R.N. Q&A #7: Should I leave nursing?

nurse questions life coach

Dear Robb,

I'm a nurse with diagnosed Bipolar Type 2. I just finished my orientation period on a busy women's health floor at a major hospital. I asked for more orientation time but was told they couldn't give me any. I'm finding it to be too much: the staffing ratios, the pace, the expectations. My manager yelled at me recently at the nurse's station in front of employees and pts because a form was not signed by a family before leaving. I had not even been told the form existed.

What would you advise that I do? Should I stay there? Leave nursing? Is there somewhere else in nursing that's pace is better paced for someone with BPD? Thank you! I forgot to mention that the incident with my manager triggered an episode that lasted for a couple of days. I see a doctor for my BPD and am compliant with my medical treatment.

Thank you,


Dear Celia,

As a coach, one of my biggest jobs is to help people get what they want. So when people ask me what they should do, that is a big clue that they don’t yet know what they want. There is nothing wrong with this, life is a journey and we learn and grow and change our minds as we go. But sometimes when things get hard, we can get stuck. We start to think that there is a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer, and we are afraid of making the wrong choice. So we don’t choose. Instead of working towards our goals, we end up just reacting to things as they happen to us, floating through life in a sea of confusion, uncertainty and fear. 

Hint: most of us don’t find this place to be very enjoyable. 

When you ask me if you should be a nurse or not, how does that feel? How would things be different if you already knew the answer to that question? 

The truth is, I can’t answer that question for you. Even if I knew you I still wouldn’t know what was going to be best for you. The answer has to come from you. The good news though, is that often getting clarity on these kinds of questions isn’t as hard as we think it is. 

Ask yourself this very basic question.

Do you want to be a nurse?

Think about it, and answer honestly.

If your answer is no, then great! We just need to problem solve to figure out a good transition into something else. 

If your answer is yes, then great! We just need to problem solve to figure out how to find a job that will fit your needs.

Either way, by identifying what it is that you want, what the goal is, now instead of feeling lost and confused and overwhelmed, we can now create a detailed plan to get us the thing we want. In my opinion, this is a lot more empowering. 

For the purposes of this example, I am going to assume you want to be a nurse.

Next question: Do you want to keep the job that you have?

If your answer is no, then great! We just need to problem solve to find a different position, a different specialty, a different setting, a different shift, whatever it is that needs to change so that you can love your job instead of dreading it. Asking about different specialties is a great place to start just to start to get an idea of all the options you have as a nurse.

If your answer is yes, then great! We just need to problem solve to figure out how you can love this job, exactly as it is.

Now this can be a little challenging, because often we want to answer with conditions. “Well, I want to love this job, but in order for that to happen then my boss needs to change and my co-workers need to change and my patient load needs to change. And then it will be perfect.”

Instead, I would ask you to figure out what needs to happen in order for you to love this job exactly as it is.

Because you don’t really have control over how your boss behaves, or what the census is like. Yes, there are things you can do - good communication, setting boundaries, etc, but ultimately whether they listen to you and make the changes you want is up to them, not up to you, so while this can be a tactic to help, as long as your happiness is dependent on the actions of others you are setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. Instead I’d suggest focusing on the things YOU can do to help your situation, since you do have control over that.

So really, what can you do right now that would help you succeed at this job? Can you ask your boss to review all of the important paperwork with you? Can you practice the more common skills and tasks you are asked to perform? Can you read up on the more common diagnoses you see so that you feel more comfortable? What would it take for you to become an expert nurse on that floor? Are you able to take those steps that would be needed to give you the result that you want?

As far as your mental health goes, besides the obvious of always following up with your doctor, I would tell you the same thing I tell everyone - if you want to be a nurse, you HAVE to learn how to take care of yourself.

And I don’t mean treating yourself to extra dessert after a hard day. I mean learning how to fill your soul up so full that you have the reserves to deal with it when things get hard.

I know this is easier to say than to do, especially for nurses for some reason, but the alternative is burnout and martyrdom, and I would not recommend either. 

So to sum up: decide what you want. And then problem solve to figure out how to get what you want. Breaking it down into a plan can eliminate a lot of unnecessary suffering by giving a light at the end of the tunnel. Make the most of it!


Note: Questions are edited for privacy and clarity. I aim to be HIPAA compliant! ::wink:: If you have a question, you can SUBMIT IT HERE