Why did you become a nurse? What made me go into nursing was multi-faceted. At the time in my life when I decided to go to nursing school, I was a new mother of two kids, married, and working as direct-care staff for patients with mental illness. I liked my job, but was not paid much for what I did, even though I gave medications and handled crisis situations. I began to explore the different career options available to me, and after evaluating educational paths, cost, and salaries, the registered nurse path made the most sense. Little did I know how very challenging so many aspects of this life would be.
My goal to become a nurse started with my education, an associate degree in nursing at a community college. I worked hard taking anatomy and physiology at night while my husband was home with the kids, and then was lucky enough to be accepted to the nursing program, which I could afford with some family help. The educational path was super-challenging, and the rigorous program forced me to spend almost all my free time studying and left little time for rest and recuperation. I was fortunate to only work one or two evenings a week during the program, and juggled my home responsibilities to be successful.
After graduation, again as luck would have it, I started working on a busy medical unit where the nurses nurtured me and helped me to adjust to the 12-hour night shifts and challenging patients we encountered. After a few years I again changed course and went to work in the ICU, where nurses with decades of experience helped me learn critical care and supported me through many challenging shifts. One of the clinical nurse specialists on this unit was instrumental in me going back to school for my master’s degree, and if she and several colleagues hadn’t been so supportive, I don’t know if I would have gone back. Several years later, and now I am an NP, still practicing in a clinical role, but not in critical care, having realized that the shift work and stress were impacting negatively on my physical and emotional health.
Many of my ICU colleagues have also left their jobs for less demanding nursing roles, and it is a fact that many nurses are not staying at the bedside for the duration of their careers. After all that work to get into nursing school, finish successfully, and then pass the licensing exam, up to 33% of new nurses end up leaving the workforce within the first two years. (https://www.registerednursing.org/why-new-nurses-leaving-profession/)
In this article at registerednursing.org, many factors that contribute to nurses leaving the bedside are discussed. These factors are environment, work-related injuries, workload, culture, and emotional strain. Each one of these factors are discussed in my book, Self-Care for Nurses in the Time of a Pandemic. What I found helpful when dealing with stressful situations mostly was a shift in perception and attitude that allowed me to remain patient-focused and as centered as possible.
Unfortunately, many of these factors are the result of a changing healthcare environment, especially the culture of the unit you work on and systems issues such as reimbursement and funding. What strategies do you use to stay patient-focused? Have you found any solutions to a challenging workplace situation or how to shift the culture where you work to be more supportive? These are difficult questions, certainly more challenging than can be solved in a blog post. If we can keep being supportive to our colleagues, and continue to ask for better workplace conditions, my hope is that we can continue to foster resilience in new nurses who can then have lasting careers that don’t burn them out.
Image credit: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/career-services/2020/04/06/cultivating-resilience/