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I Need a Break from Nursing: What Next?

Healthcare Jobs

Nurses have never had an easy job.

Even before the pandemic, they’ve always been at the frontlines of healthcare. They’re the ones that spend the most time with patients providing direct, hands-on care. 

Taking vitals. Administering meds. Dealing with patients’ (and their families’) frustration and vitriol — and sometimes even physical resistance.

But now, more than ever, nurses are burnt out, and many are realizing that they need a break. Some aren’t just needing a few days off, either, but a more long-term or permanent departure from the work they do now. 

If you need a break from nursing, you aren’t alone. The good news is that there are plenty of options available to you. 

7 Signs It’s Time to Walk Away from a Full-Time Nursing Job 

Nursing is physically and emotionally taxing. You’re sometimes dealing with people who are having the worst days of their lives, and that stress can add up.

As a result, some nurses may eventually decide that they want to walk away from a full-time nursing position; this is particularly common for hospital-based nurses. 

If you’re employed full-time — and especially in a particularly taxing specialty like an intensive care unit (ICU) or emergency room (ER) — these are seven signs that you may be ready to walk away from your current full-time nursing job (at least for now!):

  1. You feel like you’re not yourself anymore and feel a distinct lack of energy and motivation.
  2. Your mental health is suffering: you’re constantly anxious, depressed, or irritable even in your time off.
  3. You get anxious thinking about going to work or dread it during your time off.
  4. You feel like you don’t have any time with your family. 
  5. The reward of caring for patients doesn’t feel like it’s worth the risks. 
  6. Your hospital is understaffed, taking advantage of nurses, and making no plans to change the situation.
  7. You feel an overwhelming need for something to change because what you’re doing doesn’t feel sustainable. 

4 Options to Get the Nursing Break You Need to Recover 

Want to take a break from nursing but don’t think you want to walk away completely? It’s best to look at extended breaks from the profession that will still give you the option to come back when you’re ready.

Let’s take a look at a few options for how to get a break from nursing when you need a time out from your full-time job. 

1. See What Leave Options Your Hospital Offers 

All healthcare organizations are going to have policies in place for employee leave. 

Some organizations may only allow you to build up vacation and paid time off. Some may let you accrue vacation days over time. 

Other hospitals could have extended leave policies in place, though you may only be eligible for these if you’re going to look at travel nursing or additional training.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or PTSD, you can also consider taking FMLA leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order for the employee to handle medical or family emergencies.

2. Consider Shifting From Full-Time to Part-Time 

If working full-time hours has you feeling like your tank is running on empty, it’s entirely possible that you don’t really need to walk away from the profession entirely but that you just need to shift your work-life balance.

Taking a week of vacation and then scaling back so that you’re only working two days a week — or working fewer hours in an office instead of at a hospital — might be a good option. 

This might help you get your work-life balance back in order. A reduced workload can also reduce stress. 

We want to acknowledge, of course, that the shortage of healthcare workers may mean that your employer may be less-than-willing to let you drop down from full-time to part-time. Therefore, you may need to look for a part-time position elsewhere. 

3. Take a Long Vacation 

Just need a quick time out?

Check and see how much vacation time you’ve got stashed away. 

Two or three weeks kicking back at home (or by a gorgeous white sand beach somewhere!) may give you the temporary break you need to relax and recharge.  

We do know that sometimes this isn’t a reality. We’ve heard numerous stories of healthcare organizations (especially hospitals) declining people’s requests for vacation time even without being short-staffed. This may mean that they will decline the vacation time entirely or that they won’t accept an extended one.

Regardless of what employers say, if you aren’t able to take any vacation time to get a much-needed break, it may be time to look for new opportunities. 

4. Take On PRN Gigs to Work on Your Own Schedule 

PRN nursing work is the sweet spot, giving you the best of all of the options above.

PRN work will allow you to accept individual shifts that you choose from healthcare organizations — and that’s it. 

The pay rates are often incredibly competitive because those shifts mean that facilities need extra help and that they aren’t able to cover their needs internally. You can use the Nursa healthcare staffing app to help you find gigs and apply for them with just a few clicks. 

You get to try out different specialties and work for different hospitals or healthcare organizations. 

Maybe you’re absolutely tired of working in the ICU dealing with COVID-denying patients and their families. A day working as a nurse in labor and delivery, while still challenging, might be the change that you need. 

The best part is that you get to work only when you want, and you get to keep your nursing license active while doing so. This will allow you to shift back to a full-time or part-time job when and if you’re ready. Learn more about how we can help pick up flexible shifts.

What to Consider Before Taking Your Break from Nursing 

If you’re considering taking a break, ask yourself the following questions when deciding what to do next:

  • Do I still enjoy anything about the nursing profession? Do I only dislike my supervisors or hospital or the specialty I’m working in? ICU nurses, for example, have had to deal with an increasing number of difficult families fighting over COVID-19 diagnoses; that’s a stress that you may not have in other departments. 
  • Do I think I want to take a break or walk away permanently? If you’re ready to walk away and seek alternative employment options, that’s okay! For many, however, nursing is a core part of their identity, and they either are just looking for a break or a change in their work environment. 
  • What flexibility do I have financially? If you have a solid nest egg tucked away or you have a partner that can cover costs, it’s a bit easier to throw caution to the wind and take unpaid extended leave or even quit outright. However, if finances are tight, you may want to have something lined up before you consider resigning or taking an extended break. 
  • How do you feel about the work-life balance? Do you love working three 12-hour shifts so you can get more days off, or is that contributing to your burnout? Do you want more time off? A more regular schedule? 
  • How is my mental health? This is a crucial question you should ask. If you’re a little stressed but just need to recoup for two weeks on a beach, that’s one thing. If you’re feeling resentful, depressed, or anxious day-to-day, however, it may be time for a more substantial change. 
  • Do you want to keep your nursing license active? If you walk away for five years before deciding to come back, you’ll need to renew your nursing license. If you think you’re done with nursing permanently, it’s fine to let it lapse. If you’re unsure or want to keep it active but need a substantial break, PRN work is a great way to keep your license while still getting to set your own hours. 

Final Thoughts 

If you need a break from your nursing career, we get it. We’ve heard from nurses time and time again who just need to press pause, whether it’s to make sure they want to keep working as nurses long-term or to just catch their breath.

If you need a break, the four options discussed above can help you get it. 

Make sure that you’re choosing an option that works for you both now and long-term; PRN work will give you the flexibility to work as little as you want for as long as you want, whereas quitting the profession altogether should only be done if you’ve run out of options and don’t want to return long-term.

Have you ever needed a break from nursing? What did you do? Get involved with our community and let us know what you think. 

Written by Ana Gotter

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