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, RN, MSN-C, CCRN, CNRN
Diane M. Goodman, RN, MSN-C, CCRN, CNRN

Diane Goodman, RN, MSN-C, CCRN, CNRN, is a semi-retired Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, with over 40 years of fulltime nursing experience. Although she no longer works fulltime as a Clinical Educator, she has maintained an active status as a Nursing Journalist & consultant during the last few years, writing and collaborating with nurses around the globe. Her publications have been viewed in over 60,000 cities worldwide, and if you’ve submitted a manuscript for publication to a major nursing journal, it is highly likely she has been one of your reviewers. She has also been known to examine charts for evidence of prudent nursing practice, when a plaintiff might be trying to suggest an infraction occurred (it didn’t!). She is happiest when communicating with nurses from Australia, Canada, and the UK about the variances in healthcare systems, or writing about the compassion that drives all nurses to work harder than they should. When Diane is not writing, she is reading (Bill Gates’ summer book list!), or just being a Chihuahua Mom, or enjoying her husband and family. At one point in her career, Diane maintained 5 nursing certifications, so the word “relax” takes times, but she’ll get there.

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