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Why I quit nursing

Why I quit nursing

They tell you that if you do work experience, you’ll then know if a job is going to be right for you or not. It will save you years of completing a wasted degree that you’re not interested in, and time developing skills that you’re not going to need.

But what happens when there’s more to it. And they’re wrong. And you’ve spent four years doing everything you can to gain your place in an industry? I’ll tell you, because it happened to me.

I was led into a career in nursing because I always thought the world of allied health was for me. But really, I shouldn’t have.

You’ll think I’m obnoxious with some of my comments I’m sure, and I honestly value the nursing profession so much, and what nurses do; but I think it is so important for graduates to understand what they are getting into. I didn’t, and now I’m a statistic. I’m the roughly one in four undergrad nurses who drop out of it.

So here’s what happened to me, and how I ended up in the wrong place at what should have been the right time.

How did I even get here?

I’d always had this preconceived notion that my calling was nursing, one part because my mum had said “it would be a good career for you” and another part because I did work experience when I was 16 in the health industry and it seemed ‘right’.

At the time I picked my course it was very important for me to do these things (enroll, start my career) quickly, so I didn’t really take the time to think about why I was doing anything in particular.

It was at the right at the end of my degree, literally as I was about to graduate, and I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” By this stage, I already had a textbook “really great graduate position,” but on the inside I was anxious and losing my mind.

I think it can go two ways when you’re getting advice from others, and especially a parent. If say like in my case, your mum is leading you down one path, you either go rebellious- shave off all your hair and join a heavy metal band or a monastery; alternatively, because you have no direction yourself, and it’s all your seeking, you jump at the first suggestion and chase the shiny ball they’ve thrown.

But surely if you’re doing placements, and work experience, you should be able to work out if this career is right for you?

For some reason I always, always, always wanted to be in theatre. I started out with my placements in rehab which is where a lot of first years will, and that was pretty hard- a lot of showers, physio, getting people up and walking them around. People are generally pretty well in rehab; recovering from hip, knee or joint replacements for example. It didn’t really feel like a good insight into “the life of a nurse”. I also did a placement Pediatrics, which I found incredibly hard. I found dealing with the parents a challenge because I was so young, I just had no way to connect to any part of what they were going through.

We did quite a good rotation through a lot of different wards, but I found them to be a lot of the same type of nursing- and I just did not feel a connection to the clinical side of things (which is really a huge part of nursing so should have been alarm bells). It was very draining, monotonous, and even quite political- some of the older nurses can be so bitchy!

Throughout all my placements I was told, “Nurses eat their young!” It was this horrible statement that swept across all placements, and ensured I was “careful and played my cards right”. The assumption, and acceptance, that we were to be bullied and harassed while we were learning isn’t right.

If I really think about it, is was probably halfway through my second year of studying that I realised nursing wasn’t for me. At the time though I probably wasn’t attune to it as I just put it down to “oh it’s boring uni and assignments- this isn’t real nursing.”

I did have one placement however, in theatre, which gave me much more autonomy than I probably would have had as an RN. I was so incredibly involved in the procedures, probably more than I should have been, and so I was given this expectation of what nursing was going to be like during my placement. When it came down to it however, the real deal just wasn’t the same.

My grad placement was in anesthetics, despite not doing a single placement in it during my studies. I think I then just reached a point in my grad year when I was like, “I just physically cannot do this anymore”.

So it wasn’t what I expected…

It was really a lot more monotonous that I had imagined. For the first 2-3 months of my placements, I was doing all these amazing things, and there was such a steep learning curve in anesthetics. I took on a lot of responsibility really quickly, and worked really closely with the anesthetist- who wants to you learn! Bu then I got to this point, where it seemed it couldn’t be taken any further unless you do extra studies like your masters, or you become a clinic anesthetic specialist.

I know this sounds obnoxious, but I kind of just felt like I had learnt all I could. I felt like it was always just going to be the same. Not everyday, but most days. And if I didn’t particularly enjoy what I was doing, I should probably get out!

The one thing I did love about it was that I got to talk to and meet lots of different people. It ticked a lot of boxes and I felt like I was making a difference; but eventually, the bad outweighed the good.

What next?

It’s hard to just start from scratch. I’ve had the health industry in my head for as long as I can remember. And because work experience is so important as a nurse, I would work in nursing homes in the holidays and as an AIN (Assistant In Nursing) while studying. I’m 26 and all my skills are nursing; yet I definitely know I don’t want to be a nurse.

