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Burned Out in Nursing? How to Retrain, Redirect, and Revamp Your Career



Nursing is a rewarding, but demanding position. Add onto the already extreme pressures that can come with the job with additional stressors, like the nursing shortage or the pandemic, and it’s only normal that we’re seeing higher levels of burnout than before. Feeling burnt out is terrible for you and your patients, but you don’t need to continue with a business-as-usual attitude. Wherever you go, know that your career is in demand and valuable. It doesn’t matter if you continue to work in healthcare, or if you move into a new avenue that lets you take your experience in a new direction. Whatever you do, you’re making a difference.

Taking some time to find the right way to redirect your career isn’t just good for you, it’s great for your patients and society. Even if you transition into a role that’s outside of healthcare, your work will still be important. You can work as a nurse educator, in policy, in research, or even privately. If you continue to use your skillset, even in a roundabout way, you’re still leaving the world a better place.

That’s why it’s important to take a step back when you start to feel burned out. Understand the why, and what you can do to remove yourself from that situation, so that you can recommit to your career as a nurse.

Signs of Burnout to Watch Out For

Burnout won’t always look like a complete breakdown. Hitting the point is obvious, and it can be very hard to recover from. That’s why it’s far better to recognize the signs early on and take proactive steps to reduce your stress or remove yourself from your stressor entirely.

·         Chronic Stress

One of the most common signs of burnout is chronic stress. If you feel stressed and like you’re running on adrenaline fumes the entirety of your shift, you’re putting yourself on the fast track to breaking down or developing an anxiety disorder. It’s natural to feel moments of stress during any job, particularly in a high-demand role like nursing, but if you can’t escape it, then it’s time to make some big changes.

·         Apathy

If you start to feel like you just don’t care, then this is a very dangerous sign of burnout. Not caring is when mistakes get made, and when you work as a nurse, your patients are put at risk. Apathy can mean pushing the limits of insubordination, not being thorough in your work, and so on. If you’re feeling apathetic, it’s time to either move forward or onward.

·         Irritation

If you’re annoyed and irritated with everyone from your coworkers to your patients, this is a key sign of burnout. It’s not one that many people recognize, but that’s why it’s so important to be aware of it. Feeling irritated or like you’re unusually snappy is a recipe for disaster. You’re burning out, and because of how you’re dealing with it, you’re burning bridges. Taking a step back and rethinking your career approach is essential.

·         Mental Illness

Chronic stress that leads to burnout causes many mental health conditions. It could result in PTSD, an anxiety disorder, depression, an eating disorder, and so on. While mental illnesses like these do have a better prognosis, they’re still very serious and you must address the root cause, so that you can remove yourself from that frame of mind before it’s hard to break.

When your mental health is affected so acutely by your environment, you can immediately improve your symptoms and experience just by changing things up or even taking some very important time away.

How to Stop Burnout

While stress-management techniques are a decent way to get started with avoiding burnout, they’re rarely enough on their own. The more effective way to stop the strain of stress is to strategize your approach to your career. The good news is that, as a nurse, you have plenty of different approaches to take. The right one for you will depend on your interests, passions, and even needs. There are even ways you can adapt your career based on the signs of symptoms of burnout that you experience:

·         If You’re Always Stressed, Find a Slower Workplace

If you feel constantly stressed and like you’re in a fight or flight mode, then the work environment you’re currently in is likely too fast-paced for you. Relocating to a smaller or more remote hospital can help give you some of that essential breathing room that you need to feel on top of your work. You can also start applying to open positions in clinics or even as a private nurse. Do keep in mind that the smaller or more niche roles are going to have openings less often and, most importantly, going to be popular with job seekers. On top of brushing up on your credentials and making sure that you’ve got the necessary license for the role, you’ll also want to start networking to try to find a unique approach to the next role you want.

·         If You Feel Apathetic, Advance

If you feel bored at work, then one of the best ways you can improve your career and beat that type of burnout is to advance your credentials. This applies at all levels, though most experiencing this type of burnout will be in lower-level nursing roles. If you find working as an RN boring, then try to get experience in a different unit, or go for your MSN.

If you’re an APRN already, then you can re-specialize or expand your specialization to suit your interests. With a post-master’s certificate, you can expand your skillset and transition your career into a role you find more interesting.

Do keep in mind, however, that apathy can also be a coping mechanism if you’re experiencing acute stress. Taking a step back to reset so that you can then understand what you need and strategize from there is essential.

