Why I Quit Nursing and How I Figured Out What to Do With My Life After — A jumpstarter for nurses who want to pivot into a more fulfilling and less toxic career

Why I Quit Nursing and How I Figured Out What to Do With My Life After — A jumpstarter for nurses who want to pivot into a more fulfilling and less toxic career

If you?re a nurse who wants to get out of the hospital and shift to a career you?re here in this world for to do, read on.

Got caught in the nursing boom of early 2000s, huh?

A promise of working abroad, with dollars to rake, huge houses and several cars to own ? a total financial security dream, I get you.

I only needed to hear one thing to sign up to a nursing school ? I get to travel (and work in New York)!

Oh the dreamy New York dreams of youth.

[A little back story]

I was young, didn?t know what to do after college (don?t we all?). I took up BS Biology as a premed course but come NMAT review sign-up, I found myself pausing and really contemplating if I really wanted to be a doctor.

You see, hours and hours of microscope work in the laboratory, dissecting specimens didn?t really encourage me to proceed to medicine to do more of that.

10 more or so years of study, of social suicide, of missing out on life as it happens only to be a mediocre doctor were enough for me to quit it.

P10,000 for an NMAT review gives you that clarity, I guess :).

After I graduated, you can imagine how even more lost I was. I can?t imagine myself being a professor, a researcher, a lab person ? all those career paths for a Biology graduate.

Those who don?t have a clear destination can easily be swayed to follow the crowd.

And the crowd in 2005 was going to nursing schools.

I didn?t have a destination, time is ticking, for some archaic reason, taking a gap year isn?t an option. (I didn?t even know gap years exist.)

I had to keep moving. My batchmates were either enrolling in their medicine school of choice or sending in resumes to companies.

I can?t see myself doing any of the only 2 logical available options.

So I went for the 3rd one ? go back to school.

It was easily sold to me.

?It will only take you 2 more years to finish the majors, given your Biology degree.?

?It?s closer to being a doctor.?

?It?s a noble, compassionate, helping job.?

?You can go abroad and earn BIG that will allow you to travel more and live in New York.?

These all sounded appealing to me.

I had no concept of a fulfilling job, then.

Emotional component to a job isn?t a priority when you?re young, I guess.

It?s more of competencies; skills; what can you bring to the table?

Competencies, I thought, I can do. I can learn anything I put my head into.

The more I studied for the boards, the more I loved to learn more. I learned to love how the body and diseases work. I loved how science and medicine repair damaged organs.

Despite of really crappy ?professors? and a nurse-mill of a school, I learned everything I can to pass the boards in one take.

It was a glorious moment.

Mortality rate was high during our time because of the explosion of nursing graduates.

There were more registered nurses than jobs to fill.

It was Game of Thrones, 300, Battle Royale in every hospital you?ll try to apply in. You?re competing with board top notchers, thousands of graduates of top nursing schools in the country, and hospital politics ? if you know someone inside, your papers get in first.

I was competitive and I had to make this work or else I wasted 2?3 years of my life extending my stay in school when I could?ve worked already.

I didn?t stop. I kept a list of all hospitals in Luzon where I can get a spot. I didn?t care where it is. I needed the 3 years of experience that?s my gateway to working abroad (and earning the big dollars, and traveling the world). (This time my New York dream has been paused. The US has stopped processing new nursing applications coinciding with the 2008 economic crisis.) I went to every hospital in my list, submitted my resume, with or without opening.

Then like all true heroes stories, came an opening in Cardinal Santos Medical Center. As for all applications, we had to take yet another exam. Reviews didn?t end after the board exam. I was told I topped my batch of examinees.

To cut the long story short, I finally got a nursing job in the thick of a nursing battle in one of the most challenging areas opened to new nurses in the hospital. I loved the challenge. I loved how there was so much to learn, so many things happening. I?m in the middle of where the action is. For a few months, I thrived in it.

Until everything became routinary, the workplace became toxic, and I hit my quarter-life crisis.

I started questioning my relationship with this work. It turned out to be not what I was expecting.

It was more toxic than inspiring; more political than of service; more ego-centric than compassionate; more cutthroat than loving; more compliance than growth.

It was more or less everything I didn?t like in a workspace.

It didn?t help that it wasn?t maximizing my gifts.

It didn?t help that my cheerful personality doesn?t belong where patients and relatives are stressing.

It didn?t help that the work schedule was restrictive.

