Remember when you were so excited to start your job as a nurse? However, as the years tick by, it’s not uncommon to lose some of your joy and enthusiasm. You may find yourself stuck in a routine or cruising on autopilot; you do your job, then you leave, and you repeat this pattern the next day. The good news is that the delight you once felt for your job doesn’t have to be lost forever. Here are four ways to find joy in your job again.
1. Develop a support system.
Create a circle of coworkers who have similar life interests and values as you do. Knowing you have a supportive network of nurses and other health professionals to rely on eases stress and gives you a friendly environment to share your feelings. Job pressures tend to decrease when you surround yourself with people you consider friends. Don’t have any friends at work? Sometimes you have to make the first move to get to know your coworkers.
2. Learn a new skill.
It’s frustrating to feel like you don’t have the right tools in the toolbox to help the variety of patients you see every day. Use this frustration as an opportunity to grow as a nurse and seek additional training in your areas of weakness (to build your confidence) or interests–whatever sparks your professional passions. Ultimately, you’ll find your job becomes a lot more engaging when you stretch your professional comfort zone to include new skills.
3. Ask for help.
Your attitude as a caregiver is critical to your patient’s health care. But it can be hard to maintain a positive attitude when you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed. If you find yourself in a negative head space more often than not, maybe you need to ask for help from a fellow nurse, the office staff, or your manager. If you need something changed to have a happier work environment, be bold enough to ask for it. It’s possible you’ll get what you want and rekindle the joy of your job in the process.
4. Learn to let go.
Nursing involves a great deal of emotional labor–or the process of regulating feelings and expressions to fulfill the requirements of your job. If you’re seeing a patient within the context of a health facility, then you already know you’re not seeing them at the best time in their lives. Unfortunately, you might be on the receiving end of someone’s battle with pain, illness, or injury, and chances are it’s challenging at times (to say the least). By realizing a patient’s struggle isn’t a personal attack on you, you’re better able to “let it go,” shrug it off, and focus on the most rewarding parts of your day. It’s easier to feel joyful about your job each day when you focus on the good you’ve done for your patients.
My first experience looking for a job as a nurse and attempting to understand compensation variability within the profession was both intimidating and stressful. After graduating from one of the best undergraduate nursing programs in the country, gaining clinical experience from top healthcare facilities and enduring the NCLEX and licensure, I assumed that finding a job would be a fairly straightforward process. Instead, I found myself scouring job boards, Googling for any new grad opportunity I could find, combing through Craigslist and blindly emailing the few contacts I had.
After a discouraging months-long search, I finally landed an inpatient opportunity as a pediatric nurse, but the experience was so painful that doing it again seemed unthinkable. So two years ago, when I had the opportunity to join the team at Trusted Health and to help other nurses avoid a similar ordeal, I jumped at the chance.
Today, along with a team of Nurse Advocates, I help nurses find new opportunities, maximize their income, and ultimately, build their careers. After helping hundreds of nurses navigate the job market, I’ve discovered a variety of strategies for any nurse looking to understand how they can grow their skills and increase their earning potential… all things I wish I’d had known at the outset of my career! Read on for three of my top tips.
Experiment with different income streams
One of the tactics I often recommend to the nurses who are looking to maximize their earning potential is to combine different types of opportunities, such as a per diem and a part-time role or travel nursing contract. While many nurses are familiar with this concept, most have questions about how to make it work on a practical level.
The key is to find a per diem role that offers maximum flexibility. If you’re restricted by a specific shift or weekend requirement, it’s likely going to be tricky to make both work. But, if you only need to work one to two days per month and are able to plan ahead, you can easily schedule around a part-time or travel position which may not be as flexible.
While combining two types of clinical opportunities, such as per diem and travel nursing, can be a great financial decision, it’s important not to overdo it. Be sure to consider the proximity of the two roles and how that will affect your ability to balance both and have downtime in-between shifts. I also encourage nurses to schedule time off or a vacation in between opportunities — particularly if they are working in two similar care settings — to avoid burnout.
Understand the salary landscape
The nursing industry suffers from a serious lack of transparency when it comes to compensation, especially for travel opportunities. Compensation information is often obscure and can vary by agency, plus most recruiters can only speak to the compensation trends across their open roles. Given how great the variances are geographically, by specialty, and care setting, it’s important to do your research. One great resource is a recent report from Trusted, which provides a comprehensive look at the salary landscape for travel nurses.
