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6 Signs It May Be Time for a Nursing Career Change

Amid your busy schedule, it is important to take some time to reflect on your goals, including your nursing career in general. Are you feeling fulfilled? Are you enjoying your chosen career path?  If you answered “no” to either of these questions, or if you’re unsure, there are a few signs that can help you realize when it’s time to take action and make positive changes.

“Many nurses assume their options are limited,” said Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, a well-known author, speaker and career coach for nurses. “But nursing is the most diverse profession on the planet, and nurses have many transferable skills.”

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Here are six signs that it might be time to look at some new career options:

1. Feeling burned out or exhausted

Nurses need not drag themselves to work only to feel exhausted and burned out. Yet many do. The RN4CAST study reported in March 2012 that 34 percent of nurses in the United States indicated feeling burned out, and one-quarter of them were dissatisfied with their jobs.

When nurses feel that way, it’s time to look for another job, said Lynn Berger, MA, EdM, a career counselor and coach in private practice in New York City and author of The Savvy Part-Time Professional: How to Land, Create or Negotiate the Part-Time Job of Your Dreams. She advises thinking about a nursing job change before a career change.

Karen Fuller, RN, BS, BS, PMP, a principal at CSC’s Health Delivery Group in Sarasota, Fla., suggests considering a switch to another nursing specialty, working with a different type of patients or in a different setting, before reaching the breaking point. Such a change, she added, can help to prevent burnout, because you have an opportunity to grow.

2. Hating the idea of going to work

Dreading to go to work each day is a good reason to consider moving on, whether due to disdain for co-workers or supervisors or the workload or an unsatisfying environment, Cardillo said. She has found that some nurses opt to stay within their comfort zone for fear of being able to find another position in a tight job market, but pointed out that staying in a bad situation is unhealthy and can erode one’s self-esteem.

3. Craving a change

Sometimes people simply need to move on, to get a new boss, new responsibilities or new expectations, Berger said. She suggested trying a subtle change first, working a different shift or in a different setting, such as from inpatient care to ambulatory or home health within the same organization.

Nurses who are looking for a bigger change and some new adventures may want to consider a switch to travel nursing, which offers the chance to explore a variety of settings without a long-term commitment.

A study of travel nurses published in Nursing Management in July 2012 found that nurses chose traveling because it offers things they can’t find in their current work environment. According to lead author Marcia Faller, PhD, RN, chief clinical officer for AMN Healthcare, “These nurses wanted to learn more, gain different experiences in practice and with different people and cultures,” she said. “Many also saw travel nursing as a mechanism to travel to new places, to escape an unhappy job situation or to try a variety of employers in order to find a good match.”

4. Wanting to know you made a difference

Nurses frequently enter the profession wanting to make a difference, and most days they do. But cost-cutting measures are causing patients to be discharged from the hospital sooner, and nurses may not always be able to see their patients get better or even know the actual outcomes.

Some fields such as home health, chronic care or case management offer nurses an opportunity to care for patients longer-term, which can allow them to build relationships and often see the results of their work. Travel nursing can provide more time with patients, as well, noted Faller, since travelers aren’t usually involved in the same amount of administrative tasks as staff nurses.

Switching to a nursing job that includes more one-on-one time with patients may provide the personal and professional fulfillment that you’ve been seeking.

5. Worrying about patient or personal safety

The American Nurses Association defines a healthy work environment as “one that is safe, empowering, and satisfying.” They concur with the World Health Organization definition of health, which is “not merely the absence of real and perceived threats to health, but a place of ‘physical, mental, and social well-being,’” and one that supports optimal health and safety.

If your work environment does not fit this description, or it feels toxic or unsafe, that’s another time to consider moving on. Your nursing license and your health are too valuable to risk if you are regularly exposed to an unsafe environment, perhaps due to understaffing, management issues or the lack of available lift equipment to assist with moving patients.

RELATED: How Nurses Can Advocate Effectively for Safety

6. Harboring a burning desire to move up

When people grow and experience more things in life, they find there are other skills they possess and can tap into to advance their careers, Berger said.

Many nurses want to contribute more than seems possible working one-on-one at the bedside. Administrative and faculty roles offer the possibility of touching even more lives, by motivating and leading fellow nurses or by teaching the next generation. That may require a return to college for more education.

“They may have administrative skills and want to do that,” said Berger, adding that those in leadership roles may want to return to the bedside. “It can work both ways.”

Likewise, nurses often yearn for more responsibility, such as that held by an advanced practice nurse, and will return to school to earn the additional credentials.

If you’re feeling the urge to move on, think it through, research your options and then move forward, knowing that a bounty of opportunities exist. Those options will only increase in the years ahead, Fuller said, as health reforms continue to take place and the country’s population continues to age and need more health care services.

“Test the waters and see what’s out there,” Cardillo advised. “Attend career fairs, talk to nurses in other work settings and specialties, and go on some interviews. You never know where the spark, idea, opportunity or connection may come from.”

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