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Does Your Nursing Job Feel Like You Were Handed a Code Brown Sandwich?Here’s How to Turn That Feeling Around

Does Your Nursing Job Feel Like You Were Handed a Code Brown Sandwich?Here’s How to Turn That Feeling Around

Help people. Make a difference. Enjoy your work.

That’s how you want to feel, but somehow that’s not how you feel right now.

Think for a moment about your job. Whether you work at the bedside or away from the bedside, do you feel good about what you do? Do you enjoy what you do?

If you are reading this post, there is a high chance that you do not. You go to work with the best of intentions, but often feel overwhelmed, underappreciated, and borderline miserable. You don’t feel you can give the care you want to give to each patient. You have little time to do your job well, in fact you have little time to take a bathroom break for that matter.

Remember back when you first became a nurse you probably had a vision of going to work every day and feeling vibrant, energized, and excited. Instead, you finish your shift and feel as if the wicked witch of the west has magically drained you of every ounce of energy. You feel exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. In fact the thought of your next shift is enough to make you feel beaten up.

This is what it feels like to think you have been handed a code brown sandwhich. I am just borrowing the non nursing expression “when life hands you a poop sandwich” and making it more nursey(nursey….is that a word?).

Here’s the rub, if you are a nurse you “chose” that profession so you weren’t handed anything. Own it! It was your decision. Take responsiblity for it. If you are miserable, I am going to tell you how to fix that.

You see the problem is that you feel stuck. You feel stuck because you have rationalized many excuses in your head. I am going to go over the most common excuses I hear in my coaching and exactly how you can get over them.

I know that the word excuses sounds harsh, but once you realize that they ARE excuses, you are actually empowered. You will realize that you have the power to change how you feel. I am going to guide you through this.

I have laid these excuses out as “scenarios” below, along with solutions for each one. I call them excuses. I will explain why.

The only thing stopping you from doing what you enjoy is you. - Click here to Tweet this.

Scenario #1: You like your specialty but don’t like the conditions of your job (ie patient/staff ratio, administration, coworkers, etc)

Here’s the solution: Either decide to be happy or decide to be a force of change.

It’s actually easier than you think.  Realize right now that how you feel is a choice. You can choose to complain and be negative, or you can choose to face your work day with an open, positive mind. Choose wisely. Here’s an excerpt from Sri Kumar Rao’s book Happiness At Work (EXCELLENT book by the way):
There are many things you have to do in life that you find distasteful…Observe your emotions as you perform such activities. Note how often you feel self-pity and resentment. Now recognize that you can wallow in these negative feelings or simply let them go. And you can let them go.(1)

If you try this for at least 21 days and this still doesn’t work, then be a force of change. Can you appeal to your manager about necessary changes?

If you decide to do this, you need to be strategic. Nobody wants to listen to complainers. If you go to your direct supervisor with nothing but complaints and negativity, you will not be successful.If something needs to change, come up with ideas for solutions and voice them.

Are your grievances universal? Are these things that are happening in many institutions? Perhaps you can join an organization that is actively lobbying for change. As you may know, some nurses lobby at the state and national level.
Just the act of being involved with a change movement can often times make you feel more empowered and positive.

Here’s a resource about nurses lobbying for change. This organization has associations located throughout the US. http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/

Scenario #2 You have been doing your specialty of nursing for ‘X’ amount of years and have no clue how to switch to another specialty

Solution: Find out as much as you can about the desired specialty you want to change to and craft a plan of action

Figure out how the skills you already have can be of use in that new specialty.
Talk to nurses who are already working in that area and find out what it is like, how they got the job, if there are openings, etc etc etc.

Do research online to find out more information about the specialty; most have associations with information about education, networks, job boards and more.

Don’t know what kind of association I am talking about? Here are just 3 examples:

Emergency Nurses Association http://www.ena.org/Pages/default.aspx
American Case Management Association http://www.acmaweb.org/
National Association of Neonatal Nurses http://www.nann.org/
And those are just a few. There are associatons for almost every specialty. Use Google. That’s what it’s for.

Scenario #3: You endured being the new kid on the block when you first started at your job and the thought of enduring that again seems less appealing than a poop sandwich

Solution: Step up and change

This is the exact reason why you NEED to make a change. If you are afraid of feeling like you don’t know everything single solid thing about your job, then you have probably become complacent.