Some of the findings are what you might expect: cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles lead in terms of pay, but there are nuances. While that big paycheck may not stretch very far in SF and NYC once you factor in cost of living, LA actually offers a pretty good bang for your buck. In fact, the average gross weekly pay for travel nurses in LA is 60% higher than the average for local residents.
St. Louis also emerged as a place where travel nurse salaries really stretch. While St. Louis might not top many nurses’ wish lists the same way that California or Hawaii often do, it has the advantage of its central location. So in addition to its low cost of living, it also may be a place you could potentially commute to for travel shifts while maintaining a per diem role elsewhere.
In general, I always encourage travel nurses to keep their minds open to locations that not be as obviously appealing. Rural or less-populated states often have a need for travel nurses that outstrips their supply, and as a result, are willing to pay top dollar. Alaska and South Dakota, for example, rank among the top five states in terms of pay, offering 9 and 6 percent above the national average respectively. It’s also worth noting that less obvious choices can sometimes make for surprisingly fun places to live. I frequently hear anecdotes from nurses who go to small towns with low expectations, only to find that they really enjoy the setting and lifestyle.
Embrace the art of negotiation
Broadly speaking, the characteristics that make a good nurse — selflessness, empathy and putting the needs of others first — are antithetical to negotiating savvy. It’s also not a skill taught in most nursing programs. As a result, it can feel taboo to nurses to have hard conversations about money. Fortunately, being informed can be just as effective as possessing those natural negotiating skills.
When you find a travel role you’re interested in, do your diligence to understand what compensation you should expect and whether it’s being offered by multiple agencies. Compensation and contract terms can often vary widely. To make an informed decision about the role, it’s important to understand the complete compensation package, which, in addition to salary, includes stipends and reimbursements.
While most of us don’t choose nursing for the money, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go after the pay you deserve. I know firsthand that travel nurses can be some of the hardest working and most experienced professionals in healthcare, and I hope these insights are helpful for anyone looking for ways to maximize their income!
Another important variable? Understanding how the length of your contract impacts your compensation. While longer contracts should generally mean higher compensation, it is important to find out if there is the possibility of an extension bonus. Even if you plan to stay for a longer period of time, it might benefit you to sign an initial contract first and later extend. And if an employer isn’t willing or able to budge on compensation, see if you can stipulate that your hours are guaranteed in your contract, thereby ensuring that your salary doesn’t vary if you’re called off shifts.
Sarah Gray is the Founding Clinician at Trusted Health, the career platform for the modern nurse. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Nursing School and began her nursing career at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Prior to moving away from the bedside, she was a Clinical Nurse III and an Evidence Based Practice Fellow, and served on multiple hospital-wide committee boards. At Trusted, she utilizes her clinical insight and passion for innovation to change how nurses manage their careers and solve for inefficiencies within healthcare staffing.
Nurses are incredibly resilient. Each day, they wake up, throw on a set of scrubs, and head into work to perform a demanding 12-hour shift—all while striving to provide the best possible care to their patients. Then, they get home and fall asleep, only to begin the process all over again.
But as a nurse, you know that this barely touches the reality of the situation. In the United States, most hospitals and clinics are woefully understaffed, which often forces nurses to work longer shifts and manage far more patients than they can actually handle. The unfortunate result is nursing fatigue, a common condition which can make you feel both mentally and physically exhausted for days, weeks, or even months.
Almost all nurses have experienced nursing fatigue at some point in their careers, so don’t feel guilty over it. Instead, you can try these seven strategies to combat the effects of nursing fatigue.
1. Leave work at the door.
clock out from work, it’s important for you to clock out mentally as well.
Leaving your work at the door is essential for avoiding compassion fatigue, a
condition which results from repeated exposure to patient suffering while
working in a high-stress environment.
In a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing, researchers found that nurses were more likely to experience compassion fatigue when they were more self-judgmental. If you come home from work and feel guilty about all the things you could have done to make your patient’s life easier, you won’t give yourself time to recharge for the next shift.
2. Practice different forms of self-care.
Nurses go from patient-to-patient, checking their vital signs, administering medicine, and assisting them with daily activities. As a result, it’s easy to get so caught up in caring for patients that you forget to take care of yourself.
To be on top of your game each day, it’s critical that you do things for yourself on a regular basis. Some self-care practices you can try include: going for a walk in nature, starting your day with meditation, or signing up for a healthy subscription meal service.
If you tend to feel guilty about treating yourself, make your forms of self-care double as a bonus for work. For example, do arm work every other day to help lift your patients or invest in the new pair of nursing shoes that you’ve been eyeing for months.
