For years I thought about writing this post. At different times of my career it was composed differently, but each version always contained basic truths.
Nursing was hard.
Nursing was rewarding.
I couldn’t keep doing something so exhausting.
It was exhausting to think of doing anything else.
At some points of my nursing career I dreamed of writing a blog about how I had finally moved on to something else, and I guess that thought was the most anticipated while simultaneously disappointing post idea of all. I even wrote articles about how I could hate something I loved so much. But I think the worst season I endured was when I couldn’t even write about nursing anymore. There was a time when my angst with the field grew so prodigious that it spilled into my writing, painting only negative strokes, and it cut me to the core when a nursing reader pointed out the fact I didn’t want to admit.
“This is horrible,” she commented. “You’re obviously burnt out!”
My initial reaction was anger. How dare she accuse me. She didn’t know me! Didn’t she realize the field of nursing was hard?! Didn’t she know how difficult it was, and that sometimes you had to vent your frustrations?! She must be in administration! I surmised, trying to make myself feel better. But then it hit me like a ton of bricks. She was right. I was burned out.
I felt almost defeated. I saw so many kinds of nurses. I saw the ones who fed on adrenaline, who lived and breathed medicine. They carried gym bags with their credentials emblazoned on the side, and they wore t-shirts with sassy sayings about saving lives. Then I saw the old nurses trudging through their shift, full of complaints, spreading their disdain like poison. They obviously hated what they did, but after so long in the field felt stuck. I wanted to be the former, but I feared becoming the latter. At the time I was neither. My heart wanted to love nursing, but I just couldn’t. I had hit a wall where my purpose was lost. It was horrible.
Around that time I cut down my hours at the bedside. I changed to PRN, working maybe one day a week. I had found a direct sales job that made it possible for me to earn income otherwise, and I worked just enough to keep my feet wet while allowing me distance from the field. The pride I had felt over being a nurse never went away; I just experienced a drought in my career. It was a dry place where I didn’t love it anymore. Not even a little bit.
I’m not sure what shifted exactly, if it was the time away or more than that. All I know is that the time I did spend with my patients started becoming enjoyable again. I had always loved the people part of it. Excluding those difficult patients. Boy, if you wanna make waves, try blogging about demanding patients! People pull out the pitchforks. It was my first million-read post, though. So there’s that. But I digress.
The point is, I realized I really liked making someone’s day. Being sick sucked, so when I could make someone smile it felt great. When I explained something in a way that made a confused family member finally understand, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. When I could get the difficult patient to comply, where people before me had not, I felt I was serving some higher purpose. God began to speak to my heart about how much I was needed in this job. And when I finally felt purpose again, not just like a warm body filling a staffing spot, I began to thrive in my job.
Currently I’m working as a traveling nurse. I fill positions needed in ICU’s across the country. I bring all my kids and my spouse, going from job to job in an RV. Working three 12 hour shifts is still exhausting, but it no longer beats me down. Wherever I go now I can bring a little, joyful singing, a happy smile, and a helpful demeanor. I can enjoy the rest of the time off with my family exploring our new surroundings, rather than being overly tired and worn down from a career choice I hate. I can see my purpose, I can share it with those who need it most, and I can finally start writing about nursing again with a smile on my face.
If you’ve ever felt burned out from nursing, or perhaps, if you’re feeling it now, know you’re in good company. Nursing is hard. Sometimes it feels like an abusive relationship you can’t escape! It’s okay to get burned out as a nurse. We’re human after all. And perhaps it’s not for everyone. We’ve all worked with those people who would better serve elsewhere. But if there’s that part inside you that wants to love it still, like I did, then know that there is another side to the season you find yourself in. Take a break. Try something new. Find your purpose, your reason for being a nurse, and let that motivate you. Let it resound inside you the truth that you are valuable, needed, and making a huge difference in the lives of others!