency and show up in the ER.
There are a wide variety of patients in the emergency room.
The day started off with a bang. I had my very first trauma patient. The unfortunate victim of a car crash that occurred somewhere along the 405. I was hoping the ER would get me out of my comfort zone, and my first experience absolutely did not disappoint.
I also got my first pediatric patient: a baby who luckily didn’t have anything seriously wrong. Having my own 20 month old daughter, I seriously don’t know how well I’m going to handle pediatric patients that are not so lucky.
My patients ranged in age from 8 weeks to 96 years old. Talk about a diverse patient population!
My IV start skills are constantly being challenged.
I started 3 IV’s during the shift, including a few elderly patients, which I often have a difficult time with. Not too shabby, if I don’t say so myself. I have always been pretty good at IV starts, but I hope to really fine tune my skills within the next few months.
One thing I was super impressed with was that my preceptor does ultra sound guided IV’s on a daily basis. So cool. I didn’t even know that nurses were allowed to do that. There are apparently several nurses who do it in our emergency room and it requires additional classes and a special certification. I don’t know of any other floors in the hospital where that happens.
HIPPA and patient privacy
I have been having an issue with how much I ethically can and should disclose on this blog. As much as I want to break down every little detail of what I see, we have this super important legal policy called the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Otherwise known as HIPAA, it is basically a fancy way of saying that any healthcare professional will get fired if they disclose anything about a patient’s identity or medical information. Essentially it legally protects patient confidentially, which is a good thing.
On the off chance that anyone actually does read what I am writing I want to be very careful of this. Therefore, I am going to focus my writing on the skills and tasks that I perform and not on any patient information. It seriously limits what I can talk about, so I am mentioning that upfront.
Also, my husband is also a legal investigator at the hospital and he frequently reminds me about HIPAA. He even teaches courses about it to staff. It is a complete coincidence that we happen to both work for the same medical center (for the record though, I was there first).
Tomorrow I will get up at 5:15am and head out for day 2 of ER training and a whole new round of learning experiences. At some point I need to get a start on the 50 hours on online ER training courses I need to complete. My brain is tired just thinking about it.