Is 90% of your job using the same skills every day? Do you feel you’re doing the same thing day in and day out? Do you know your job like the back of your hand? Kudos to you. Seriously, pat on the back for your level of competence and expertise.

Nevertheless, if you are not enjoying your work AND you have become complacent, perhaps it’s time to grow. Learning something new is the #1 way to grow in life. We are not meant to stop learning and growing. As children we are curious and we are constantly learning. Somewhere down the line (typically after college and our first few years on the job), we stop learning.

Yes, you may have a few new meds here and there,  new supplies, new policies or protocols. But those things pose little of a challenge and do not encourage growth.

So what if you will be the new kid on the block?

Get over your ego, get over yourself, step out and do something new. I know it sounds cheesy but you can do it!

Allow yourself to be challenged. Allow your brain to have to learn a new set of skills. Your brain will thank you for it later.

And you may just feel happier in doing so. I believe the opposite of happiness is not sadness, it’s boredom. Most people are just plain bored. Doing the same thing over and over again for years can make you feel disengaged……..and……well……….bored.

Accept that it will be a challenge and get out there and do it anyway!

Scenario #4: You mother/father/grandfather/(insert other relative) never complained about their job; they just did it and along the way taught you that you should never complain about work. Just “be grateful” and keep doing it.

Solution: Realize that you are not living for your relative

This is what I call the “work guilt syndrome”.  You can just hear past generations rolling around in their grave saying that people nowadays don’t have good “work ethic”.

Or are they really rolling around saying “I wished I had fulfilled my dreams”.

Doing what you enjoy is not being ungrateful. It is recognizing that you are grateful for what you have, but then seeking to enhance your life even more.

There’s nothing noble or honorable about doing something you dislike. In fact, I believe it is stupid.

You are not living for your relative. You are living for you. And here’s a newflash, living for you isn’t selfish. On the contrary, it’s the best thing you can do.

Ever met someone who is totally miserable most of the day? A real crochety complainer all day at work? They hate the work, they hate their coworkers, they hate the customers/patients/clients. Or maybe that complainer is you?

Guess who gets the brunt of a lot of their resentment? Their friends, family, coworkers, patients, everyone.

You are not doing ANYONE a favor by being miserable everyday. In fact, you are doing the opposite.

As a nurse, you have choices. This is a profession that has many options. Explore them.

Scenario #5: You think the economy is in the pits and so it isn’t the time to try to make any moves

Solution: That’s a lame excuse. Get over it!

Yes, I said it. Staying at a job you hate because of the economy is one of the worst things you can do. That job has no security. No job has any security. Look around you. People (including nurses) are being laid off and cut back at different places.

Let’s say you stay in that job you hate and then your unit “reorganizes” or your hospital gets bought out by a big hospital corporation and they decide to restructure. Or your manager/administrator/whoever goes on a firing spree.

Now what? You’ve been sitting around unprepared for change; comfortable in a job you hate and your whole world is now upside down.

Instead, you need to drop the scarcity mindset and arm yourself with the knowledge to make a financially smart decision.

If you have decided to change jobs, then do your research and make a transition plan. Start with yourself. Polish up your resume, start using social networks to make connections, talk to people who you know about your career goals, brush up on your interview skills.

Make a smart transition. Don’t just jump because you are dissatisfied. Do some research about the company/position you have decided to move to and make sure it is a sound decision.

Then relax and don’t beat yourself up. Even if it doesn’t work out, you will have tried. It is always better to go after something you want than to spend your years reflecting on all the things you “wished you would have done”.

Remember there will NEVER ever be  a right time to make a move. If you are waiting for the perfect time, it will never come. There will always be something. The kids are still in school. Mom is not doing well. We need to refurbish the kitchen. The pig is on the roof. Blah Blah Blah.

There are always a million excuses to stop us from doing things. Don’t let the economy be one of them.

Scenario #6: You have no clue about what your passion is anyway so you don’t know what other nursing (or non nursing for that matter) job would be best for you.

Solution: Figure out what you enjoy

Oh do I know how you feel. I felt like this for years. I think I have consumed almost every “what is my passion” book and program that exists. I learnt something from nearly everyone of them. It just took so long for me to finally put all the pieces together.

