Growing numbers of nurses report burnout and intent to leave the profession. But many find reprieve in discovering a new role that can jump-start a successful career.
Have you ever felt stuck in a role you were unhappy in? There’s growing evidence that huge numbers of nurses are in the very same predicament. Many are thinking about leaving nursing altogether:
- 30% of 18,226 nurses surveyed said they’re likely to leave their career, according to the 2023 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses.
- Almost 800,000 RNs intend to leave the field by 2027, according to an analysis of a survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
- Over one-quarter (28.7%) of 216,831 nurses surveyed reported a plan to leave nursing or retire over the next five years, according to the 2022 National Nursing Workforce Survey.
Being stuck in an ill-fitting role takes a toll. Almost half (45.1%) of 29,472 RNs and 24,061 LPNs in 45 states reported feeling burned out “every day” or “ a few times a week.” Whether through mentorships, job shadowing, or continuing education, it is important for those in nurse recruitment to understand how and why nurses want to find their next role.
Pathways to the next nursing role
According to some nursing leaders and recruiters, it’s a big mistake to give up on the entire field of nursing. “It is amazing to me that nurses who feel burned out don’t see alternatives, when there are so many alternatives for nurses,” said Diana J. Mason, RN, PHD, FAAN, Senior Policy Service Professor at the George Washington University’s Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement.
Instead of walking away, nurses can find opportunities in a new unit, setting, specialty, or hospital. “Nurses in today’s environment have unique opportunities that did not exist 10 years ago,” said Timothy D. Marks, DNP, MBA, RN, CEN, NEA-BC, Vice President and Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey.
Mental health nursing, school nursing, nurse education, telehealth, case management, public health, remote nursing, and home health care are all possibilities. In fact, a 2016 report looked at how RNs could be used to transform primary care.
“You come with a skill set that really is applicable to so many settings,” Mason said. “There are so many ways to use your nursing education and experience.”
Some job postings (such as public health roles) don’t require a nursing degree, but having one could be a huge boost. According to Mason, registered nurses with clinical backgrounds have a competitive advantage, which can help them land their next role.
Navigating the next steps
Potential applicants may be assessing their current roles during a job search. They may be asking themselves questions to better align their career goals with their next job. And this approach can be beneficial to those in nurse recruitment as well. Considering questions like the following during the recruitment stage can help nurse leaders, recruiters, and HR representatives gauge what future applicants are looking for in their next nursing role:
Why did they become a nurse?
“Every nurse has a reason they chose nursing,” Marks observed. Nurses may look for roles that align with the answer to this question.
What makes them most unhappy in their current job?
The answer probably involves the basics — a simple lack of enjoyment in everyday clinical practice. “Nurses want to feel rewarded, to feel like they are making a difference, and to enjoy the people they are working with,” said Terry Bennett, RN, MS, CHCR, current president of the National Association for Health Care Recruitment.
Do they want a break from bedside nursing?
“Nursing is a diverse profession with roles in primary care, long-term care, acute care, and even hospital-based roles that do not require direct patient care,” Marks said. A sampling of roles that are not patient facing include leadership positions, quality abstraction, performance improvement, clinical documentation specialists, nursing informatics, insurance company roles, and medical sales.
Do they need help networking?
“Professional associations offer opportunities for mentorship, participating in discussion boards, obtaining advocacy information, attending conferences, and reading journals,” Marks said.
What can they change about their current nursing role right now?
Nurses need more time in the day to do the ‘nurse’ stuff that brings them joy in their work, Marks said.
Promoting projects that help the unit, such as teaching a class to staff or patients on a subject that staff are passionate about, can help nurses see growth in both their careers and with their organization. “Good managers are very pleased when employees tell them they want to help or share their expertise or do something new on the unit,” Bennett said.
It may seem counterintuitive for nurses to lean into a current position when they’re searching for their next one. But it can remind them why they chose nursing in the first place — and point them to the next step in their careers.
Are they taking full advantage of the organization’s professional development opportunities?
Finding the next role doesn’t always mean leaving an organization entirely. At Cooper University Health Care, opportunities for professional growth are local and system wide. “Becoming a preceptor, mentoring a newer nurse, joining a committee or professional governance council, starting a research project, or using tuition benefits for advanced degrees are some of the opportunities nurses have,” Marks said.
Many professional development departments offer orientation and training to support nurses in the switch to a different specialty — for instance, medical/surgical nursing. “Today’s patients are admitted to the hospital sicker. The growing skill set needed to be an acute care bedside nurse requires focus and dedication,” Marks noted.
Go right to the top
Nurses may not know where to begin with discovering their next role. Nurse leaders and others in recruitment can help current and potential staff navigate their careers in the following ways:
- Facilitate networking opportunities. It may be challenging for nurses — especially newer ones — to grow their professional network. Recommend professional associations or even LinkedIn to facilitate those connections.
- Encourage job shadowing. Job shadowing gives nurses a glimpse at what potential career paths look like. Alternatively, nurses can “interview” those in their desired field over coffee or lunch and ask for details on the role.
- Encourage communication and go to the top. Encouraging staff to speak with their direct managers may be helpful. Nurse managers can create discourse around career development and help implement action plans.
“In my experience working with top-notch CNOs across the country, every one of them is concerned not just about being able to fill positions — but to be able to fill positions with really good nurses,” Mason reported.
Having nurses go to the CNO’s administrative assistant to make an appointment for something as brief as a 15-minute meeting can have an impact. CNOs don’t want to lose good nurses, and nurses might be surprised what they put on the table for them, she added.
There are many reasons nurses may want to move into their next role. By understanding their needs, preferences, and motivations, nursing leaders, recruiters, and other vital staff can transform the recruitment process so that nurses are matched to roles that align with their career goals.
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