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How To Decide If It’s Time to Change Careers

By Emily O'Brien On Jul 29, 2022
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Is there something about your role in nursing that just isn’t working for you anymore? Maybe you don’t know exactly what it is, but you feel restless and ready for a change. To know what direction to go, you’ll want to assess where you’re currently at. Think of this process as looking at a map. You want to find the “You Are Here” dot to see what paths to take to your destination. Ask yourself these five questions, and the answers may indicate it’s time to change careers:

What do you like and dislike about your current role in terms of work-life balance?

Nursing schedules vary and may include standard 9 to 5 shifts on Monday through Friday, or they may run into the weekend. Some nurses work three or four longer shifts, and some cover night shifts. Others may choose to work only part time because that strikes the perfect balance for them. If you think your current schedule could be tweaked to help you get a better grip on sinking into downtime, ask your boss if a schedule change is possible. Or if you work at a hospital but crave a standard 9 to 5, consider going into private practice and vice versa.

How valued are you?

You usually go into a career in medicine expecting to feel fulfilled by the day’s work, so if you’re left feeling depleted day in and day out, it’s time to take stock. Does your team dish out positive feedback or recognition for accomplishments? When was your last pay increase? Feeling frustrated might be a sign it’s time to change careers or change employers.

Are you looking for a change because you’re bored?

If the work no longer excites you or you feel checked out, it’s a sign something is off kilter. Remember when you first started your career and the exhilaration you once felt? Where did it go?

Being bored at work happens when routine tasks are no longer challenging. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job; it just means your heart isn’t in it the way it once was. Restless sleep, depressed mood, and increased irritability are just a few of the symptoms that indicate your current role is not working for you anymore.

If you crave a challenge, a more intense specialty might reignite why you first sought out a career in healthcare to begin with.

Are you experiencing burnout?

The risk of burnout is higher for nurses than for those on most other career paths. Signs of burnout include a constant dread of going to work, loss of sleep, a deep sense of fatigue, loss of appetite, and an increase in anxiety and depression. A telltale sign that something is off is if Sunday night rolls around and you begin to feel anxious or upset. The Sunday night blues or Sunday scaries are when you experience elevated anxiety in anticipation of Monday.

Recognizing the signs of burnout allow you to address them. Stress reduction tactics can help—these include meditation and yoga classes, counseling, mentor and buddy programs, and building a workplace support system with the help of your manager and coworkers.

If those tactics don’t work, it might be a sign that you should explore a different avenue with less pressure.

Do you want to increase your income?

Salary is just one part of the compensation equation. Benefits like time off, 401k contributions, healthcare coverage, and more are also key elements. Of course, great workplace culture and coworkers with good attitudes are crucial to a happy career, but if your salary isn’t where it needs to be and your employer isn’t offering raises, it may be time to leave. Switching roles—and potentially workplaces—might be the best thing you can do for your wallet.

Luckily, when it comes to nursing, you might not need to change careers completely. There are several avenues to take when you feel like it’s time to pivot:

Look for leadership opportunities.

While you might decide it’s time to change careers altogether, you might also consider staying in nursing but moving to a nurse leader role. The American Nurses Association describes a nurse leader as a healthcare professional who has the passion to excel in the healthcare sector through the application of nursing leadership skills and principles.

Nurse leaders concentrate on the quality of care and safety of patients at a high level; they also lead teams of nurse managers and resident nurses and serve as advocates for patients and other nurses.

Are you organized and efficient? Are you a nurse who enjoys making effective, precise decisions? Would you like to help drive a portion of a medical facility? If you’re a nurse looking to step up, both in your day-to-day responsibilities and your career ladder, a nurse leadership role might be the best next move. From leading patient care initiatives to mentorship to incorporating industry news and research into best practices, the roles that nurse leaders obtain are varied and rewarding.

Change your specialty.

One of the best parts about nursing is the ability to venture off onto a different path. It’s not uncommon to “retire” from one specialty to then work in another.

One way to explore your options is through nursing career fairs, where you can meet and speak with nurses who work in a variety of different settings. If you work in a facility where you can reach out to people in a particular specialty of interest, offer to take a small group to coffee or lunch. Ask what does and doesn’t work for them and what a typical day looks like in their field.

Once you’re ready to make a move, find ways to support your new venture. Join that specialty’s local association and look on its website for blog posts. Read the journals, attend conferences, and learn as much as you can. The more familiar you are with the new field, the easier the transition will be.