I also came to some staggering conclusions. Most of us will never find work that we are passionate about. We may never figure out how to earn money from our passions.

And guess what?

That is ok.

Instead, focus on finding work that you enjoy doing (MOST of the time) and that makes you feel engaged.

I am creating a program for you. This will help you to figure out what work you enjoy doing that you can earn money from. I am working on the program and it will be released at the end of May. You can sign up for the VIP early release notification by clicking here.

In the meantime, start researching. There are myriad books and resources about the subject of finding work that matches your values/personality/lifestyle/etc.

Start looking at your life and the things/times when you feel the most engaged. Ask yourself some serious questions:

  • What would your perfect day look like? What would you be doing? Where would you be? In a hospital?surgical center?public health building?out doing home care? etc
  • When was the last time you got totally “lost” doing something? So deep into it that you lost track of time because you enjoyed it so much?
  • Was there a clinical rotation you did in school that seemed exciting?
  • Before or after your next shift, go to other nursing units and talk to nurses there about their jobs.
No matter which scenario applies to you, a simple solution everyone should try is gratitude. I know, sounds tough when you can’t stand a moment of your job. But give it a shot.

One thing I started years ago was a gratitude journal. For 15 minutes every night I write what I am grateful for that day and I include aspects of my work. Even when I worked in positions I didn’t like, there were always things to be grateful for.

Maybe your supervisor is super nice? Maybe some of your coworkers are a blast to work with? Maybe a good amount of your patients really appreciate you and this makes you feel rewarded? Maybe you are earning more money than the average person.

Here’s a quick fact you probably didn’t know: If you earn more than $30,000 per year, you are in the top income bracket in the world. Remember, more than 3 billion people live in the poorest countries of the world.
Puts things in perspective right?

The point of this entire post is that you need to start doing SOMETHING. Stop complaining and make a decision of some sort and then take action, make choices, make decisions, come up with a plan. You get my point.

The more you wallow in “I hate this” world, the harder it is to leave those feelings and change your situation. It doesn’t matter what your scenario is, you need to do something. Usually making a solid plan alone will make you feel better.

Whether I named your particular scenario above or not is beside the point. You need to realize that only you have the power to change how you feel about your job situation.

I want you to pick just one solution and begin implementing it. Make a decision about which solution resonates most with you and then act.

Decide today that tomorrow you will feel better. Make that your new reality.

In the comments below, let me know the one action you are going to take.

We’ll talk soon,


1. Rao, S.S. (2010), Happiness at work: Be resilient, motivated and successful-no matter what. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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11 Responses to Does Your Nursing Job Feel Like You Were Handed a Code Brown Sandwich?Here’s How to Turn That Feeling Around

  1. Julie Turner says:

    I am oned who has been a nurse and following Valerie Young for about 10 plus years lol, interested and have been exploring energy medicine all this time,but I have a child who needs lots of health insurance so sticking with a job! Love to read,wish and think about side jobs have done some practices, like your site

    • Alicia-Joy says:

      Hi Julie,

      Valerie Young is one of my main inspirations. She is a pioneer for thinking “outside of the job box”. That can be especially challenging in nursing, but it is doable. I totally understand your insurance needs. Perhaps you can start some type of energy medicine practice/project on the side and then slowly build it up to where you can make a full transition. Just a thought. I see you signed up for one of my newsletters. Hope you find it useful. You can always hit reply to the newsletter if you want to chat or if you have questions.

    • Jelani says:

      I love reading these articles baeucse they’re short but informative.

  2. Cara says:

    Yep, I’m a big time “wallower” in my misery. I admit this freely, and I also admit that I am sick of it. I have regretted bedside nursing since I started nursing, but we couldn’t do without the money. So I have felt trapped, put-upon, resentful and bitchy every since. It’s only getting worse, with me ruining my sleep, digestion, self-esteem and relationships with my complaining about how stuck I scared and miserable I am. Bedside nursing expects so much and it does scare me because I’m afraid of making a mistake or forgetting something and losing my job because of being human.

