What to Do When You Want to Quit Nursing. Tips to Help You Stay in the Profession.

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    “I quit. I don’t want to be a nurse anymore.” How many of you have had that very thought during a shift or while walking to your vehicle or while getting ready for work? You think it is time to quit nursing and find something else to do. We have all had those days, but when days turn into weeks and months of consistent ruminating over the thought of leaving your nursing career behind, it’s time to look at the bigger picture of the root cause of those feelings.

    What to Do When You Want to Quit Nursing. Tips to Help You Stay in the Profession.

    “I quit. I don’t want to be a nurse anymore.” How many of you have had that very thought during a shift or while walking to your vehicle or while getting ready for work? You think it is time to quit nursing and find something else to do. We have all had those days, but when days turn into weeks and months of consistent ruminating over the thought of leaving your nursing career behind, it’s time to look at the bigger picture of the root cause of those feelings and how you could possibly stay in the profession and possibly use all your nursing knowledge to your best advantage in a new role.

    Where are the feelings to quit nursing coming from?


    Are you exhausted? Unhappy with unit/management? Or simply disenchanted with the entire nursing profession? Frequently, it’s not one thing that gives rise to a nurse entertaining the idea to leave nursing. We are, after all, conditioned to withstand a great deal of things that other people would never consider enduring for a paycheck. Before turning in that letter of resignation, nurses should take a step back and consider if the desire to quit is a symptom of real dissatisfaction with the field of nursing, or is it a result of neglecting self-care? Is it family obligations? Disagreement with management? Stuck-in-rut feelings? Or perhaps having to do more with less (as bedside nurses often lament) has taken its toll. There is no blame here. As nurses, we can get wrapped up in caring for others, which oftentimes results in putting ourselves and our health, both mental and physical, second. Identifying the cause(s) can lead to better insight as to whether or not it is time to quit or instead, regroup and refocus your nursing career.

    Before you make any decisions or start exploring your options, check in with yourself on your self-care rituals:

    • Are you getting enough sleep? It is restful or are you tossing and turning much of the night?
    • Are you staying hydrated? Nurses know all the pitfalls of dehydration, yet it’s easy to fall victim to it.
    • Are you getting the proper nutrition?
    • How often are you exercising?
    • How often are you getting out into nature and soaking up some Vitamin D from warm sunshine? The Mayo Clinic reports that some studies suggest a link between low Vitamin D and mood/depression.
    • Do you engage in personal hobbies that bring you joy?
    • How often are you taking vacation days?
    • Are you picking up extra shifts at the cost of your mental and physical health?

    Would quitting nursing make me happy?

    If you can identify the causes of the desire to quit and recognize some easy fixes that help you stay in your current position, GREAT! You’re on your way to reframing your feelings and easing your mind. If that’s not the case, then it is time to start a pro and con list and give a point value to each. The point value is whatever you want it to be. Your instincts already know how to rank characteristics of your nursing job that you love or loathe.

    If your list indicates that quitting nursing is your best course of action, try this next exercise to narrow your focus and reveal what’s the next best step for you. A nurse friend of mine designed this exercise for herself, and it helped her stay connected to the nursing field, but in a role of her own making. My friend made a list of questions to help her determine what type of career she wanted:

    • What time do you want to get up for work?
    • What clothes do you want to wear?
    • Do you want to drive or walk to work?
    • How many hours a day do you want to put in?
    • When you look out the window at your job, what do you see?
    • What are you surrounded by at work?
    • What are the everyday tools you use?
    • Do you want to work independently or as part of a team?
    • What do you love to do that you can get lost in for hours, and it doesn’t feel like work?
    • Do you want to work for yourself, or have the stability of a regular paycheck?
    • Can you see yourself doing this job for the next 10 years or more?
    • What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What do you do better than anyone else?

    My nurse friend determined that she still loved healthcare, but wanted to work for herself helping other nurses start and market their businesses, as she had worked in the business world before becoming a nurse. She also found two “gig” jobs — one, writing responses to patient reviews of doctors, and two, researching, writing, and publishing content for medical sites. She works in her pajamas sometimes, makes her own schedule, and loves her day.

    Consider all possibilities.

