In nearly all of our careers, there will come a time when it’s time to move on. Whether it’s to leave for a new specialty, a role transition, or merely to escape a toxic environment, that change is inescapable. Since becoming a nurse I’ve left four jobs, and I was ready to leave when I left all of them. The decision to leave the last, is what what spurred me start my training to leave critical care. It was made after standing toe to toe in a screaming match with a critical care attending, over what I felt (and still feel) was an inappropriate escalation of care. It wasn’t my finest or most tactful moment I’ll admit, but I too am a work in progress.
Simply put, I had waited too long to move on. I was lucky in that I was already starting my new (and current) position, so I wasn’t stuck without a job. Even so, I never should have let it get that far. It’s what happens when you stop paying attention, and stop being intentional with your practice.
Not everyone’s decision to move on will be as galvanizing as my own. While for me it was useful, I wouldn’t recommend letting things progress that far. It sharply changed my course in nursing toward where my heart already was headed, but it was a tough turn.
For several years, becoming a CRNA was my goal. I’ve always been ambitious, smart, competitive and work well under pressure. I thought it was the perfect fit. So in 2015 I decided to start working toward application. As life would have it, the week I met with the final director, I found out I was pregnant with my son. In knowing myself and how I parent (and my desire to stay married :)), the time came to let it go. I had focused on that being my course for so long, letting it go was excruciating. It wasn’t until that day in the ICU, as I was a screaming banshee (AKA advocate) for my patient, did I truly find my path.
Now that I’m on that path, I am getting more and more comfortable with it. I’d like to offer some advice for those who may be struggling with knowing when it’s their time.
- You find yourself getting angry just thinking about going to work. – This can happen to everyone, even if you’re in your perfect unit. Every once in a while, there are going to be things that make you angry. That kind of anger is perfectly okay. However, when you find yourself angry before every shift, and looking for reasons to bad talk your unit, it’s time to go. You’re not going to be the nurse you want to be, or who your patients deserve when you’re angry all the time.
- When you’re crying before and/or after work – Our work is hard, but the fact is if you’re crying about your job with regularity, something isn’t right. Nursing is tremendously satisfying when you’re in the right place. In finding the right environment and the right population, our work can be downright joyful! The job that breaks you down, may be what builds someone else up. Free yourself, and that spot for the next nurse by finding the place that makes you joyfully satisfied.
- The unit staff doesn’t value the team – Teamwork is vital in a well run unit. It’s encouraged and modeled at every level, and it’s the difference that makes it easy to swim or quick to drown. If you find yourself in a place where the team isn’t emphasized and valued, it might be time to start looking elsewhere. When you have strong teamwork within a unit, everyone shares the burden. Nobody puts their needs ahead of anyone else’s, and it’s lovely. Even a bad day will have bright spots with a good team in place. Without it, we find ourselves drowning. We fight, we claw and gasp for air throughout every shift and it kills us. It literally sucks the joy our of our practice, and that’s no way to nurse.
- You’re struggling to engage with your patient population – Finding the right population is key! Your perfect population may also change with time. For me, my shift from critical care to primary care is guiding me to look at my patients much differently. That level of engagement makes me excited for work each day, and that is an amazing feeling. So take the time for reflection. Seek out the population of patients that speaks to you, and have the wisdom and courage to make that change it’s time.
Moving on is never easy, although I would recommend leaving before you’re burdened with the above problems. They are the stress and agitation that will sap the joy from your practice. I’ve seen these issues ruin great nurses. Some who had dealt with them so long, they believed it couldn’t be better anywhere else. Learn from them. Commit yourself to engaged and joyful practice, and accept nothing less. You deserve it!