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Leaving the Bedside


Have you decided it's time to leave the bedside? Many nurses are in your shoes, as I was once. Read on to know why I chose to leave the bedside after ten years, reasons I struggled with the decision, and why I do not regret the decision.

Specializes in ICU, Cardiac, ACLS, ED, School Nurse. Has 10 years experience.

How do I know when it is time to leave the bedside?

Leaving the Bedside

Who I Had Become

I started my nursing career as a second career ten years ago.  I had big goals of becoming an Emergency Room nurse, performing excellent CPR, and having the competency to deal with any patient that came my way.  In a matter of ten years, I achieved my goals.  I eventually went from working on an intermediate cardiac medicine unit to working in the Cardiac ICU.  I graduated to the ICU Float Pool, which had me working in all six ICUs in the hospital including the Emergency Room and PACU.  I was even a STAT/Resource Nurse, where I carried a code pager and responded to emergencies or help calls throughout the hospital.  I became the leader I wanted to be.  And then I left.

Should I Leave the Bedside?

The decision to leave bedside nursing was not an easy one.  Many factors came into play.

1. I have a young family.  I wanted to spend more time with them, and I decided they were what was important.

2. I had achieved most of what I wanted to in the hospital, with not many other places to go.  I had come to a checkmate, and I was cornered.

3. I had an experience that made me realize that I was not as important or valuable in my position as I had felt.  When I had reached the top in my mind, I was quickly brought down to earth and learned I could easily be replaced.  I felt I was just a number.

4. I was tired of the night shift.

5. I was tired of the commute.

6. I was just plain tired.

What I learned about bedside nursing is you can put as little or as much as you want into it.  It was a career where you could potentially earn more money hourly and in less time than a Nurse Practitioner with an advanced degree would earn by salary.  A nurse would probably put in more hours working as they advanced their education.  I was happy with a BSN but went back and forth all the time about getting an MSN.

You Are Not Alone

When I left a year ago, many nurses were also considering leaving the bedside.  It was not about COVID, although that created stress and pressure many nurses did not want to experience.  It was more about administration, and feeling that they didn’t care about the employee.  It was about requesting certain days off and not having it approved.  It was about not being reimbursed for a conference that improved your line of work.  It was about workplace safety, unsafe staffing levels, and mandatory overtime.  Nurses were the heart of the hospital, but in many instances, felt that they had no voice.

The decision to leave the bedside is different for everyone.  The hardest part for me was giving up teaching, and giving up being in a role where I was looked up to by my colleagues.  I was a resource for new nurses and seasoned nurses alike.  I eventually decided that members of my leadership were poor, and they were leaders for all the wrong reasons.  Everyone seemed to be working on their resume, rather than working for the employees.  I was lucky to have great colleagues, and I worked on many units with great teams.  I just decided there was nowhere else to go.

“Work to Live, Not Live to Work.”

I have always said one should “work to live, not live to work.”  Once work began to impact my private life, I knew something had to change.  I eventually picked up a school nurse job in my childrens’ school district.  I am sleeping better now that I am not working the night shift.  I have a 5-minute commute to and from work.  I am getting paid close to what I was paid for two shifts a week at the hospital.  I can plan days off whenever I want them, because I work on a salary now rather than hourly pay.  I do not need to struggle switching shifts, or working on the weekend.  I have summers off, or I can choose to work if I want to.  I have more time with my kids, and I find that I am able to be more patient with them.  My work stress is gone.

Get Off The Conveyor Belt

No matter what, choosing to leave the bedside will be a difficult decision for you.  It is easy to get wrapped up in the extra money.  You become friends with your colleagues and you go through many situations together that only nurses can understand.  There seems to be an ever-running conveyor belt of working your way up from being a new nurse, to being a preceptor or charge nurse, to going to the ICU, learning different skills for your specialty, then eventually getting an ambulatory position because the shifts have no nights or weekends.  My colleagues kept me going and encouraged me.  Eventually, I just came to a different stage in my life and I wanted to get off the conveyor belt.  

I still miss what I did, and I will always be proud of what I have achieved.  I am not sure if I will be okay going back to the bedside one day and starting over, knowing how I used to be a leader.  I just know that if it fits my life, I will do it.  For now, I am enjoying being a leader for my family.  A nursing career can take you anywhere, and I am letting it.  You just have to let go and enjoy the journey.

From STAT Nurse to School Nurse. I have spent ten years at a Level 1 Trauma Harvard Medical Teaching Hospital in Boston (that's a mouthful), and when I left I fell into a School Nurse position. I am dabbling with nurse writing and becoming an entrepreneur. Who knows where my career will lead me next?