    Is there something that you’ve always wanted to explore and try in nursing? A new specialty maybe? Before you make the leap into a different side of nursing, remember to ask questions of those already working in that vein. You could also consider shadowing opportunities that are often given to nurses exploring specialties. The more knowledge you gather, the greater the feeling that you are making the right decision for you and fewer surprises you’ll encounter in the new role.

    Remember too that simply because a role does not exist in nursing, it does not mean you cannot design it. Nurses work in every industry in roles many people have never heard of. Plumb the depths of alternative nursing career paths on job boards using several different geographical locations. Job titles and responsibilities vary state to state and country to country. It doesn’t mean you need to move. The possibility may be that you could invent a similar job in your current location.

    What else? Have you ever considered quitting nursing? What did you do when you felt that way and can you share any additional tips? If you did leave nursing, what did you choose to do instead?
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 20
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    12 Comments

  3. by   elkpark
    Or maybe people just want to get out of nursing, and that's okay ...
  4. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from elkpark
    Or maybe people just want to get out of nursing, and that's okay ...
    Totally agree. And if that is what they want, then that is what they want. I just find that people often make decisions (like I did) where they run away from something rather than running towards it.

    I did this very thing. I was unhappy. I didn't figure out what I truly wanted. I started looking for ways to get out of my role- get away from it. No success. Why? Because I was not clear on what I wanted and what I was going to move towards.

    When I shifted my focus... numerous things started actually coming to me!!

    So yes, if someone wants to leave nursing... by all means. Just think about it before they do, all I am saying.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your comment!
  5. by   Natkat
    This is so timely for me right now. I definitely want to get out of nursing. I love medicine but not nursing. Meanwhile all I have ever done is dialysis and no one will hire me. For anything. I got my BSN a year ago and one semester away from my MSN, and it appears that it does not matter. I have applied to lots of administrative positions - but they all want experience - which I don't have. The only experience I have is in dialysis and can't do a darn thing about it.

    Meanwhile I have long years of computer experience, I can type 60 words a minute, I'm a whiz at Microsoft Office and have some past experience with ICD-9 coding, and a tiny bit of ICD-10 that I could pick up on in a very short amount of time. I like paperwork. I love research and I'm a good writer. But without experience, nobody cares. And money is no object. I am fortunate enough that I am a place in my life where I can take a pay cut to do something that I enjoy.

    Another interesting trend I have noticed is that just about every place I apply asks for my date of birth or the date I graduated from high school. I am going to be 56 years old this month, and while I wouldn't be able to prove age discrimination, I think they are using this tactic to get around it.

    And my age is a big factor in where I want to go from here. There is no way I could start over working med-surg. No way. I couldn't keep up mentally or physically. I can see how in a short time I would get that "talk" where they tell me I'm not catching on fast enough and they have to let me go. Or that I'm too slow. Which would both be valid points. I don't think I could take on learning a whole new specialty right now and my body could not handle all the lifting and long hours it would take to make that shift.

    So is there any hope for me at all? Is there anything I can do?

    I'm feeling quite despondent today and don't know what to do next.
  6. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from Natkat
    This is so timely for me right now. I definitely want to get out of nursing. I love medicine but not nursing. Meanwhile all I have ever done is dialysis and no one will hire me. For anything. I got my BSN a year ago and one semester away from my MSN, and it appears that it does not matter. I have applied to lots of administrative positions - but they all want experience - which I don't have. The only experience I have is in dialysis and can't do a darn thing about it.

    Meanwhile I have long years of computer experience, I can type 60 words a minute, I'm a whiz at Microsoft Office and have some past experience with ICD-9 coding, and a tiny bit of ICD-10 that I could pick up on in a very short amount of time. I like paperwork. I love research and I'm a good writer. But without experience, nobody cares. And money is no object. I am fortunate enough that I am a place in my life where I can take a pay cut to do something that I enjoy.

    Another interesting trend I have noticed is that just about every place I apply asks for my date of birth or the date I graduated from high school. I am going to be 56 years old this month, and while I wouldn't be able to prove age discrimination, I think they are using this tactic to get around it.

    And my age is a big factor in where I want to go from here. There is no way I could start over working med-surg. No way. I couldn't keep up mentally or physically. I can see how in a short time I would get that "talk" where they tell me I'm not catching on fast enough and they have to let me go. Or that I'm too slow. Which would both be valid points. I don't think I could take on learning a whole new specialty right now and my body could not handle all the lifting and long hours it would take to make that shift.

