Hate Your Nursing Job? 10 Signs It’s Time to Move On

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 12, 2024 at 7:12PM UTC
It's no secret that nursing is a tough career. Though incredibly rewarding (and lucrative!) for many nurses, the job requires years of schooling, gruelingly long and odd hours and, often, a lot of heartbreaking patient experiences.
For some nurses, the job can take a toll on their own health. In fact, I spoke with 10 nurses who've left their nursing careers behind. They've shared the reasons behind their decisions to move on.

Here are 10 signs it’s time to leave your nursing job, according to nurses who have left.

Former nurses have shared with me why they left their nursing job in lieu of entirely different career paths. Here are the signs that they were ready to move on.

1. You're exhausting, too.

"I was working insane hours — 12-hour shifts three times a week, usually overnight — and I was exhausted," says Carly, a former nurse in a New York hospital. "I ended up quitting because I was losing so much sleep. I couldn't get my sleep schedule to regularize because my hours were always changing. And it was taking a toll on my health. I still love nursing, but I moved to a smaller clinic where I work much better hours."

2. You're feeling over-emotional.

"I was working for a cancer hospital but couldn't take it anymore after my mother was diagnosed with cancer, herself," says Elizabeth, a former nurse at a cancer hospital. "I ended up leaving and pursuing my other passion of becoming a teacher. I just didn't cope with my mother's diagnosis well, and being around cancer all the time was really hurting my mental health. My mother is a breast cancer survivor now, so I'm very fortunate to still have her with us."

3. The odd hours you're working are depressing you.

"I don't mind longer shifts, and I actually prefer to work longer hours and less days than all week, but I couldn't handle the odd hours," says Melissa. "I ended up having such a weird sleep pattern because my hours were different every week. And the overnight shifts were honestly depressing for me. I didn't want to sleep all day and miss out on the sunlight and seeing friends and family during normal hours." 

4. You're feeling physical symptoms of stress.

Physical symptoms of stress can include weight gain, weight loss, hair loss, loss of appetite, etc. If you're starting to feel so stressed out that it's manifesting physically, it may be a sign that you're nursing job is too much for you.

5. You're growing irritable around your colleagues or patients. 

If you start feeling anxious at work all the time, and your colleagues and/or patients are getting the brunt of that, it may be a sign that it's time to move on.

6. You're feeling unfulfilled despite your successes.

"I was starting to just feel unfulfilled, even after I was offered a promotion," says Alissa. "I knew I had to pass on the promotion and give my notice to leave when it was offered to me and I thought, I can't spend that much more time here. I had been there for seven years and wanted to pursue other passions of mine. So I knew it was time for me to do something else."

7. You miss your family and friends.

If you're working different hours than your family and friends and your hours are starting to take a toll on your relationships, maybe it's a sign that you need a different job with different hours.

8. You don't have time for your other passions.

"I threw myself into work so much that I just didn't have time for anything else!" says Angelica, a former nurse. "I used to be hugely into Crossfit and didn't even have the time or energy to do it anymore. I knew it was time for me to go when I wanted to spend more time doing other things and there was no way for me to do that unless I left my job."

9. You are taking workplace problems home with you.

Nurses face a whole lot of emotional drama at work, especially those dealing with terminally ill and really sick patients. If you have trouble leaving work at work, it may be a sign that nursing isn't the best job for you.

10. You realized different interests or skills you want to pursue.

Nursing certainly teaches you a lot of skills and, as you develop those skills, you might realize that you are interested in working on some more than others. If that's the case, it may be a sign that it's time for you to find a job where you can explicitly focus on those skills more.

What are the next steps for nurses who want to quit?

If you're a nurse and ready to move on from your job, you probably don't just want to quit right here and now. There are some steps you should take in order to quit without burning bridges, depending on the situation you're in.

Want to quit, but rather stay?

  1. Determine why you want to quit. Is it because of the hours you're working, the colleagues in your department with whom you work or the hospital or clinic for which you work?
  2. Talk to a higher-up who can address the reason(s) that are causing you to want to quit. Maybe they can change your hours, transfer you into another department or address any workplace culture concerns that are affecting your happiness.
  3. Give the job a few more weeks or months. Once you speak with someone to address your concern(s), give the job an honest second chance. If you still feel like quitting later on, you can cross that bridge when you get there.

Want to quit, and ready to leave?

  1. Again, determine why you want to quit. Is it the hours? The pay? Your colleagues? The culture of the hospital or clinic? The patients? The type of nursing you're doing?
  2. Once you've pinpointed what exactly is making you unhappy or unfulfilled, and you know that there's nothing you or anyone at your work can do to fix or improve the situation, you'll want to start searching for what else is out there. Quitting before having another job lined up is risky business.
  3. Have a conversation with your manager about your intentions to leave. You'll want to give them as much notice as possible.

What are some career changing options for nurses?

There are tons of careers for which you'd be a great fit given your nursing experience. Here are three examples:

1. Teacher

Former nurses make great teachers because of their caring, helpful nature. 

2. Caretaker

Again, because nurses are so accommodating and are trained in caring for their patients, becoming a caretaker of some kind, perhaps in an elderly home, is a great alternative. You'll have a lot of job similarities, but might be able to avoid the cons of your nursing job.

3. Research Scientist

Nurses are smart — after all, they've gone through a lot of schooling and have tons of experience in the medical world. As such, instead of applying other researcher's theories into practice as nurses, perhaps you'd be interested in sitting on the research side of things, studying new medications, cures and therapies, etc.

If you're thinking about quitting your nursing career, consider why you want to leave and if you're actually ready. Just remember that you're not stuck in this job, and you can make decisions and make moves to find a new job that'll make you happy.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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