3. Use your vacation days.
vacation days, so remember to use them. Taking time off work is key to
preventing burnout and will help you return to work feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
If your nursing unit schedules vacations at the start of each year, be sure to
get your days in the books—even if you don’t have anywhere in particular to go.
In fact, planning a “staycation” for yourself may be the perfect getaway. You can recharge your batteries by relaxing at home, catching up on things you’ve been neglecting, and spending quality time with the family.
4. Unload your brain after each day.
particularly tiring shift, sometimes you just need to declutter your mind and
get all your thoughts out of your head. One way to do this is by writing them
down on paper or typing them into a Google doc.
Untangling your mind and getting the thoughts out of your head can lower your mental brain fog and allow you to relax after a shift. The process is simple: Just set a timer for 15 minutes and unload your thoughts. Once the time is up, delete your document or click out of it. Reading it over again will only put the words back into your head.
5. Change your work environment.
While it’s no secret that most hospitals and clinics stretch their nurses far too thin, some take it to another level by creating an environment that is downright dangerous. If your health care institution has a poor nurse-to-patient ratio and no system in place to provide help for nurses, it may be worth it to begin searching for a new job.
Though nursing is an in-demand field, finding the right fit can be trickier than it sounds. Don’t be afraid to explore different health care settings to find your ideal work environment. While you might take a pay cut in some instances, the change could be the key to preventing nurse fatigue.
6. Find a specialty you love.
easier to prevent nursing fatigue when you truly love what you do. If being a
registered nurse just isn’t working for you, consider switching to a nursing
specialty that makes you happy to stroll into work each day.
While you could always take a nursing specialty quiz to help you nail down your career, one of the best ways to get a feel for a particular specialty is hands-on experience. Are you interested in a position as an emergency room nurse? Talk with the ER manager and let them know you’re ready to help. There are hundreds of nursing specialties, so be sure to explore all your options to find a job that truly ignites your passion.
7. Explore new hobbies.
needs a hobby that allows them to decompress and wind down from work. Finding
joy in a new hobby can combat nursing fatigue by giving you something to look
forward to after a shift.
Some of the best hobbies for nurses often double as stress-relieving activities, such as painting, knitting, woodworking, and jewelry-making. Be sure to explore hobbies that get your heartrate up. Getting involved in a pickup soccer game, going ziplining with friends, and enrolling in a martial arts class can help keep your mind off work while improving your mood.
Long shifts combined with understaffed nursing units are the perfect storm for nursing fatigue. While some health care facilities are working to address the problem, it’s important for you to be proactive about your health and happiness. With the help of these strategies, you can fight back against nursing fatigue and prevent it from affecting your personal and professional life.
You can have it all. Decrease the stress in your life. Stop to smell the roses. Be in the moment. Great words of advice, but how does that happen? I don’t know about you, but I have found it almost impossible to accomplish! Almost.
I am the manager of a group of neonatal nurse practitioners in a level 3+ NICU of a large, urban Midwestern university hospital that provides care to an underserved population. Yikes! Talk about stressors.
There are 18 women all ages, experiences, and personalities in our group. The question is: How do you create a cohesive, compassionate, supportive, and clinically excellent group of practitioners? Well, it took years of trial and error, strong faculty support, and the unexpected loss of our previous beloved manager—and then to find our feet again over the next three years. I hate it when people say “it’s a process.” Really? Of course it is, but it’s hard to see it in the beginning. We all want instant gratification, whether it’s from new sources, TV, retail, or work. I want it NOW! Yeah, well, that’s not going to happen.
First, you must have individuals of amazing talent, drive, personality, and intelligence. No short order for anyone. I’m not sure how we achieved this dynamic, but we did. Every person in our group is unique in their interests and skills. We foster and encourage the differences. We celebrate the differences. Thank goodness there are NNPs that are the ultimate in PICC insertion skills—not me! I will do anything for you if you get my line in—I will see all the other babies! (Just a note, my other procedural skills are awesome.) Thank goodness we have some young energetic women that love to go on transport. I am getting too old for climbing in and out of ambulances.
Second, you must have the unwavering support of the faculty of neonatologists. Without the clear dedication of the physicians it’s like fighting upstream in the spring run off. I’m not talking about money or time off or even the gift at Christmas. I’m talking about standing for you and beside you to the bureaucracy of administration. We all face shortages of staff, long hours, and extremely difficult patient care situations, but when you know that the medical staff is with you—and you with them—it means everything.