Did I feel relieved when I quit? Yes and no. I knew I didn’t want to do nursing, but then I had no clue where I was supposed to be.

I think ultimately, I’ve stopped trying work out what I want to be, and am just thinking in the short term of what I’m interested in. I also ended up speaking to a careers advisor (eight years too late), and surprise surprise, after all the aptitude tests and personal assessments, I’m not actually suited to a career in nursing or applied health. So that coupled with my blatant undesire to do it, really decided it for me- “I’m out.”

I do think where I could have been now if I got on the right path sooner; and that’s scary.


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  • I feel quite lost as well with nursing. I didn’t understand what I was getting myself into when I started nursing after. I think nursing is probably not for me but the course did open my eyes and teach me about people, and some aspects of life so the experience is useful. The issue of what’s next? Still trying to figure that out

  • How about social work, nutrition, counselling, working in disability, community nurse.

    Thank you for writing this. I’m choosing social work. I did 6 months of nursing at uni with a 6 week placement and I felt the same as you. Repetitive. Draining. Glad I’m not alone. A lot of people love nursing, but I get bored easily and need less restriction and less monotony. I think social work would be the unpredictable challenge I need. I’m good with that type of stress (been in many a situation to know), but nursing stress felt icky. I felt out of place, like I wasn’t meant to be there. Good luck on your journey. Oh, and I love health and nutrition too, but we can’t be everything ;)

  • Thank you for sharing your experience. I am a new graduate who also has the revered new grad position within the government public health system. It is one of those jobs you are told to never give up cause you have it so good, pt ratio, hourly wage and other perks. I have felt anxious about the thought of being an RN for the very reasons you have shared. I felt icky from my second year and couldnt put my finger on it. I felt anxious all the time and had self doubt with everything I did. I have been told this is a normal process by multiple nurses and nurse help lines as I have been in tears wondering why I was not like the other nurses who could just do it and let it go. I was ruminating and stacking the ifs, whats, I should have or I could have to the point I was unable to function on the job or at home (not a good thing with children). I developed a fear of needles (I know, pretty extreme right) which my psychologist thoughtfully said “I dont know if youll ever get over that. Granted I had alot and I mean ALOT of external stressors and I wonder if all of that compounded leaving me feel like I had completely wasted my time. I often wondered if the what I was feeling and acting was as a result of my underlying desire to not actually be a nurse. Being a nurse I felt the therapist left my therapy to me. So I did the thought challenging, I did the planning, I did the meditation, I did the try a new hobby, I did the exposure by picking up more shifts at the hospital and buying needle packs from the pharmacist. All of which should have worked right? well, I still dont look forward to the job. I love working with people, I enjoy knowing about the body and medications but thats about the end of it. When ever someone mentions going to a hospital I get knots in my stomach, and when I finish a shift, I will replay the shift from beginning to end picking it apart. I had even started questioning myself and my own confidence in who I was as an individual. I read the headlines and the news articles which talk about why nurses eat their young, lets be honest, you are going to find crabby people in every job, its just a little more intense because someones life is on the line. Did I feel the nurses I was buddied with caused this? Not at all, my hat goes off to all of them. Beautiful souls inside and out. Did I have some questionable buddies…. I would be lying if I said no, but majority are more than happy to help you learn and grow. I just wish I had seen the signs earlier and changed to a different vein of health care. So back to the drawing board…. what shall I study now?

  • This post for me is honestly a breath of fresh air, I am coming to the end of my nursing degree, and the chaos of applying for graduate programs. I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that I dont feel nursing is right for me, due to itt being “right” for so long, and pressure from family. The scary part is I have no idea what to do now, but I know I dont want to be a nurse. I always felt that next placement Ill really be settling into the career…but now im at the end of my course and scared on the unknown for next year.
    Thank you

  • This is so helpful to read. I’m a nurse in Aus and have decided to go back to do my masters in primary teaching. I think there will obviously be stressors and lots of take home work – but no one’s life will be on the line at the end of the day. Also it will be nice just having the classroom which I’m responsible for so hopefully some more autonomy in that respect. It was a really hard decision and one I’ve pondered on since starting nursing 7 years ago. The patients were never the issue – I loved the patients and families but everything that went with it was so draining. The mental challenges felt insurmountable and my confidence felt so knocked. I think it’s one of the hardest professions out there. I will keep up my registration but I am looking forward to a career change – nervous but ready. I also had the sudden death of a family member nearly 2 years ago and I think that shifted things into perspective that life is incredibly short and who cares if I’m starting out a new career at 30! I might be working til I’m 70 so that’s a good stint!

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