4 Reasons Nurses Quit (And What You Can Do Instead)
By Sean Dent, MSN, ACNP-BC, CCRN
It’s no secret that there’s a worsening nursing shortage. And when too many nurses leave the profession prematurely, the crisis only deepens.
The number of nurses exiting the profession currently outweighs the number of nurses entering, and the current population of nurses isn't getting any younger.
We need to reverse these trends as if our patients' lives depended on it.
Because they do.
Nursing Supply and Demand
Approximately 50% of American nurses are over the age of 45. It’s predicted that the nursing shortage will worsen over the next ten years in large part due to the number of nurses reaching retirement.
Meanwhile, a lack of qualified instructors means that we turn away thousands of potential nursing students every year because we simply don’t have the capacity to teach them.
Leaving in Droves
In addition to aging and retiring nurses, more new nurses (ten years of experience or less) are leaving the profession at an earlier age for a variety of reasons.
Becoming a nurse is no easy task. Many personal, professional, and financial sacrifices are required, so when a nurse leaves the nursing profession, it’s cause for concern.
Let’s talk about the top reasons nurses are leaving and how you can protect yourself from suffering the same fate.
1. Lack of Local Opportunity
There’s no shortage of job opportunities for nurses in the current economy, but these jobs are relative to an individual’s life path.
Many nurses are returning adult learners and second-degree students who’ve settled down, bought a home, and are likely to be married with children. While there may be job opportunities in other locations, not everyone can uproot for a job.
What to do: Take stock of your life path and understand your career goals and options. Can you get certified for a more in-demand specialty? Be honest about your short-, mid- and long-term goals.
2. Disillusionment With Nursing
The nursing profession is difficult to assess from the outside. Many people don’t understand what a nursing career will really be like until they’re actually doing it.
Unfortunately, you’ll never completely grasp the difficulties of being a nurse until you become one. Hollywood, television, and most of the Internet only scratch the surface of what it’s like to be a nurse, so expectations may be unrealistic.
Even after a nursing student has finished school, there’s a significant learning gap between a graduate nurse and a seasoned nurse. A great deal of learning takes place once you get your license and hit the floor.
The phrase “nursing isn’t for everyone” isn’t just a cliche. In every phase of a nurse’s career, they’ll be tested both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Everything from time management skills, evidence-based practice, physical assessment, therapeutic communication, and emotional strength will be tested on a daily basis. The peripherals of nursing can be a hard pill to swallow.
What to do: Be sure to ask questions and seek out honest advice from experienced nurses. Don’t base your assessment of the nursing profession on observations from the media. If you have the opportunity, ask a respected colleague to mentor you during those first few years.
As your career progresses, it’s important to keep tabs on what brings you professional fulfillment. We all change over time, so what lit your fire as a new nurse won’t necessarily move the needle for you ten years in. Professional growth and development will keep you interested and engaged in your career.
3. Eating Our Young
This unfortunate scenario holds some validity in the real world of nursing.
As a new nurse, you need strong coping mechanisms. Lateral violence and workplace bullying are nursing’s dirty little secret, and while it’s not the standard, bullying does exist. These poisonous actions are debilitating if you don’t have appropriate coping mechanisms.
To be clear, it’s not just fellow nurses who are responsible for bullying and incivility. In the world of healthcare, the human condition is unpredictable and emotionally charged. Every member of the healthcare team – including patients, families, and doctors – can be both a target or a perpetrator.
What to do: Ask yourself the following questions:
- How can I better manage difficult people and stressful scenarios?
- Do you have skills in assertive communication?
- Can I be more assertive in my communication?
- Do you possess healthy coping mechanisms?
- How can I develop healthy coping mechanisms?
- What can I do to maintain a good work/life balance?
4. Faster Pace
Nursing school is just the appetizer – it’s a small taste of what’s to come. School is a snapshot, an overview of what the real world of nursing will be like. You can only see, do, and learn so much in the short time you’re a nursing student. When you graduate, you’ll (literally and figuratively) hit the ground running.
When you change from nursing student to professional nurse, you go from a leisurely walking pace to a flat-out non-stop sprint.
Nursing isn’t for the faint of heart. And while your nursing school does its best to prepare you for the real world, there are just some things they can’t teach.
What to do: Be prepared for the change in pace. While in nursing school, take the tougher assignments and challenge yourself to work and function as close to the real world as possible. Time management and delegation will be essential.
It’s one thing to leave a nursing position because you’re unhappy, but leaving your chosen profession altogether is a much more drastic decision that should not be taken lightly.
As you grow as a nurse, stay engaged, informed, and oriented towards learning and professional evolution. Honest self-evaluation will help you know what you need to remain a vital member of the nursing profession.
Find an engaging nursing job you’ll love!
High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As a registered nurse, you are in control of your career. Check out the best jobs from coast to coast on our job board. Get the pay and career path you deserve. Click here to see open positions for nurses now.
Sean Dent, MSN, ACNP-BC, CCRN, is an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, freelance blogger, vlogger, podcaster, speaker, and social media maven. He started his career as a diploma-trained RN and now practices as a full-time Board Certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner in a shock trauma teaching hospital. When he’s not saving lives or creating content online, he’s usually drinking coffee and eating bacon.