People become nurses because they care. Nurses pursue this career because they feel motivated to care for others, to help people through difficult times. Some describe their pursuit of nursing as a “calling” and nurses find deep meaning in doing such important work.
Still, situations like the current pandemic, difficult work environments or the weight of years of nursing practice can diminish or strip motivation and meaning from the work. A job can become just that: a role to fill, something to endure, a series of tasks to get through until you can give report and go home.
That’s not a happy place to be in. Absent motivation and meaning in this very challenging profession, one is at risk of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that can compromise one’s well-being. Carrying this kind of burden can lead to diminished effectiveness of patient care, unhealthy work environments and increased risk of burnout, even leaving the profession.
While acknowledging that there are aspects of nursing that will always be hard, there are things you can do to help support and/or rekindle the motivation and meaning that led you to become a nurse in the first place.
What’s Your “Why”?
To start your way back to falling in love with nursing again, take some time to contemplate your “why.” Why did you pursue nursing to begin with? What drew you to this profession?
Your "why" is an emotional thing, not a tangible one. Some people might say their “why” is “a paycheck,” but that’s not a true why. In fact, if that’s your response to the question, then consider a deeper dive into your why, to identify the true feelings that drew you to nursing. Your "why" may have evolved since your original calling to be a nurse. Whatever your "why" is, staying connected to it will feed your passion for your work.
To reconnect with your why, ask yourself:
- What excites me today about nursing?
- What are my top nursing talents?
- What types of problems am I the most passionate about solving?
- In what ways does nursing relate to my life’s purpose?
By pondering these questions, you can reenergize the meaning and motivation in your work. If after deeply pondering these questions and answers, you find that your current role doesn’t align well with the aspects of nursing that truly excite you and arouse your passion, you can solve that by seeking a position that really ignites your fire for nursing again.
Take Time to Reflect
A nurse’s work life is often so hectic that you don’t have time to reflect on the things you do every day that have a positive effect on others. Don’t get caught in the trap of “I was just doing my job”. Embrace the extraordinary nature of your work as a nurse. As part of your self-care routine, set aside a specific time each week for reflection. During that time:
- Think about individual patients you cared for recently. Even if they did not or were not able to acknowledge the value of your care, you can recognize the value for yourself and give yourself credit for it. Speak to yourself the words you would have liked to hear from them: “Thank you.” “I appreciate you.” “I feel better now.”
- Think back to those patients and families who did express their sincere appreciation to you, even if the episode occurred years ago. Allow yourself to feel deeply moved again by those experiences.
- Contemplate the moments when you helped a colleague and made their life better, even for a few minutes. Give yourself credit for being a great team player.
- Consider how all of those moments align with your personal values. How does your current nursing role help you live your ethics and morals every day?
Most nurses don’t have time in the moment to notice, acknowledge or reflect on the impact their care is having on another person. Giving yourself time afterwards to embrace the value of your work and regularly infuse your work life with meaning.
Think Bigger Picture
Imagine you’re very elderly and are sitting down to write your memoirs. What do you want the story of your nursing career to say? As you look forward or back on your years as a nurse, what values do you want to be remembered for?
It’s easy to let the everyday annoyances of a job get you down and muddle the vision you originally had for your career. To help you rekindle your motivation for nursing, try to stop periodically and evaluate your journey in terms of the big picture.
One creative way to find your path again is to make a vision board:
- Define your nursing goals. Ask yourself what you want to be remembered for. Maybe it’s for earning a DNP. Maybe it’s for serving on nursing missions across the world. Whatever your “big, audacious goal” is for your nursing career, list that one first. And then list some of the intermediate goals required to get there.
- Gather materials, such as a piece of cardboard, magazines, photographs, computer print-outs, ribbons, glue, glitter – anything you desire to bring your personality to the vision board.
- Clip items from the magazines, photographs or print-outs that resonate with you and emblematize your vision for your career. These clippings might contain words, colors, images – whatever represents your goals.
- Arrange the images on the board to tell a story or a progression of events. Glue everything down and add decoration.
- Display your vision board where it will be an on-going source of inspiration and motivation.
Embrace the fact that you are extraordinary!
The demands of the nursing profession can cause anyone to occasionally lose motivation or to feel as if what they’re doing doesn’t make sense to them anymore. Hold fast to the knowledge that your work does make a difference. If you are having trouble with that, take a moment and imagine a world without nurses, that jarring image will help recenter you. Then use these exercises or others to help keep your passion for nursing strong.
About the Authors
Kathy Douglas, RN, MPH is a nationally recognized nurse leader, entrepreneur, author and award-winning filmmaker. She has been on the executive team of several healthcare start- up companies. She is the author of numerous published articles on the healthcare workforce. Kathy wrote and directed the film, NURSES If Florence Could See US Now, an intimate look into the world of nursing today. Her passion over the last decade has been focused on the health and well-being of our healthcare workforce. She is co-author of the books The Dance of Caring – A Caregivers Guide to Harmony and Nurses Cry Too a resource for nurses addressing loss and grief. She was recognized by AACN with their Pioneering Spirit Award and featured on the cover of Nurse Leader magazine, as a leader to honor.
Elizabeth Hanes RN is ‘the nurse who knows content.' She is a freelance writer who combines her knowledge of nursing with over 20 years in journalism. Her unique background brings credibility and authenticity to her writing.