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The Nurse Card

Why You Cannot Possibly Leave Nursing

Published September 14, 2016 2:28 PM by Diane Goodman
I've reached the age where a few of my peers have dropped off fulltime status in nursing. Their husbands are retiring, they have beautiful grandchildren popping up here and there, and holidays are looming. They're tired. They no longer wish to pull weekend and call rotation, so they quit.

Yes, they leave with glowing eyes and an atmosphere of excitement, credit cards and baby clothes in hand. They even enjoy themselves for a while, but it doesn't last. The bloom wears off, the holiday décor starts to get stale and (unwatched) DVDs pile up on the coffee table. Bestsellers and magazines also pile up alongside recipes that haven't been taken into the kitchen. Dreams of an easy, carefree retirement seem so difficult.

What gives?

Nurses have such a difficult time leaving their profession that most begin to wander back, either volunteering part-time or working hospice or palliative care. The need to be needed, and to nurture is so strongly tied to our identity that it is almost impossible to leave that part of ourselves behind. We feel listless when not caring for others, whether it is for our families, pets, elders or the neighbors down the street. We also feel an incredible drive to stay busy, but busy in a way that feels productive to society. Reading gossip magazines doesn't have the same impact as assisting with a neighborhood food drive or charity fundraising for flood relief. We want our activity to matter.

It may have been all those hours spent working feverishly to chart and care for patients within the timeframes we were given, but suddenly having hours of time to "squander" doesn't sit well with nurses of any age. As a matter of fact, it's hard to find a group of nurses, retired or otherwise, "sitting" for any length of timeit feels inappropriately wasteful.

So, dream about retirement if you must, especially if you're in the middle of an obnoxious 12-hour shift, but don't be surprised if you find it impossible to actually leave the field of nursing when the time comes. Trust me, I've observed colleagues wandering back to caregiving and/or volunteering, because that was the only way they felt truly fulfilled! They might have been sitting rather than standing, or walking slowly rather than hustling, but they were giving everything they had. Maybe even sharing a recipe or discussing a book review.

1 comments

I could not continue to work after nerve damage sustained during hip surgery.  After 47 years working in the NICU and L&D I feel sad to not be working with my peers and our new parents and babies.  I am doing some volunteer work but it's just not the same.  I am hopeful I will have some nerve regeneration within two years as my surgeon states my chances are good for that to happen.  In the meantime I will continue with my water aerobics,volunteerism and book club.  I can totally relate to this article!

Wendy Peterson, womens & children - RNC, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital September 20, 2016 8:53 PM
Santa Rosa CA

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About this Blog


    Diane M. Goodman, APRN, BC, CCRN, CNRN
    Occupation: Clinical Educator
    Setting: Advocate Condell Medical Center, Libertyville, Ill

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