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11 Comment(s)

morelostthanfound, BSN

Specializes in CVOR/General Surgery. Has 29 years experience.

I appreciate your candor in sharing your story.  Sadly many of us also came to those same realization years ago, but many also lack the necessary resources to leave their toxic workplaces.  With ageism being rampant in nursing (albeit, usually cloaked), suitable alternatives become fewer and fewer with each passing year.  Nurses have been reduced to an expendable commodity and like the saying goes, 'Your job will be posted before your obituary' really does ring true.

MuslimahNurse, LPN

Specializes in None.

I’m a new nurse and I want to leave bedside nursing as soon as possible. I want to be an aesthetic nurse, I know that bedside nursing is important but I hope to not be doing it for longer than a year as I bridge from LPN-RN

jeanbeth, MSN, DNP, RN

Specializes in Gerontology, Education. Has 9 years experience.

I left bedside nursing for the reasons exactly as you describe them - "It was about requesting certain days off and not having it approved.  It was about not being reimbursed for a conference that improved your line of work.  It was about workplace safety, unsafe staffing levels, and mandatory overtime." But I did enjoy teaching also, and although I had no official teaching experience, other than orienting new hires and conducting in-services, I was able to find a position in teaching at an LPN level. It's eye-opening, and there is no age discrimination that I can see - schools appreciate that experienced nurses who want to stay in the field (often after injuries hamper their bedside career) have a lot to offer. Best of luck!


Specializes in Long term care; med-surg; critical care. Has 9 years experience.

On 5/3/2021 at 8:11 AM, Live.Intentionally said:

When I had reached the top in my mind, I was quickly brought down to earth and learned I could easily be replaced.  I felt I was just a number.

I think that many people have the same realization and find that upsetting. There are some employers left that treat employees as individuals and recognize their worth. However, for most big corporate workplaces, that's no long the focus. 

I'm glad that you've found the right setting for you and your family at this time. Thank you for sharing your experience. 

It is easy to get burned when you care too much about doing right by patients and each other.  How does administration square the faith based mission statement that is sooo important while treating staff like dung?

Thank you for this. I am searching for other opportunities as I’m writing this for many of the same reasons. I’ve been a nurse for 22yrs and I’m done with bedside nursing. The patients are great , but there are some that are not so great. I feel as though I did my part and now it’s time to move on. School nurse sounds wonderful. Good luck to you. 


Specializes in TELE/ med surg/ Ortho /pcu.

Hello! I’m feeling the same here! Except I am part of an agency and I def enjoy the flexibility bc I have a 1 year old. I have been offered full time positions but I don’t think I want to do bedside nursing anymore. Only problem is I don’t get health benefits so a full time job is def on my radar since I’m gonna be needing insurance soon. I just don’t know if bed side nursing is what I want . And I’m struggling to wanna go full time bc I wanna be a leader, as you say, in my home and be with my son. A lot of other non bedside nursing jobs are available but require mon-fri work schedule. Can anyone give me insight of what they have experienced? I’m struggling trying to figure out what will be best , when I think nothing is best bc it will require me to be away from my son.  Thanks for the feedback and support 


Specializes in Specializes in L/D, newborn, GYN, LTC, Dialysis. Has 24 years experience.

All of this should worry the crap out of us. Because if we need care, WHO will be left to give it? I mean, a 6 month nurse  (or 1 year) IN CHARGE? With so many leaving, it's downright scary. I worry for my elderly parents. I can't be there for them as they live 2000 miles away. I pray they don't need hospital care. It's getting worse every day.

I don't blame people leaving, but this truly is a frightening trend.

vintagegal, BSN, RN

Specializes in Geriatrics. Has 2 years experience.

Corporations by and large do not care about employees. We are all assets. However, you can make it work with certain corporations if you put your foot down right out of the gate. Yes they can replace you, but time is money, and I’ve found they don’t want to waste it by having to train another employee. I’ve only worked LTC and hospice but LTC is it’s own beast. Talk about little to no resources and support. They’ll run you into the ground and tell you that’s normal because there is nobody else. And you have a heart so you stay. Well I took all I could take before making a change. And I found the perfect balance of patient care and self care in hospice. Best choice I ever made for a fulfilling career.

Lovethenurse2b25, ASN, BSN, RN

Specializes in CCRN, Geriatrics.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I especially admire how you emphasized how important it is to spend time with family. Im currently experience a work crisis on nightshift. It's is causing me a great deal of stress because I can’t spend time with family the way that I would like. I have a 5 year old. I’ll have to make the decision to leave nights.