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Are all nurses perpetually exhausted?

So, I've been a long time lurker and just recently decided to start an account so I could get an answer to this question. I'm seriously considering going to nursing school (I already have one degree) but I've noticed a trend on these forums, and in general, that's got me a little worried.

From what I've read, most nurses who work directly with patients seem to talk a lot about how utterly exhausted they are ALL THE TIME. It paints the picture of a very stressed out, caffeine drinking, health care worker with little time for sleep or a personal life. I'm sure that this is most likely an exaggeration...or is it? Forgive me for my ignorance. I'm fully aware that nurses work very hard and have A LOT of responsibility, but being outside of that world, I'm not sure exactly how tough it really is.

I'm very interested in medicine and the idea of direct patient contact, but not at the expense of my physical health or my sanity. As a nurse, would you consider yourself to be "pushed to the limit" in the way I described above, or have you found a balance? Any opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Nurse Molly

Specializes in LTC, Hospice.

Yes, exhausted working nights, dealing with coworkers who fight and bicker all shift, patients who are never satisfied. Sorry, just my opinion. I hope other posters are more positive.

Edited by Nurse Molly
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la_chica_suerte85, BSN, RN

Specializes in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

I think, since I have to work full time and go to school (therefore, no days off typically), I am more exhausted now than I will be once I start working. Nursing is tough work but, from looking at my fellow students who are younger than me and out of shape, staying in shape helps a lot with the stamina. It's the emotional/mental stuff that gets me at the end of the day. My hardest clinical so far was med-surg and I was only working part-time then. I'm in OB now and working full-time and not finding it as difficult as I feared it would be. So, I think it depends on where you end up at. But, if you're really into nursing and really want to do a lot and go far, yes, be prepared to be exhausted all the time. It's not as bad as you think. :yes:

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.

I'm exhausted, but not due to work. I'm exhausted due to longstanding undertreated hypothyroidism, a disease with fatigue as its hallmark symptom. I've had thyroid disease since age 17, which was many years prior to becoming a nurse.

I only work three to four nights per week, so I have plenty of time for a life outside the workplace. Just practice good sleep hygiene and strive for work/life balance, and you should be fine. In addition, develop strong personal boundaries to avoid getting sucked into your patients' shenanigans. Good luck to you!


Specializes in Critical Care.

I'm not exhausted all the time. After i work three nights in a row, yeah I'll crash but I think that's allowed. I like my job and I still have energy to be social.

My observation over the years (decades) has been that lots of nurses don't take good care of themselves, physically or mentally/emotionally, and don't set clear, healthy boundaries in their lives (professionally and otherwise) and that contributes to the level of exhaustion you have observed. Nursing is one of those jobs that, if you let it, will take over your entire life and use up all your energy.

Also, as has been noted on this site before, people are more likely to come here to vent and complain; plenty of nurses don't feel the way you describe, but those people don't seek out a discussion board to say, "My career's going great, I had a good day at work, I'm maintaining a health balance in my work and personal lives."

I've been in nursing almost 30 years, and haven't ever experienced the kind of overall exhaustion (on an ongoing basis -- not claiming I haven't had my share of really bad days, haha) you are talking about.

Best wishes!

Thanks for the reply. OB is actually one the areas I'm (at the moment) most interested in. This could change after I get actual experience, but it's an area that I find interesting. I'm assuming that some nursing specialities are more exhausting than others (emotionally, physically, mentally, etc). Do you have any tips on how you deal with mental/emotional burnout? Thanks again :)

If a person finds themselves in an exhausting work atmosphere they have the opportunity to find a better environment. Sometimes this can be accomplished by going part time, sometimes it can be accomplished by changing specialties altogether. If the work is always toxic and the individual can not remedy this, they should consider a change in their line of work.

It's reassuring to hear that the kind of exhaustion I'm describing isn't common to all nurses. I just don't want to find myself physically and mentally drained after only one year, but it sounds like proper life management and a work/life balance would counteract that. Thank you for replying. This definitely gives me some perspective when considering this as a career option!

I've been trying to reply specifically to people's comments but it seems they are showing up out of order. I apologize. I'm a total newbie at this and I'm still learning the forum. Everyone's comments so far have been really helpful, though. I'm hoping to figure this out soon so I can reply appropriately.

Edited by yellow_crayon
additional content/I have no idea what I'm doing

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.

