Nursing is a role that requires a lot of time on your feet and more compassion than most. Caring for others, especially directly, is a trying task. Add in the stresses of the pandemic and the strain caused by the nursing shortage, and it’s not just normal to feel stressed and burned out, but common.
There are more nurses right now quitting their jobs because of burnout than ever before. If you find yourself in this position, however, don’t feel discouraged. We all need change, and nursing is a great career to customize and improve.
While you won’t be able to immediately jump into something new, you can start planning the next phase of your career right now. Regardless of whether you need to train further, retrain, or start building up a new network, this guide will help you refresh your career and find your passion once again.
Signs of a burnout you need to watch out for
Being stressed and being burned out are similar but have very different implications for your health and career. Typically you can come back from being stressed, but a true burnout can be hard to bounce back from. Preventing burnout is always the better option, but in a demanding role like nursing, prevention isn’t always possible.
Nurse burnout as a whole is on the rise. Around 98% of all nurses report their work being both mentally and physically demanding. 85% claim that their job makes them feel fatigued, and 63% of nurses state that their job has led to burnout.
A few key signs that you are experiencing a burnout include:
1. You are physically drained every day
If you constantly feel tired and drained, have headaches, muscle pain, difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, and seem to be very susceptible to illnesses, then there is a good chance that chronic stress has taken a serious toll on your health.
2. You are emotionally distraught over your work
There are many emotional signs of a burnout that you need to be aware of. In many cases, these emotional symptoms are far worse than the physical symptoms. Physical symptoms are often the first to go away with a break or even a change in job, but emotional symptoms can linger.
You may feel like a constant failure or be experiencing high levels of self-doubt. Others who have burned out report feeling trapped, helpless, defeated or detached from the world. You will likely develop an increasingly negative outlook on the world and lose a lot of motivation to push through and work hard.
3. You have turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms
There are a lot of ways that people cope with stress. When you burn out, however, many tend to use unhealthy coping mechanisms because they don’t have the energy or mental capacity to cope well. You may withdraw from responsibilities, and social interactions may procrastinate for longer, may be more irritable and short with people, and may even use a vice. Vices can include overeating or turning to alcohol or drugs.
Signs of compassion fatigue
Alongside burnout, there is also the issue of compassion fatigue. This commonly affects nurses, especially if they are in a crisis like the pandemic. It is hard for anyone to see death and pain on a daily basis. Nurses, in particular, need to be empathetic. Their care goes beyond medical and into the holistic. Without the compassion that they are known for, many patients will suffer.That is why compassion fatigue is so serious amongst nurses. It takes a huge toll on mental health and can negatively impact the care that patients receive from their nurses. Patients are either in pain, or they are scared. Being compassionate can greatly soothe them and improve their experience and outlook. If a nurse is experiencing compassion fatigue, however they often tend to withdraw emotionally.
Dangers of burnout in nurses
Nurses provide a direct care service for patients. Their work plays a huge factor in mortality rates and how well someone recovers while in hospital. Around 44% of nurses are worried that being tired and burned out will reduce their ability to offer their patient’s care. Not only that, but burnout is one of the leading causes of nurses quitting their jobs, either to move into a different work environment or another field entirely.
Being burned out is not your fault. The entire health sector needs a serious overhaul in order to improve working conditions for nurses and bring in a new generation of nurses in the future. Thankfully with greater automation tools, telehealth and even 5G technology will be there to help offset the load.
You do not have to force yourself into a situation that has caused you so much stress that you have burned out or broken down. Instead, you owe it to yourself to pull yourself out of that situation and reconsider how you can approach nursing so that you better enjoy your career.
How to refresh your nursing career
Nursing can be a very rewarding career, but only if you put in the effort of understanding yourself, your interests, passions, and needs. You do not need to work in a hospital to work as a great nurse. You can work almost anywhere because your job is human health. You can work on movie sets, can work on research expeditions, can have your own clinic or patients. The options that are available to you will depend on your qualifications and where you live, yes, but there are always going to be options.
Explore what you can and cannot do in your state first. Even if you never go into those roles or don’t even want to consider doing some of the work you read about, knowing what is out there can help you make the best next step.
