Nursing Sucks: Now What? How Overworked Nurses Can Move Past ‘I Hate Being a Nurse”

by | Jun 1, 2021 | Mental Wellness and Self Care for Nurses | 0 comments

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If you’ve ever said, “Nursing sucks,” there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Sometimes when you’ve worked really hard toward something, it’s hard to know what to do when you arrive – especially if it looks differently than you thought it would. Maybe you’re an overworked nurse, or maybe you’re suffering from something else, or maybe this role isn’t the best fit. Let’s dig deeper into your feelings and determine how to move forward.

It’s highly possible that nursing is still a great fit for you, but you are suffering from nurse burnout.

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Help! Nursing Sucks. I Don’t Know What To Do!

I get it. You worked for years to get to the point of being a registered nurse. You landed a job, got through orientation, and now you’re regularly doing what you’ve trained to do and… it’s not as wonderful as you thought it would be. It feels like nursing sucks, and you were sold a bill of goods that is faulty. You don’t know how long you can keep doing this. You don’t know if it’s just this job or if it’s all nursing.

Do You Hate Nursing, Or Are You Burned Out?

Here’s the deal: You’ve worked extremely hard on a nursing degree and license. You’ve got into debt to achieve this goal. Speaking in financial terms, your nursing license is like an asset you own. A $300,000 home is an asset. A $20,000 car is an asset. They have a value that contributes to your overall net-worth.

Considering the time and money you spent getting this degree, what is the value of your nursing license? Tally up all of the money you spent on nursing school and obtaining your license. If you’ve got an Associate’s Degree, it probably costs you in the neighborhood of $6-20K. If you have a Bachelor’s Degree, we’re looking at $20-$80K.

Having this license in hand enables you to work as a registered nurse, which (as of writing this) averages from $60-$100K/year.

At the end of the day, regardless of your specific numbers…. even if you’re on the low end of all of that, your nursing license is a significantly valuable asset.

Therefore, before we even consider dropping nursing as a profession entirely, let’s get to the root of why you feel like nursing sucks. The time, money, and effort you put forth to obtain this asset is worth accurately assessing the situation.

When you’re drowning in intense overwhelm and dissatisfaction, you often feel a pull to fix something to alleviate your suffering quickly. Please remember that quick fixes may momentarily soothe or mask the issue, but they are not always appropriate long-term fixes.

Why Does Nursing Suck To Me, Specifically?

Take a moment to turn off your phone, grab your favorite drink 🥤 or snack, and settle in for some thought 💭 and deep reflection. Ask yourself some important questions about why you feel like nursing sucks.

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  • Why do I hate my day-to-day life as a nurse right now? Be as specific as possible.
  • When I think about a normal day at work, what specific instances make me feel the most nervous, anxious, and dissatisfied?
  • If I could wave a magic wand 🪄 and create the perfect nursing work scenario, what would that look like?
  • Am I finding myself in a state of panic or extreme anxiety?
  • Have I been feeling this for a while, and is it worsening or getting better with time?

As you think about your real answers (not what others would want you to say, your honest responses), ask yourself a few more questions:

  • Do I have specific issues in this job that could be alleviated with tweaks? For example, changing schedules, developing assertiveness skills to deal with specific individuals, or getting more confident with particular skills.
  • Are there things about this position that are incongruent with the life I want to live? Maybe you thought you would like night shift or shift work, and after living it, you realize you’d rather have a much more predictable day with a consistent 8-5 PM schedule.
  • Did I misjudge what this role would realistically look like? It’s okay to be honest with yourself. Maybe you thought working in the ICU would be exciting and rewarding, but the baseline stress level with each shift is more than you can handle.
  • Am I so distressed that I cannot accurately assess how I feel because I’m actively suffering? We need to assess and address this first. This would be a situation in which you’re burned out. You cannot make balanced long-term decisions if you are actively in distress.

The wonderful thing about nursing is you can have a highly rewarding and enjoyable career that doesn’t have to look like 30 years working three 12’s a week in an intensive care unit. Nursing as a profession is much more dynamic than that, and the unspoken nursing hierarchy of feeling like you must take care of the sickest patients possible isn’t real.

But before we can address the feeling that nursing sucks, we need to make sure we’re not in emergency-mode first.

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Defining Nursing Burnout

So, before we get into what to do when we feel like nursing sucks, let’s first flesh out what burnout is. It’s important to address acute distress before making big decisions to ensure those are aligned with your values and goals. We don’t want to find ourselves back in this same position when the honeymoon phase of the next job is over.

Nursing burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged involvement in emotionally demanding situations. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent among nurses due to the high-pressure environment they work in, characterized by long hours, demanding tasks, and the emotional toll of patient care. Burnout can erode a nurse’s enthusiasm and passion for the profession, leading to a decline in the quality of care provided.