I've been trying to reply specifically to people's comments but it seems they are showing up out of order. I apologize. I'm a total newbie at this and I'm still learning the forum. Everyone's comments so far have been really helpful, though. I'm hoping to figure this out soon so I can reply appropriately.
If you see a post that you specifically want to reply to, look at the lower right side corner of that particular post and click on "QUOTE."

This enables you to respond to that particular post, and it also lets other posters know exactly who you are replying to.

Shift work is a big reason for all this tiredness. A lot of us work nights, if not full time, then at least part of the time. It is exhausting working against our default circadian rhythm.

nights nurse too. it's more of mental thing than physical thing. the body does get tired but encountering plethora of people acting fool is enough to make you say "to hell with nursing". but then again, i work at ER located in downtown metro, so the population isn't the greatest compared to norther suburbs.

Well I am exhausted, but I work a full time job, a part time job, and I am in school full time.. :dead:

No Stars In My Eyes

Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

When I was exhausted was when I worked LTC and had to wear 5 hats. The fact that they eliminated so many positions and put it on the charge nurse's job description to do all those things made it difficult to get anything done; constant juggling of tasks as they arose, along with trying to keep to scheduled stuff made for constant tension on the job.

Thankfully, there is no OB in LTC ;).....at least not for the patients.....I think.

brandy1017, ASN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care.

Yes working as a front line healthcare worker is frankly a very stressful and unhealthy job to have! It can wreck your health, many struggle with anxiety and depression and of course it is common place to live in chronic back pain from moving the increasingly massively obese patients we get that just lay there and can't even help! It used to be patients weighed 200 pounds or less, now they are 200-300-400+ pounds and of course when they fall ill they can no longer move or walk and you will be the one providing care breaking your back to do it! I wonder if any of these obese patients even care that they are injuring and causing pain to the healthcare workers because of their choices. Most of the time they just seem ticked off that they have to wait for us to get at least four workers together at one time to turn them like how we are inconveniencing them! What did they do at home? Back, neck and shoulder injuries are par for the course. As we speak, my back and shoulder are hurting from taking care of patients yesterday! It ****** me off! I don't recommend nursing to others unless you're a glutton for punishment! Even if you have good staffing, which many don't, it is still a grueling job! For all this, you can expect really lousy benefits, health insurance and tiny raises. Working for a hospital they will shove thousands of dollars onto you in out of pockets and all sorts of surcharges in premiums if you aren't in excellent health! Also many nurses are nervous wrecks from worrying about making a mistake. If you pursue it, don't say you weren't warned!

As for exhaustion pick your poison do you want to work 8 hour shifts and be at the hospital 4-5 days a week, more days to worry about being injured or mandated or do you want to work 3 12 hour shifts, so you have more free time away from work. Of course the 12 hour shifts will leave you stressed and exhausted from having to hurry up and sleep to run back to work again. It's just work and sleep and do it over again, unless you are someone who is blessed to get by on 5 hours of sleep and still feel good! Keep commuting time in mind when you factor in 12 hour shifts, the longer the commute the less time for sleep! Also if you have children you have even less time to sleep!

Edited by brandy1017

I just posted myself about being a new nurse and wondering did I make the wrong choice going into nursing, or possibly its my unit. I cant decide yet, but its definitely not what i thought it would be, or maybe I dont feel as rewarded and happy as I thought I would. Its been hard on myself and my daughter and as a single parent its even more difficult. i often work 3 12s, except the perpetual downstaffing my unit has had. so i really work 2 days a week most weeks and made more money and impact as server.

and i work 3 in a row, but, night shift, day shift, night shift.....im alwyas catching up on sleep or dragging my feet. Shadow a few different places......

No Stars In My Eyes

Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN.

I've been in the biz since 1970 and have seen lots of changes. If I was 19 years old and starting again, the way things are now, I would become a plumber or an auto mechanic.

The only way I have managed to stay in the health-care field and do actual old-timey nursing is to switch to PDN. What USED TO BE considered high-tech is now run-of-the-mill. I don't have the energy or interest anymore to stay on top of things like I used to. Once upon a time I threw myself into it and sought out opportunities to learn bigger and scarier things; it was exhilarating to me.

Now I am satisfied to leave it to the young and eager, because my response to "new! improved! " is to say, "OH CRAP!"


Specializes in ICU/PACU.

12 hour shifts are draining, yes. Even if only for 3 days a week it can be grueling work depending on your unit. It typically takes me a day to recover, so that leaves me chronically exhausted.

I should probably find a 8 hr job,5 days a week. Hopefully one day.


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