Why You Cannot Possibly Leave Nursing

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I’ve reached the age where a few of my peers have dropped off full-time 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 time frames 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 time—it 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.

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About Author

Diane M. Goodman, APRN, BC, CCRN, CNRN

As an acute care nurse practitioner, Diane carries four certifications, including gerontology, pain, neuro and critical care. She has worked in a variety of venues, including more than 20 years in the ICU, and has been publishing consistently since the late 1990s. Her engaging, conversational style has been a favorite with many readers. She is married, lives in Kenosha, Wis., and has numerous “furry” children (four paws), who believe they lend a hand to her writing, when they are not avidly watching Investigation ID, 20/20 or the Science Channel.

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