    Anyway, this article has changed my way of thinking. I really enjoyed working in wound care when I did a PRN stint of it at one of my hospital jobs. The one thing I am going to do TODAY to change my future from bedside to wound care is to sign up for a wound care seminar through my online college. This will give me additional credentials to eventually land a job in wound care. I also plan to become an NP in adult care so I can help reduce the rush-rush of my job and having to deal with 12 hour shifts. So here’s the goal: I’d like to become an NP in an office someplace who also spends some time during the week as a certified wound care specialist in a clinic. THAT sounds pretty interesting! So I’m going to head in that direction and stop WHINING!

  3. Cara says:

    Update: Not going to sign up for the wound care this semester, but next semester (due to cost). But as far as what I can do now…tomorrow when I go to work I am going to try to stop feeling put-upon and talking negatively. I am going to try to think as positively as I can. I am going to smile when I feel like screaming. When things are getting the most crazy, I am going to pause and make sure I have everything together, have finished everything, have scanned everything, have documented everything, etc. I’m going to keep a running list of things that I need to get done, and just keep plugging away at them. There is no way out of this job right now, because we need the money. That doesn’t mean all my tomorrows are going to be spent there.

    • Alicia-Joy says:

      Hi Cara,

      I can totally relate to feeling like you want to scream and that there is no way out. But there always is a way out. Even if it isn’t immediate….it is there. Kudos to you for making plans for your future. Most people just continue to wallow, without making a commitment for a something different.

      Decide. Commit to your decision. Make a plan. And then take steps towards your plan.

      As for how you feel when you are in that situation that feels overwhelming and miserable, you are right to change how you feel. But I want to remind you of something, big changes, like changes in attitude and mindset, do not happen overnight. So if you are at work and still find times when those negative thoughts are creeping in, don’t beat yourself up. Accept how you are feeling in the moment. Breathe. Reflect on your decision to change…. and keep going. It takes years for us to develop negative thought patterns, changing them is a journey also. Just be glad you have taken that first step.

      Let me know if I can help you further.


  4. Karen says:

    Hi Cara,

    I have worked in Specialty Hospitals, Critical Care, PICU, and teaching BSCN students. One thing you said, made me really think,’ when was the last time you were so engaged in work, that you lost track of time”? Well, when I worked in a certain Children’s Hospital in Toronto, I was excited every shift, 12 hr shift, 16 hr days due to a long commute. Also, teaching, was a blast.. think I was really good at it. My problem is that my health is restricting me now. I work from home, make great money, but I am not very happy. I’m not sure if it’s all the stress of my husband having Cancer, losing 3 parents in 3 years.. or I am burned right out. I should be happy, great company, but I feel lonely most times. I have to keep pushing myself, and only work 3 days/week, but having Polymyalgia Rheumatica has really decreased ‘the wind in my sails’. Sometimes I think about how happy I was when I was a waitress years ago, or a bartender. I also miss having collegues to talk to, and joke with. Trouble is I physically could not work in a hospital right now. Anyways, my plan today is to except reality right now, but look at alternatives, even a day a week perhaps at a nearby wound centre to break things up.

    Thanks for your column.. you’ve inspired me to really think about what I want to do when , ‘I grow up’.

  5. Kayla says:

    Whoa. I’m 53, been a nurse for 2 years. I’m in a BSN program as well. I started as a psych RN and became very unhappy with that situation- poor management, nurses leaving, high patient load. I never complained at work, I tried to be happy. I then started a month ago training as a circulator in a gorgeous OR. I absolutely cannot do this. I ache and hurt from the cold, my skin cracks and bleeds from the dry air, I have lupus and have been miserable since the second day. I feel so guilty because this is a dream job on paper. Day shift, no weekends, 6 month orientation and very nice supervisors. I don’t know whether to keep trying or just transfer. My supervisor asked me if everything was ok- she sensed my misery, I’m sure. I told her I was not loving it. She said they would help me find something if I would be honest and not waste everyone’s time trying to stay if I hated it. I’m not sure what to do.

    • Alicia-Joy says:

      Hi Kayla,

      Thanks for writing. I am sorry to hear of your current job experience. Being in pain and in an environment that hurts your health cannot be a ‘dream job’ at all. There is no set standard for what is dream and what is not. It is all relative to what is best for each person and their family. Please feel free to email me: alicia@transitionsinnursing.com if you would like to talk further about your particular situation.

  6. I enjoy reading a post that can make people think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!

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