In nursing, a professional trajectory can take many forms. A nurse's career can be like a long straightaway across the open plains or a meandering trek across the mountains.

No matter how many choices a nurse may have at her fingertips, she may feel like she's nursed herself into the proverbial corner with no idea how to change course. This is a spell that needs to be broken so the nurse can expand her vision and find a more satisfying path.

The corner and the straightjacket

For some nurses, it may take years to realize that one is working in a self-created corner from which there seems to be no escape.

A nurse can reach a point of burnout, compassion fatigue and professional boredom wherein the career itself feels like a straightjacket that's almost too familiar to shake loose from, even though it's highly uncomfortable.

Even the most boring job with no sense of forward movement or growth can feel safe in its very lack of dynamism. Working in the same job, facility, unit or agency for five, 10 or 15 years may bring a certain stability, but that stability can be like a restraint that prevents the nurse from striking out into the unknown.

Nursing in a straightjacket can prevent anything too exciting from happening, and it can also lead to a deadening of the nurse's spirit and a loss of personal and professional ambition.

Waking up to boredom

The nurse who wakes up one morning and smells the fragrance of boredom can make a decision to take action, or she can simply go back to her slumber of professional stagnation.

For a nurse who hasn't given much thought to his or her deeper longings, waking up can be as simple as realizing that there's something missing from life and career, even if there isn't yet an idea of what that actually is. The realization that there's room for more can be enough to spark the drive to change.

Waking up to one's boredom and dissatisfaction means that it can also be overcome with some attention.

Taking stock

If a nurse realizes that it’s time for change, the first thing to do is assess the situation. The nursing process always begins with assessment, and a career transition calls for the same.

The nurse who feels dissatisfied can begin by asking himself or herself the following questions:

  • How am I feeling about my current position, role and/or place of employment?
  • When did I feel more positive about my nursing career?
  • What caused me to feel hope and professional ambition in the past?
  • What has changed to make me feel stuck or stagnant?
  • If I could have any nursing job I wanted, what would it be? What colleagues would I work with? What patient population, if any, would I serve? What type of facility, agency or institution would I work for? What would be the nature of the work I would do?
  • What about nursing makes me joyful and productive? What aspects of nursing make me feel small and joyless?
  • What do I want in the short-, mid- and long-term in relation to my workstyle and lifestyle?
  • What kind of nurse would I like to be?

When we take honest stock of our career, we gather data that's crucial to taking inspired action. Understanding how you feel and what has changed is the first step; the next step is doing something about it.

Taking action

Inspired action in the interest of your nursing career can come in many forms. There may be incremental steps, or a major transition may manifest quickly. Some actions that a nurse interested in change can take may include:

  • Launching a job search for a new position
  • Evaluating whether further education may be helpful in pursuing new career goals
  • Conducting informational interviews with nurses engaged in work that the nurse finds potentially attractive
  • Networking with like-minded professionals
  • Consuming blog posts, articles, books and podcasts that provide inspiration, education, ideas or resources that can move the needle of change in a positive direction
  • Meeting with close friends or colleagues for brainstorming
  • Hiring a career coach for support and accountability

Even small actions can have large effects. An informational interview can lead to new opportunities, and chatting with a colleague can create a breakthrough.

Action is the opposite of stagnation, and the nurse who feels painted into a corner needs action as his or her ally.

Creating change

When a nurse feels backed into a professional corner, there are multiple exits toward a new career horizon.

First, the nurse must recognize that her boredom and dissatisfaction are curable, and that possibilities exist. And once possibilities are seen with clear eyes and an open mind, creating change comes next.

Being nursed into a corner isn't a permanent condition if the nurse can see beyond the corner to the larger world beyond.