    So is there any hope for me at all? Is there anything I can do?

    I'm feeling quite despondent today and don't know what to do next.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Appreciate the honesty. And vulnerability. I know how it feels to be turned down or to be unable to find something that you will enjoy.

    As I shared, I have been in this very place myself.

    What I can recommend and what I do know works is this... it may be difficult to hear. But sometimes we need to stop trying so hard. It is the desperate energy that we are putting out there that then deflects the results we want to see back. Trust me, the energy stuff is so true. Weird and hard to understand, but true.

    What I would do is a few things- first off take a break. Any time I am stuck... with a project, a desire, or a new goal... if I feel I am beating my head against the wall, I walk away. This always helps!

    Next, make a list. First- what is it that you do NOT want. What do you not want to do in a job? Not want to work with? Not want to see, feel, hear? Everything. Write that out.

    Then take that list and turn it around on its head. And keep "logic" or rational mind out of it. I understand that your mind may say... "Well, you are too old for that. Or you do not have the credentials for that. Or that will take too long". Just suspend all disbelief.

    Take each "don't want" statement and turn it into the exact opposite. I actually teach this in my book, Nursing from Within. It works! So the do want statements... those bring you closer to your goal.

    I would say stop searching for the ideal job. Let the ideal job come to you. By being clear on what you want and envisioning it, and believing that it CAN happen, it will. Just be gentle with yourself and patient with time.

    In the meantime, do something fun. Even if that is in the working world. Even if it is outside of nursing. By taking a break from the search, making this list, and doing something you enjoy... you attract the successful energy to you!

    I hope this helps. Let us know!
  7. by   mrl3fnp
    I know lots of people outside of nursing that don't especially love their work but they continue with it because that's life and they have a family to support. Do you think all truck drivers love their work or construction workers, or carpenters, or roofers, or waiters, or hotel maids, etc,....

    All in all, nursing is quite simple comparably speaking....I tell you what, the next time you are feeling depressed about how hard and stressful nursing is how about you take a drive and watch some construction workers unloading bags of cement. Works for me every time.
  8. by   dishes
    @natkat, have you considered using your background in dialysis to do activities that can help you to pass on your knowledge or to improve dialysis patient population outcomes such as; teach a nephrology nursing course/ actively participate in a nephrology nursing professional association/ present at a conference/ participate in health policy/provide public education/ conduct research.
  9. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from mrl3fnp
    I know lots of people outside of nursing that don't especially love their work but they continue with it because that's life and they have a family to support. Do you think all truck drivers love their work or construction workers, or carpenters, or roofers, or waiters, or hotel maids, etc,....

