Taking a Break from Nursing: How to Know If It’s Time

Healthcare Jobs

The healthcare system expects a lot from nurses. In fact, working as a nurse practitioner was rated in U.S News & World Report as one of the country’s top twenty-five most stressful jobs. On the other hand, a profession in nursing can be highly emotionally rewarding, with competitive compensation and upward career mobility. Furthermore, since reports project that over 1.2 million nurses will be needed by 2030 to address current nursing shortages, there has never been a better time to consider a nursing career. Simultaneously, nurses who have worked in healthcare for some time may reach a point where they ask themselves, “Is nursing right for me?” This doubt can manifest from several factors, including empathy fatigue, high-pressure work environments, and nursing specialties that have direct contact with the sick and dying. 

With all of this in mind, if you are currently working as a nurse practitioner (NP) and feel like you are swimming upstream (aka exhausted), below are a few ways to tell if your next step should be taking a break from nursing.

Your Body Hurts 

Neck, back, and torso pain can all be signs that your body is reacting to environmental stress. And while the nature of nursing requires you to be on your feet for most of the day, an achy body can be a sign of emotional strain. Moreover, if you feel like exercise, good nutrition, and a healthy sleep routine are still not making up for the fatigue you feel in your body, it may be time for a nursing break. 

Your Mental Health Is at Stake 

A nervous breakdown can be catastrophic or subtle and build up over time. In other words, most individuals can appear perfectly normal on the outside and be suffering from debilitating mental anguish on the inside. The same is true for nurses, especially since the pressure is even higher for them to put their feelings on the back burner and care for their patients. However, caring for your mental health as a nurse is vital to your well-being. As one anonymous nurse posted on Reddit, “Take a break if you can! It’s tough out here. You only have one body and your mental health is a priority. Be kind to yourself!” Therefore, if you feel in any way that your mental health is at stake, taking a break from nursing might be a smart move for you. 

You Are Beginning to Experience Empathy Fatigue 

girl burnt out

Empathy fatigue, otherwise known as compassion fatigue, can occur as a result of repeated and prolonged contact with traumatic and stressful events—such as exposure to sick and dying patients. While many assume that nurses carry around an invisible armor of steel to protect them from being affected by the sight of blood and loss of life, nurses are, in fact, only human. That is to say, repeated subjection to patient trauma and the pressure to meet their patients’ needs in times of great suffering can lead a nurse to experience mental, physical, and spiritual depletion. It must be added that empathy fatigue (as it relates to nursing) is a natural but debilitating response to feeling overworked and like you cannot “give enough” to your patients. Consequently, empathy fatigue can wreak havoc on the body and mind and leave you feeling utterly exhausted. Therefore, taking a nursing break may be a good idea if you are emotionally and physically fatigued from caring for your patients. The good news? Empathy often returns after a little rest. 

Dreading Shift Day 

Similar to compassion fatigue, dreading the idea of going to work can signal it’s time to take a step back from nursing. And while everyone has days when they wake up on the wrong side of the bed, if you are a nursing professional and find that you are starting to dread showing up for your shift, this could be a warning that you are heading for nurse burnout. With that in mind, make sure you take a mental inventory of how you are feeling before and after shift day. If you constantly feel tense, agitated, anxious, or depressed while at work, it’s a clear sign you may need to take a nursing break. 

Taking a Break from Nursing Is Okay 

While it’s easy to assume that nurses can carry the weight of the world’s suffering on their shoulders (and many do), a nurse is still only human. With that said, nurses are entitled to heavy feelings that come with the job and should take an extended break from work if necessary. Keep in mind that taking a nursing break doesn’t mean the end of your nursing career. In fact, many nurses have shared that taking a few months off from nursing can help restore mental health and reignite their passion for their jobs. Moreover, as long as you keep your nurse license up-to-date, you should easily be able to bounce back into the workforce when ready—and remember that nurses are presently in high demand. Additionally, if you are not ready to take a full nursing break, you can also flirt with schedule flexibility by becoming a per diem nurse. Per diem nursing is an excellent way to work the hours you want, when you want. 

When all is said and done, your health comes first. So, if you have a gut feeling that taking a break from nursing will do you good, listen to it. Nursing jobs will always be ready to receive your expertise and knowledge when you’re ready to come back!

Have you ever taken a break from nursing? Share your experience, and leave a comment below!

Written by Jenna Elizabeth

Jenna Hall is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and travel fanatic with over ten years of experience in professional blogging. She graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Shortly after graduation, Jenna headed to Latin America with a small leather journal, a disposable camera, and a pipe dream of being a travel writer on the go. After making a pit stop in Guatemala and receiving her 200-Hour Hatha Yoga Certification, Jenna was picked up by a Portland, Oregon-based active wear company to write for their blog on travel and wellness. She returned to the states, joined the corporate world for a stint, and then in 2014, Jenna permanently moved to South America to work at a local non-profit in Cochabamba, Bolivia to help with grant writing. She’s now published in several online publications and is known for gobbling up Bolivian street food until her tummy hurts, making sassy jokes in Spanish, and attempting to dance Salsa like a local. Clearly, Jenna has found her place in the world and continues to write and live a simple life in Bolivia with her husband and two kids.

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