Refreshing your career does not mean stepping back or even going out of nursing entirely. Instead, it means finding a new way to work that fits your interests, your health, and your mental wellbeing.
· Relocate and find a better working environment
There are plenty of open nurse positions, and if you find that you can no longer work in a hospital because of how demanding the role was, then you owe it to yourself to find a position that offers you a far better work/life balance. Look into telehealth opportunities clinic opportunities, or even consider relocating to a smaller town or hospital where there are fewer patients.
Relocating for the sake of your work/life balance is a survival essential. Pushing yourself into a situation that leaves you chronically stressed and mentally unwell is not going to help you or your patients. You can return to a big city hospital later in your career if you want, but for now, you need to take a step back to heal and plan your next step.
· Advance your qualifications
One of the best ways to refresh your career is to move forward. There are so many paths that will allow you to earn your BSN, your MSN, or even a DNP. If for years you have resisted earning a BSN because you already hold an Associate’s Degree in Nursing and don’t see a big payoff for the effort, then don’t. Instead, look into an online ADN to NP MSN that would allow you to earn your BSN along the way.This way, you can incorporate those missing BSN credits and graduate ready to become an APRN. It is faster, it is overall cheaper, and it can help you make a huge change for the better in your career.
These integrated degrees aren’t available for every specialization, of course, but if you want to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Practitioner, or a Psychiatric/Mental Health Practitioner, then this route is ideal.
You can always go back later once you have that MSN and earn a post-graduate certificate as well. IF you do decide to do this, then you will have expanded your specializations and really made yourself into an invaluable asset within and outside of healthcare.
Working as an APRN can be just what you need to refresh your career, but if you need to move out of patient care entirely, you will want to either move into leadership or education.
· Consider going into leadership positions
There are many leadership positions within nursing that allow you to do a lot of good work without dealing directly with patients. Working with patients directly is physically and emotionally demanding. Compassion fatigue is one of the more serious concerns for nurses, especially in trying times like during this pandemic. Nurses care. They care for their patients, and they care when they are injured or sick, especially when they die. The pandemic took many lives, and being a part of the care team for COVID patients has been exceptionally traumatic for nurses.
If you are one of them and can no longer fathom working directly with patients but still want to help, then look into the available leadership and administration roles. These roles have you work on improving patient care overall by improving policy and practice standards.
Your work will make a big difference for patients, but you personally will not have to work with these patients at all. You will need at least an MSN and ideally a DNP in order to get into the more advanced and executive-level positions, but it will be so worth it once you get started with this phase of your career.
· Consider starting a business of your own
Another leadership opportunity for you is to start a business of your own. Some nurses can start a clinic of their own, while others can work privately. FNPs and midwives, in particular, are perfectly positioned to take their expertise privately. You will still be working with patients more often than not when you start a business of your own within nursing, but you have greater control over what you focus on and can also hire others and manage a team of your own.
What businesses you can start and what you can do will all depend on the legislation in your state. In some states, Family Nurse Practitioners have full autonomy. In others, they need a physician to oversee their duties.
Regardless of which state you live in, you have business opportunities. Explore them and see if they are right for you.
· Consider educating nurses
The final way that you can still work as a nurse without working directly with patients is by getting into education. One of the biggest challenges in addressing the nursing shortage is a lack of nursing educators. To become a nurse educator that trains the next generation of nurses, you will need either a PhD or an EdD.
Working as an educator is very relaxed. You have consistency, long break periods, and a certain level of flexibility. Working as a professor or educator has always been a very laudable position, and today you can often work from home thanks to the massive rise in online education options.
Caring for your mental health and wellbeing
Every career change you make has the potential to become stressful. In order to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue again, you must care for your health and mental wellbeing. Taking yourself out of the fire does not mean that you are not burned. You will likely have to heal from the stress caused by being overworked in a dangerous environment.
Caring for your mental health and wellbeing should be a mix of holistic, at-home routines and professional services. Finding a therapist, a therapy group, and going through wellness programs can help you reset and understand your experience. From there, you will want to focus on healthy living. Living well and committing time to friends, family, and hobbies can make a big difference in keeping your stress levels low in the future.There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to recovering from burnout. Simply explore and find the right tricks that work for you.