Signs and Symptoms of Nurse Burnout

Here are common signs and symptoms of nurse burnout to be on the lookout for.

Emotional Exhaustion: You might feel drained, unable to cope, and always tired. This exhaustion isn’t just physical but also emotional, stemming from caring for patients in distress or an inability to provide the kind of care you believe your patients deserve or that you would be proud of.

Depersonalization: This involves developing a cynical attitude towards patients and colleagues. You might feel disconnected from your work and the people you care for, treating them as tasks rather than individuals.

Reduced Personal Accomplishment: You may feel a lack of efficacy in your work. You might feel your skills are not making a difference, leading to decreased job satisfaction and self-esteem. “What’s the point?” is something you might routinely ask yourself.

Chronic Fatigue: Feeling constantly tired, even after resting or taking a few days off, is a common sign of burnout.

Insomnia: Difficulty falling or staying asleep, despite feeling exhausted, can be an indicator of underlying stress and burnout.

Physical Symptoms: These can include headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, and muscle tension, often stemming from chronic stress.

Anxiety and Depression: Feeling persistently sad, anxious, or experiencing feelings of hopelessness can be signs of emotional distress related to burnout.

Irritability and Mood Swings: You may find yourself easily irritated or experiencing frequent changes in mood, which is uncharacteristic of your normal behavior.

When to Seek Professional Help from a Counselor

It’s crucial to seek help when:

  • The symptoms of burnout are persistent and affect daily functioning.
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion leads to dread or avoidance of work.
  • There’s a noticeable impact on one’s health, relationships, or quality of care provided to patients.
  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, or hopelessness become overwhelming.
  • Coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or withdrawal from social interactions become prevalent.

A counselor or mental health professional can provide a safe space to explore these feelings and develop coping strategies. Nurses must remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Addressing burnout proactively can lead to personal growth, better health, and enhanced job satisfaction. Remember, taking care of oneself is just as important as caring for others.

Pro-tip ➡️ If you work at a hospital, you likely have something called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which often includes free counseling. This is a common benefit provided by employers in acute care nursing and is worth exploring. You likely need to call the EAP department and schedule your first session. Legally, they can’t tell your boss what’s discussed (HIPAA). Your boss is simply aware you’re utilizing the services. I have personally used it, and it was incredibly helpful.

Comparison Doesn’t Reflect Reality

Please do not look at other nurses on your unit and assume that because they seem fine, they’re coping effectively with the stress of their job or life. Some of the nurses who appear the happiest may be faking it the hardest. Do not compare how you show stress to how others do. Only you know your internal world. Reflect honestly about how you feel, take ownership, and take steps (even baby ones!) to start to turn the ship towards a destination you desire to go to.

We Are Not Victims of Nursing

It may feel like nursing, as a profession, is doing this to nurses and that you have no control or say over what’s done to you, assuming that those who leave are just the ones who can’t take it anymore. The reality is those who decide what they will and will not tolerate (they know when to stand up for themselves and when to leave a job) know what they want (they go after the right jobs) and take steps to optimize that position, all while balancing it with their personal life. These are the people who get the most out of their nursing license and career.

It is not like we step into the boxing ring and absorb blows until we can’t take it. We step into the ring with training and precision to win and accomplish our goals.

Consider Your Dream Nursing Job

As you reflect on the ideal version of your nursing career, consider the practical steps required to get there.

  • Do you need to get additional experience?
  • Do you need to get a certification?
  • Do you need to go back to school for a BSN, MSN, DNP, or PhD?
  • Do you need to research alternative benefits for health care, dental, life insurance, and retirement to enable a more flexible job?
  • Do you need to look at the various part-time and PRN positions in your area?

There is so much you can do with a BSN, let alone an MSN, and especially a DNP and PhD! You might want to get a bit creative to make your nursing degree work for you.

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The Hospital Isn’t the Only Place to Work

So many nurses feel like the only place they can be considered professional successful is by working in a hospital. Wrong! There are plenty of phenomenal non-hospital jobs for nurses. Checkout this video as I explore a few.

My Ultimate Resource For When Nursing Sucks

As I said before, nursing is a dynamic and flexible field. You are the CEO of your license, and there are many unique options out there that will enable you to customize it to your unique skill sets and goals. But it can be intimidating to try to figure it out yourself, especially when you do not know what all of the options are.

If you’d like more specific guidance on how you can craft your dream career, Crafting Your Dream Career is my absolute favorite resource to walk you through the entire process! It is a membership with a plethora of resources that is well worth the investment.

So, if you feel like nursing sucks and there is no hope, I promise you that there is. There are so many ways you can use your license to benefit you!

More Nursing Resources For You

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    Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

    Hi, I’m Kati.

    Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

    Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


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