How to Be Happy As A Nurse


Being happy and fulfilled as a nurse is a big issue I see when I talk with other nurses.  I have thought about this topic a lot over my nursing career and have some ideas that may be useful for you to ponder.  I have had my ups and downs when it comes to happiness in my nursing career just like every nurse does. At this point in my career, I am the happiest and most fulfilled I have ever been, but there is still quite a long journey ahead. Some nurses choose to give up at a certain point and get frustrated, and some journey on and try to figure it out. I have chosen to journey on, and I want to do my best to show you how I got over the mountaintop to get clarity on where I wanted my nursing career to go.

I see nurses often making career moves by getting advanced degrees, or working in different places in the hospital to find what will make them happy.   Your happiness has to do mostly with your internal well-being and what you have control over. Very little has to do with external factors that are out of your control.  I am going to discuss some of the ways I have seen nurses try to find happiness and fulfillment only to have it backfire on them or only be temporary.

Going back to school - This is a big one. Many bricks and mortar BSN programs will push their students to get their MSN shortly after graduating from school, and some of them will recommend new graduates to go directly into a doctorate program.  I disagree with this advice. When you first graduate and get your nursing license, you should be focused on how to be a nurse and not pressuring yourself to learn advanced nursing concepts.  The reason I say this is because at this point you do not have enough experience to know where you are feeling called to serve humanity and the profession. This takes time and experience to figure out. At least it did for me.  

You will get much more value out of your advanced nursing education if you have clarity on where you are going. I am currently getting an MSN in leadership, but I have been a nurse for over a decade now and did not arrive at this decision overnight.

Through experience being a nurse, you will find and clarify what your calling is. Once you know the answer to this question, it will fuel your ambitions to learn more by getting an advanced degree. You will go to school so you can learn and serve better as your number one motivation and not so you have another option to get out of a job you feel stuck in.

From personal experience, if I would have made the decision earlier in my career to go back to school, I would have made the wrong one.  I am so glad I waited because now I can impact my profession and humanity in a bigger way. You need to clarify your vision and the problems you want to fix.

Moving around in the profession – I see a lot of nurses moving around in the profession from one nursing job to another to see if the grass is greener.  Sometimes it will be, but it is usually not much greener. I think the culture of your organization, the patients, and the people you work with have more to do with this than what kind of nursing it is.  For most of my career, I have worked on a Medical-Surgical unit, and I will see nurses moving to the ICU or the ED.  This will usually make them happy for a little while from the increased autonomy, but soon after the newness will wear off and they will be right back where they were on the happiness scale.

Getting out of the profession – I have not talked with too many nurses who have done this, but I know they are out there. Some recent statistics show that there is close to a million nurses in the United States who are not practicing. This can be for a number of reasons, but some of it is due to not enjoying their work when they were in the profession. 

I toiled with the idea of getting out of the profession at one point, but I worked through this season in my career with the wisdom of Dan Miller who I highly recommend for career advice and finding your passion.  He mentioned the idea in one of his podcasts that changed my view on this issue. As a nurse, you already have so much knowledge and experience built up in this area of expertise.  He suggests for you to find a way to refocus how you use the knowledge and expertise you have worked so hard to build up and bring value to society in a different way. In other words, don’t throw away all that knowledge. Use that knowledge to solve a problem and uniquely serve others.

This way should allow you to pay the bills of course.  I know paying the bills can be the hard part when working in an area of nursing that lines up more with your calling. This is where I am at now. I believe if you’re not so focused on money and your main motive is to serve and solve problems then the money will follow and much more than you could have ever made if you would have focused on the money, to begin with. 

So, how to be a happy nurse – Well, if you have some experience in the field think about what interest you and the problems you see in our profession or even the healthcare industry.  You may want more respect or autonomy, and that is fine. Think about what drives, excites and gets you up in the morning. What would you do if money was not an issue?  If you can focus on your passion first, this will fuel you to keep going through the ups and downs no matter if you are where you want to be financially or not. Don’t get me wrong, money does matter, but if you do what you love the money will follow and more than you can dream of because you are in your sweet spot.

So, the next time you feel unhappy about your work as a nurse I invite you to look past the usual solutions I see most nurses coming up with. Those are going back to school for an advanced degree, moving around in the profession whether it is inpatient or outpatient, or getting out of the profession altogether. Consider taking a step back to look at your current talents and the knowledge you possess and see how you can use that to fix a problem in your hospital or clinic and serve the profession and humanity in a different more fulfilling way.  So, don’t throw away all that you have worked so hard for, redirect it in a way that makes you happy and fulfilled. I have begun to do this in my career, and I know you can too.

What are some ways you have found happiness in your work?  Please share those with me and let me know how you have overcome your challenges. I want to get this message out to other nurses who may be struggling right now or contemplating leaving the profession. So, please offer your suggestions and share this with your friends and coworkers.

Have a healthy week,

Nurse Brian