Third, and most important, you need to see the problems that cause discord, anxiety, and anger within the group. In my first ten years here, the NNP group was growing in numbers and responsibilities, especially when we moved into our new, larger NICU. Often when a need arose in the unit the response was ”the practitioners can do it.” Sound familiar? Five years ago we unexpectedly lost our manager. This was a stunning blow to our group and unit. The next two and half years were a struggle as the section and department leadership changed, thus leaving the NNPs in limbo for their own leadership. In many ways the group was rudderless. We had no goal or focus. We reacted to the needs of the unit without any professional growth for any of us.
Last, you must have a manager/leader who believes. Believes in themselves, the members of the group, the faculty, the staff nurses, and staff support members. I know it sounds hokey, but it is absolutely essential. When I became the manager, I held a dinner at my home so we could come together as individuals to talk, laugh, cry, and plan. I met with every practitioner to discuss their goals, aspirations, and what they wanted from me as the manager. Since we cover the unit 24/7/365, the NNPs are never all together at an event. I insisted that the NNP group have an annual retreat so that we could all be together to continue the discussion for our group. With a facilitator, we identified several issues that had been troubling us for many months. We designed a plan to address these issues. We also affirmed our commitment to each other as colleagues and friends.
We continue the “process” to grow and change. But it is not all the big stuff, the retreats and meetings. It is the seemingly small things, like making our collective office a little more cozy, posting funny and inspiring quotes, putting a seasonal wreath on the office door for all to enjoy, and remembering that this is our job, not our life. We are not always perfect, but we strive to be. You can have it all — just not all the time.
Do you feel exhausted, anxious, or dread the thought of going to work each day? In last month’s article, we discussed these subtle signs (and more) which indicate your body may be headed for burnout. Already feeling burned out? Let’s look at some steps you can take to overcome this chronic, stressful state and begin thriving again.
1. Identify the source of the stress.
The Mayo Clinic offers this tip for pinpointing the circumstances that are causing you to feel overwhelmed: “Once you’ve identified what’s fueling your feelings of job burnout, you can make a plan to address the issues.” If you have trouble recognizing the cause, try tracking your job responsibilities for a few days, and write down how you feel after you’ve done each activity. Tracking your feelings will help you concentrate your efforts on the areas that are truly quelling your passion for nursing.
2. Minimize your time with these stressors.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggests you may need to consider reducing your workload or taking a vacation as ways to recover from burnout. HBR also recommends limiting your interaction with people who leave you feeling drained and delegating the tasks that don’t require your personal touch to other people. Furthermore, they advise to disconnect from your work when you finish your shift and on your days off. Bottom line: Don’t take your work home with you. What happens at the hospital (or another facility), stays at the hospital.
3. Find a support network.
Perhaps you have supportive colleagues, friends, or family members who can help you through this challenging time. However, for some nurses, the level of burnout requires the assistance of a professional. Try not to view your quest for help as a sign of weakness, but rather, a bold step forward toward creating the life and the working environment you want. Additionally, many employers will offer an Employee Assistance Program to help you resolve personal and work-related problems. Take advantage of whatever services are available to you.
4. Practice self-care.
An article from Sanford Brown College makes this observation regarding workplace burnout in nurses, “Even the strongest nurse who puts too much devotion into her work faces the risk of ‘compassion fatigue.’” It’s easy to get caught up in taking care of others and neglecting your needs. But cultivating a balance between work and your personal activities will go a long way in helping you heal from burnout. Sanford Brown offers these pearls of wisdom for struggling nurses:
“Good self-care for nurses includes eating well, getting enough sleep, avoiding harmful substances and staying physically active. You may be on your feet all day at work, but the rest of your body needs a different kind of workout. Maintaining strong mental and spiritual health (if appropriate) is also essential. Whether it is meditation, yoga or prayer, set aside a part of the day to find a calming moment that belongs only to you.”
5. Find a creative outlet.
When you’re in a state of burnout, you’re more prone to making mistakes, losing focus, and feeling unhappy. Research suggests creative endeavors can enhance your mood, increase your energy, boost your immune system, lower stress levels, and provide a positive distraction from the things that are weighing you down. Been itching to try a writing class? Maybe you’ve been eyeing a community pottery class for several months. Now, is the perfect time to tap into your creative side and reconnect with the joy and wonder of life.
6. Consider your options.
Have an honest talk with yourself. If you’ve tried the above tips to no avail, it might be time for you to consider a job change. While it’s not an easy decision to make, you may find you’re more fulfilled in a less demanding job that supports your values and beliefs.