It didn?t help that I wasn?t one to just follow orders that didn?t make sense to me.

It didn?t help that I didn?t see my future where my then superiors were in.

It was a total mismatch.

I remember dragging myself to work every.freakin.day.

I remember crying while ironing my scrubs to prep for work.

I would always question myself why I was doing what I was doing.

Was going to New York enough for all these? It wasn?t.

Was earning tons of money enough for all these. It wasn?t.

Was getting sick physically, emotionally, mentally, financially worth all of these? It wasn?t.

I just knew in my gut this wasn?t what I?m supposed to be here for.

It was forced. It doesn?t match my why. It hinders my gifts.

But given the huge investments in nursing school, it was difficult to just leave it. Accepting that I may be failing at this was hard enough. It became even more difficult because I still didn?t know what to do with my life if and when I decide to quit.

What will I tell my parents?

?Ma, I?m quitting my nursing job. By the way, I don?t know where I?ll work next.?

?Dad, I think I found another career that isn?t for me (ala Albert Einstein :D)?

I?ve been mocked by family members saying I?ll study a third course and another and another.

This phase was the most difficult part of my life that far.

I braved the unknown, quit my most sought-after, hard-acquired job for my sanity, lost my long-time relationship in the same timeline, left for a foreign country where I didn?t have any of my core friends, didn?t know what good to do with my life.

I had my first stab at depression at 27 years old.

When you hit rock-bottom, there?s no way but up!

This edge became my jump-off point to discovering what eventually became my road to my life?s work. Major rerouting ensued.

It started as my personal search for ways to answer, ?What should I do with my life??

It?s in the fabric of my being to have to know why I?m doing what I?m doing. I?m always questioning everything. I can?t settle for the status quo ? it?s the way it should so be it ? I just can?t. There has to be something better than the robotics of wake up ? work ? play a little ? sleep ? repeat.

After incessant search, research, personal experiments, and trial and error, it developed into, in hindsight, a system to pivot to a new career. Each step became pivotal to discovering my life?s work.

If you?re currently in the same boat ? really sick and tired of being a nurse; you don?t see doing it for the rest of your life; you want more than just another job; you want a life, and a meaningful one at that;

If you want a career without the dread every waking hour and every night of your last day off; instead one that will make you jump out of bed with excitement each morning;

If you want to earn money in a way that is enjoyable and affords you the time to do what you love;

Here?s what I?ve learned, and what I?d recommend for nurses at any stage of their career who?s already thinking about making a dramatic transition.

These are exactly the steps I took to successfully pivot my nursing career.

  1. Ascertain if you really need to quit nursing.

On the verge of recklessly writing my resignation letter, I consulted my sister.

She asked me 5 questions, my answers to which solidified my case that this isn?t for me.

What is it about your current nursing job that?s making you want to quit?

Is it the job itself? Sick and tired and feeling so degraded cleaning all that poo and body wastes?

Is it the people? The all-knowing, god-acting doctors, your gossiping, negatron co-workers, the ultra-demanding patient?s relatives with a surplus of insults to say, or your older nursing aide who can?t be asked to do his/her job to lift the patients or make the bed?

Is it the pay? If you?re still in the Philippines, are you so disgusted by the fact that street vendors have more net daily take-home pay than you do? And you don?t even have a lavish lifestyle? Is your salary not worth your efforts? If you?re in a different country, is the salary not what you were expecting?

Is it the shifting schedule? Are you getting ill adjusting to back-to-back night shift-day shift series? Are you dissatisfied with the limited day offs, the on-calls, the few and short vacation leaves you can?t even go to a week-long trip anymore?

During this phase, I was so thin, you?d think I had Tuberculosis.

Once you?ve sorted your reasons, can?t it be addressed so it?s out of the way and you?ll be back to a happy serving-with-a-smile nurse?

Can you transfer to another area? Another hospital? Perhaps another country? Can you negotiate a 3?6-month break to assess if you?re just tired or you?re really not for it?

If you?ve tried remedying all these work kinks and you still feel unhappy every work day, ask yourself more questions:

Have you been a nurse long enough to say you?ve tried everything?

Do you see yourself being a nurse in 2, 3, 5 years?

Do you see a ladder that you?d want to climb in your career? Is the prospect of the next higher position appealing to you? From a staff nurse, would you love to be a charge nurse, head nurse, nurse trainer, nurse supervisor, or a chief nurse?

