What You Give vs. What You Need

Seven years into this profession, I can tell you I am not the same nurse as when I started. Broader skill sets, more gray hair, a son and a husband, better organization: It's a mixed bag. Going into my career, I felt I had to convince others why I was beneficial to the organization. I certainly am good at marketing myself, but with less of an air of desperation. I also want to know what the organization can do for me.

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There's this notion you need to "pay your dues" in nursing. You must start off in night shift, be treated like a moron, take a job you hate. Many nurses do things they know will negatively affect them. I've done it. I tried taking a night shift 11-7 position with a young infant at home working in LTC with a husband trying to build a business. This was possibly one of the stupidest decisions in my nursing career, despite an amazing benefits package. In summary:

- I need my sleep. In my youth, I could work the night shift, but in my 30's, I have the strong circadian rhythm of a chicken. I need to sleep at night, or I don't feel rested. This means I frequently missed dinner and evening family time to sleep until 9:30, just to feel human.

- Training and mandatory meetings conflicted with both my shift and personal life. And this place loved mandatory afternoon meetings. I once had three training sessions and meetings in a week.

- I don't like stupidity in the name of customer service. It's not my strong suit. This place wanted nurses to prepare waffles for residents who wanted 5 AM breakfast and make a middle of the night grilled cheese sandwiches.

- Ambiguity in hierarchy led to a lot of tension. A CNA who had been there over a decade came in when she liked, followed me telling me how to do my job, and flatly refused direct orders. The administrator overruled my disciplinary actions in violation of policy. The CNA never performed a single task I asked her to perform from there out while working with me.

Other challenges arose, but those listed made the situation untenable. After receiving a reprimand for doing exactly what my supervisor asked, I handed in an immediately effective written notice and did not return. I have never taken such drastic action on a job but was unable to safely perform my job with their standards. I cannot respond to a code, change all the CNAs' residents, and complete an admission without orientation in a timely, safe, sane manner.

After my bold and brash reaction, I immediately began seeking out employment, but with intention and purpose. I applied to jobs. I connected with friends, former coworkers, and supervisors. And then I thought to myself: What would ideal employment look like for me?

I made a list consisting of three categories: Unshakeable, absolute requirements, strong preferences, and ideal niceties. If a potential employer couldn't meet my requirements, I didn't bother to schedule an interview. Separating wants and needs gave me a clear bottom line so no one's time was wasted. I had a job less than a week after quitting my old job that better suited the needs of my family.

This is not to say prioritizing will magically land you a job where you save the world and are completely satisfied, but it did bring me closer to where I want to be: Still getting 20+ hours of overtime every other week, four days off on the weeks I don't, health insurance for my family, security, and peace of mind. I work in corrections nursing, and while I take my ring off before work and don a mask in a way I wouldn't if I still worked in LTC, in some ways, I am more true to myself. I go to work and give 100% of myself as a nurse. My patients don't get an ounce of me as a mother, wife, friend, sister, or daughter, but they do get someone devoted to meeting their medical needs without bias or judgment, and my family gets me without bringing the emotional baggage of work home with me. I look forward to the future and enjoy the present, and that makes it the best job of all.

Since childhood, I wanted to work in the medical field. Since becoming a nurse seven years ago, it remains contested whether or not I've truly grown up.

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A deal breaker for me is unresponsive management. I don't like problems being left on the table unresolved because the manager doesn't want/refuses to address it.

I hold the definition of leadership to a pretty high bar.


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I think everyone has a different connotation of paying ones dues.

To me it means, expect to dedicate and prioritize the time and effort it takes to learn a role that your education did little to prepare you.

We pay our nurses a professional respectable wage while they learn not only how to practice as a nurse but also our specific industry. We treat and see them as people, wanting them to be successful and happy in their work.

What we (I) ask is that they come to work mentally and physically prepared to rise to the challenge of learning and providing proper care while on a very steep learning curve and tolerating ongoing constructive feedback and correction. Mistakes and tears of frustration are expected and supported, blaming and resentment is not.

That's what I think of as paying dues.