·         Irritated? Understand Why

If you are feeling angry or irritable all the time, then it’s important that you deep dive into your psyche. One of the most effective ways to help stop feeling annoyed at everything is to understand why you’re feeling that way in the first place. On its own, anger is a very useless emotion that can block out true understanding of what you need and want.

You may feel irritated because you’re bored with the work and find it mind-numbing, for example. Alternatively, anger may be a coping mechanism for your stressful work environment. It’s so important that you work out what triggers the anger, so that you can adapt your career accordingly.

Why Advancing Your Career Can Help You Renew Your Love for the Field

We are adaptable creatures, and though we don’t like change when things get good, the very nature of life is that things are going to evolve, regardless of whether we want them to or not. If you loved your job initially, but perhaps the people you loved working with moved on, or you got bored with the work you do, then know it’s time for you to grow as well.

Advancing your credentials is the best way to stay in charge of your career, keep it interesting, and avoid the risk of feeling stuck or left behind.

How to Advance Your Career So It’s Enjoyable and Fulfilling

Nurses deserve better than burnout, and with so many amazing nursing career options both inside and outside of healthcare itself, the chances that there’s something you’ll love are incredibly high. While you can work in any unit, agency, or even crew as an RN, you’ll have much better chances if you increase your credentials by going back and earning your MSN (or, in some cases, your doctorate).

That’s just the start, however. If you want to make it far in your career and find yourself a position that is fulfilling, rewarding, and interesting, you’ll want to use these tips:

1.      Further Your Credentials

The first and best way to increase your chances of getting these unique roles and positioning yourself into a career that supports you is to earn a post-graduate degree. Think of the MSN as a must. Not only will you qualify as an APRN once you pass the licensing exam, but you’ll also have many exciting job opportunities that were simply unavailable to you as an RN.

If you find a great role as an APRN, then you’re set. If you wanted something more unique, then you may need to return and earn further qualifications to see your goal through. For example, say you wanted to start your own clinic. Most nurse-owned clinics are FNP-APRNs, but if you wanted to do more for your patients or need to meet a certain demand based on your community, then you may need to go back and further your credentials again.

The good news is that you don’t need to earn a full MSN to do that. If for any reason earning another MSN would be great for your career, then a post-graduate certificate will do that trick. That FNP nurse may see a lot of older adults in their community who need acute care, for example, and to meet that demand they may take on an accredited Rockhurst University online post-master’s AGACNP certificate.

In some cases, it may even be beneficial to go one step further and earn a doctorate. You can either earn a DNP, which is a hands-on version of the doctorate; an EdD, which is a special educator doctorate; or a PhD, which is a research doctorate. The latter two are there for those nurses who want to become Nurse Educators and transition their career from caring for patients to teaching the next generation of nurses how to care for their patients.

DNPs, on the other hand, are popular amongst clinic owners and those looking to work in a leadership position in their hospital or clinic.

2.      Explore Your Career Options

If you want to say goodbye to burnout for good and feel great about working once again, then you need always to be aware and work towards establishing new opportunities. If you aren’t actively looking for anything, network. Networking when you aren’t desperate is how you can develop important relationships that’ll then help you with your future career goals.

By simply being aware of the options you can continuously check with yourself that the job you’re in now is the best fit for your needs. Priorities, life changes, and even age will all determine what type of job will suit you best, so check in with yourself regularly.

3.      Look Outside of Traditional Healthcare Options

Don’t just keep an eye out for job opportunities within the healthcare industry itself. Yes, the rise of telehealth and decentralized healthcare means a lot of new opportunities are cropping up left, right, and center, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay. You can work privately with patients and provide essential at-home healthcare. You could work on movie sets, on a TV film crew, or at big concerts and events as part of the health and safety team. You could go on research expeditions to far-off places, can help write policy recommendations to better all patients, and can even take your expertise in a unique direction that’s only available to you.

There are so many great opportunities for nurses, and yes, sometimes you’ll need to think outside of the box. Investigating and finding that perfect route for you (even if it’s just for now) can help you enjoy revamping and renewing your passion for your career.

4.      Taking Advantage of the Unique Opportunities Available to You

You’ll want to stay up-to-date on the unique opportunities available to you based on your state and the policy changes that affect your career. Stay informed on new changes, new opportunities, and your options, so that you always have a clear idea of how you can remake your career into something you love.

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