Do you have a mentor, superior, head nurse you want to emulate in the future? Can you see yourself doing his/her work and being better?

If you still want nothing else but leave the hospital after these self-evaluations, proceed to #2.

2. Shift your mindset

You know you need to get out of your scrubs but you?ll talk yourself into staying.

I also had variations of some of these self-talks before my transition. The others were from fellow nurses who wanted out but for the following reasons, can?t.

?It?ll be such a waste. I already spent a lot of time building this career to back out now.?

?I?ll disappoint my parents, my family, my partner, my friends, my workmates, my neighbors, my godmother, the children who look up to me, my favorite doctor in the hospital, my trainer/preceptor, the country, the world, yada yada.?

?It?ll be too late to start a career all over again. Who would hire a 30-something without any other work experience??

?I?m not good or qualified to do anything else. I don?t know how to do any other job but this.?

?I can?t quit. I need my monthly salary to eat, pay the bills, send my children to school, remit to my parents/nieces/aunties/neighbors/charitable institution.?

Valid concerns but get this:

You have at most 80 years to live, give or take. You?re working somewhere between 20?65 years old ? that?s about +/- 45 years of your life.

If you?re dragging yourself to work, can?t wait to go home as soon as you get to the hospital, or simply can?t make sense of why you?re doing what you?re doing, except for the money you get from it , you?re in for a sad, desperate, unfulfilling life for 56% of your entire life.

Nurse Mary, that?s more than half of your life.

If you start now that you?re 30, you have 30 years (or so, if you?re lucky) left to do whatever that will make you feel like your work means something; that your life is worth it; that you?re sharing to the world the gift that only you have.

You have to understand that our generation grew up with the general psyche to toil like everyone else in the factory; to follow the crowd; to just settle for any work; that success means you have bought your house and a car.

The thing is, this was the time of the past generation. It was right and necessary to do those because they?re just surviving the after-war effects.

They had to create stability. They had to hoard because supplies might last or get too expensive.

It was the post-war, industrial era mindset. It?s what was needed at the time to survive.

We are on a different reality now. Our parent?s generation worked hard to stabilize today?s living; to make the world our oyster; to not run on fear and scarcity.

We?re reaping that now. The present allows us to thrive and not just survive. Don?t waste this opportunity.

You can now choose a career based on your inclinations and interests. Gone are the days when your only option is a job that pays well.

Let go of all your age-old limiting beliefs and excuses.

The world is smaller than ever. It?s more connected than ever thought possible. Resources are widely available. There?s no question that you can?t find an answer to. Everything is figureoutable.

A lot of Youtube stars, calligraphy artists, writers, programmers, web developers, published writers, and probably every trade you can think of, taught themselves their skills outside of their formal education. They watched tutorials, enrolled online, or sought out mentors. There?s nothing else you can?t learn now, if that?s what you?re scared about.

You need an average of 5 years (or less if you?re really into it) to be above average in anything. If you start now, in 2023, you would?ve been an expert in a new job! That might seem like a long time from now but the point is, you can and you will make it happen to thrive in a new career that you?re proud and happy to have.

3. Define your destination

If you?re convinced, start creating your life map.

What do you want out of your life?

I had to sit down for this one and have a mini self-guided retreat of sorts. If your career trajectory isn?t as clear as the others, you?ve to find clues and crumbs to get there.

Notice what makes you feel good, light, positive, inspired in your everyday routine. Make a list of all your sources of happiness. (e.g bright sunrise, exercise, journaling/writing, cooking for friends.)

Brainstorm an unedited list. What comes up here are your clues. Success leaves clues, as Tony Robbins said. Follow your leads. These desires are put in you for a reason. Start connecting your dots.

Or maybe, you already know what you want. You?re just afraid to acknowledge it because it?s been previously discouraged. It?s about time to dig it back up.

Do these introspections now. Don?t wait it out. You have time now. You will forget and you?ll operate on auto-pilot once again for a year. Do something for yourself!

Once you?re done, enter your best e-mail address here where I can send the rest of the steps.

I don?t want to overwhelm you now. Your current feelings are overwhelming enough.

This was 27 years in the making. I actively worked on developing it for a couple of years to help myself. It took me years of research, and trial and error until it worked for me.

I hope it helps you, too, the same way it has helped me.

Continue with the rest of how to pivot your nursing career. Enter your best e-mail address here where I can send the rest of the steps.

Image for postPhoto by Maranatha Pizarras on Unsplash

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