    All in all, nursing is quite simple comparably speaking....I tell you what, the next time you are feeling depressed about how hard and stressful nursing is how about you take a drive and watch some construction workers unloading bags of cement. Works for me every time.
    Great point! I do also teach nurses in my writing and books about the power of perception. And putting ourselves in other people's shoes. Even on the hardest of days as a nurse, there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for, to learn from, or to appreciate about being a nurse. Thanks for adding this to the discussion!! Much appreciated.
  10. by   kbrn2002
    Natkat, have you considered teaching? With only a semester to go for an MSN you would soon qualify for a teaching position either lecture or clinical at the community college level [at least where I live]. A doctorate is preferred for lecture instruction, but if you dip your toes in the water and discover you love teaching you really wouldn't have far to go to get that PhD. Teaching probably would mean a cut in pay sadly, but it hits some of the things you say you enjoy and are good at, like paperwork!
  11. by   renzpane
    If you don't like what you are doing, then do something different. But you may not have to leave nursing to find something different. Nursing has many options and career directions. You may need to get some specific education, take a class and even take a pay cut initially, but if you end up liking your new field, it could be the start of a great nursing career. i spent a lot of time doing med-surg, tele, oncology, all the basics. I really liked my patient's but always wished there was more time for patient education. There were some things I definitely didn't like, codes of any color, nursing supervisors who were oblivious to the real patient acuity, and the complete lack of control over any part of my work day. ( I have to float WHERE? I can't take that Saturday off 5 weeks from now? I have to work what shift? I have to stay and do a double?) Now, I work as a health coach for a major insurance company I work Monday to Friday,normal hours. I get to see my husband and my kids (which is mostly good). I also get to work with patients who are trying to make positive changes in their health. I don't have to clean up vomit. Really, the worst that happens is someone is rude and doesn't want to talk to me... LOL. I can handle that. My point is, I would never have looked for this 30 years ago. I thought all nursing was at the bedside. What about Case Management? Ambulatory nursing, school nursing, workman's comp... there is just so many options. Think about what parts of nursing you like. What would your perfect day be? Then figure out where nursing might fit into it. You can always quit, but maybe all you need is a change in direction.
  12. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from renzpane
    If you don't like what you are doing, then do something different. But you may not have to leave nursing to find something different. Nursing has many options and career directions. You may need to get some specific education, take a class and even take a pay cut initially, but if you end up liking your new field, it could be the start of a great nursing career. i spent a lot of time doing med-surg, tele, oncology, all the basics. I really liked my patient's but always wished there was more time for patient education. There were some things I definitely didn't like, codes of any color, nursing supervisors who were oblivious to the real patient acuity, and the complete lack of control over any part of my work day. ( I have to float WHERE? I can't take that Saturday off 5 weeks from now? I have to work what shift? I have to stay and do a double?) Now, I work as a health coach for a major insurance company I work Monday to Friday,normal hours. I get to see my husband and my kids (which is mostly good). I also get to work with patients who are trying to make positive changes in their health. I don't have to clean up vomit. Really, the worst that happens is someone is rude and doesn't want to talk to me... LOL. I can handle that. My point is, I would never have looked for this 30 years ago. I thought all nursing was at the bedside. What about Case Management? Ambulatory nursing, school nursing, workman's comp... there is just so many options. Think about what parts of nursing you like. What would your perfect day be? Then figure out where nursing might fit into it. You can always quit, but maybe all you need is a change in direction.
    Totally true! You do not have to leave nursing altogether. The opportunities are endless. I showcase all that nurses do by interviewing a variety of nurses on the Your Next Shift podcast Your Next Shift: A Nursing Career Podcast | Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN | Keynote Speaker | Bestselling Author | Nurse's Week Art of Nursing Host The show shows that nurses have SO MANY possibilities once they have that degree. My goodness... we have had nurse actors, nurse writers, nurses in academia, nurses in research, nurses in tech.... The list goes ON and on!! Great point, thank you for speaking to this!
  13. by   AndrewCraigRN
    Quote from mrl3fnp
    I know lots of people outside of nursing that don't especially love their work but they continue with it because that's life and they have a family to support. Do you think all truck drivers love their work or construction workers, or carpenters, or roofers, or waiters, or hotel maids, etc,....

    All in all, nursing is quite simple comparably speaking....I tell you what, the next time you are feeling depressed about how hard and stressful nursing is how about you take a drive and watch some construction workers unloading bags of cement. Works for me every time.
    Been down the construction road. I've done roofing in the middle of winter. I done concrete and pouring parking lots. I've carried 150lbs of shingles up a shaky ladder. I've near fallen off of rooftops. I hammered nails through my fingers (idiot obviously). I've dropped concrete on foot required tons of stitches and having nerve damage. No thanks.

    I'll NEVER, EVER GO BACK! Nursing is tough in it's respects but that's a whole different type of tough I never want to do again!
    Last edit by AndrewCraigRN on May 13 : Reason: Forgot to Quote
  14. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from AndrewCraigRN
    Been down the construction road. I've done roofing in the middle of winter. I done concrete and pouring parking lots. I've carried 150lbs of shingles up a shaky ladder. I've near fallen off of rooftops. I hammered nails through my fingers (idiot obviously). I've dropped concrete on foot required tons of stitches and having nerve damage. No thanks.

    I'll NEVER, EVER GO BACK! Nursing is tough in it's respects but that's a whole different type of tough I never want to do again!
    You are right on! When we think about all of the GOOD that we get out of nursing... those feelings of fulfillment and as though we impacted even just one life... then all of the "hard" stuff can seem a bit easier to take. Thanks for sharing your past career experiences with us!

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