Updated: May 6, 2020
Maybe this statistic makes you curious to want to know more about other nurses’ experiences.
Or maybe this statistic makes you angry because you love being a nurse.
Or maybe this statistic makes you want to dive into how you can make this better.
Or maybe this statistic resonates with how you feel and you are glad to know you are not alone.
The sad part is nurses are not a population of people that are typically studied and observed.
There is not a lot of research information on mental and emotional health amongst nurses and the way it impacts their performance at work and ultimately their lives.
I can only speak on my own experiences and my own beliefs of what nursing is.
I am going to share my struggles and the emotional instability I experienced for over a year being a new nurse.
I am going to share the real, raw, uncut truth of how quitting my nursing job at the #1 hospital in the world taught me self love.
THIS IS MY STORY.
WHY I CHOSE TO WORK AT THE #1 HOSPITAL IN THE WORLD
I was sitting in my college apartment on a sunny day in March studying for my final nursing exam.
I realized that graduation was 2 months away and I still had not applied to any nursing jobs.
Other students in my class were receiving emails back for interviews and most of them had already accepted positions and were planning to move all over the country to start their new lives.
I was the only black nursing student in my class, so most of my energy went into combatting those struggles and finding ways to get through.
Applying to jobs was the last thing on my mind.
A little ambitious, right?
But I knew I wanted to work for an institution that would give me a great nurse residency program.
And I knew that I wanted to work for a top institution because at the time I felt that would give me the best experience.
Nursing school was TOUGH and I wanted to make sure I had the best opportunities to be successful in my career.
So I applied to the hospital, went through a three hour virtual interview and received a phone call two weeks later saying I had received the job.
I was ecstatic.
I immediately took the position and I was on my way to start my new life as a new graduate nurse at the number one hospital in the world after graduation.
MY EXPERIENCE BEING A NURSE AT THE #1 HOSPITAL IN THE WORLD
I remember walking into the doors of this amazing institution on my first day with joy in my heart knowing that I was about to have a life changing experience.
I was 22, a young black woman walking into the doors of the "Harvard of Medicine."
I was terrified but excited at the same time.
This is emotional ambivalence - experiencing both positive and negative emotions simultaneously.
I started my nursing career working as a new graduate nurse on the medical surgical unit.
If anyone knows about med/surg units, you know it is TOUGH.
It can be draining most days with very demanding and chronically ill patients.
I don't think I knew before walking into this unit all the hardships I was about to endure.
My position consisted of 8 &12 hour shifts with rotating days and nights.
I did not realize how much of a toll that would have on my health.
Talk about CRAZY.
My body could not keep up most days.
And my mind slowly followed.
THE TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
I remember internalizing most of the traumatic experiences I had. a
accidentally overdosing my patient on pain medication the week after I got off orientation,
having patients die on my shift after doing all I could to save their life,
having to complete multiple incident reports because of mistakes or delays in care,
racist patients who did not want me to step a foot in their room,
that patient suffering from psychosis who cried out for help to doctors and we did nothing for her,
that patient who said I treated them inhumane and was a terrible nurse because their was a cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication amongst doctors,
that racist patient’s wife that had to stop him from punching me in the face while I was trying to save his life,
that manager who didn't show remorse when I came into their office and had a mental breakdown,
that patient who yelled at me to get out their room,
that family that questioned my competency as a black nurse.
THE IMPACTFUL EXPERIENCES THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
But then I think of how many lives I have impacted.
I remember that 91 year old patient who told me I was the best nurse he has ever had,
that patient who told me I gave them hope to keep going when they just wanted to die,
that patient’s back I massaged because she couldn’t sleep that night after the doctor diagnosed her with cancer,
that patient who said they would never forget me,
that phlebotomist I hugged and made sure was okay after my patient disrespected her,
that nurse I stopped from making a medication error,
that patient who said I was the only nurse that cared about their feelings and emotions,
that patient suffering from alcohol abuse who thanked me for not judging him,
that abused patient who came in from a motel in feces who I told was worth more than the man she was with,
that patient who I made feel comfortable during their last few hours on this earth,
that patient I sat with on night shift and watched “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks while infusing all his antibiotics,
By the way, I 100% recommend that movie
that family I hugged when their loved one died,
that one wife who said I was an amazing nurse because I never left her husband’s side once he started deteriorating and later passing away.
WHY I DECIDED TO QUIT BEING A NURSE AT THE #1 HOSPITAL IN THE WORLD
At the time, the bad outweighed the good for me.
I went into nursing thinking I could change the world.
I know, I know not realistic.
My experiences changed me as a person.
My experiences pushed me into depression and anxiety.
My experiences gave me a new outlook on what it meant to be a nurse.
And my experiences made me emotionally unstable.
Despite the good experiences, I hated the person this environment was creating me to be.
I had to figure out how to deal with all the emotional trauma I was experiencing.
I didn’t know how to be resilient.
I didn’t know how to deal with compassion fatigue.
I didn't have a community to lean on or support on my unit.
I didn't have people who truly understood what I was experiencing.
And at the time, it was too much for me to bear on my own.
The countless days and nights I would not eat, sleep all day and have the constant urge to want to give up.
The days I felt I wasn't good enough to handle this gift I had inside of me.
All the times I had to convince myself to stay in a speciality I hated.
All the pressure put on me to be perfect, to not make mistakes because you are at a top hospital when that is so unreal.
One day I told myself that was all going to end.
I woke up one July evening after working the night shift.
I walked to my computer, opened up Microsoft Word, wrote my resignation letter, printed it out, signed and sealed it in an envelope.
I immediately felt peace and liberation.
People told me I was crazy for quitting.
They would say, “What’s better than working at the #1 hospital in the world?”
I replied with, “It’s better out there. More for me. I’m going to make an impact in some way.”
I didn't know what I was going to do after quitting my job.
I just knew I didn't want to keep FEELING and BEHAVING in a way that wasn't the woman or nurse I wanted to be.
I wanted to be embrace change without fear.
I wanted to know what it meant to truly love yourself.
I wanted to feel alive in my work.
I wanted to be the best NURSE possible.
I wanted to be the best HUMAN BEING possible.
I WANTED FREEDOM.
And most importantly, I wanted my mental and emotional health back.
Since reflecting on my experiences, I have learned that I am a highly sensitive person and an empath.
It makes sense now why everything felt HEAVIER for me.
All the lows were worth it.
I found who I am and now I am able to help other nurses find themselves too.
MY MESSAGE TO YOU
You are a nurse.
But you are a human being, FIRST.
We have been conditioned since birth to fear things that don’t seem secure and “normal.”
We have been told to stay in jobs that make us feel like crap for job security.
We have been taught to suck it up and deal with it.
We have been taught to disconnect from who we really are at the core.
We have been taught to NOT learn who we are and how things make us feel.
We have been taught that as nurses, “This is what you signed up for.”
Which is complete bullshit - we signed up to care for the sick and vulnerable in a supportive environment when safe and when we are able. We did NOT sign up to put our lives and health on the back burner.
I am here to tell you that you do not have to stay in an environment that doesn't benefit your well-being.
If you are in a nursing position right now that is toxic and you feel yourself changing as a person, I challenge you to do something else.
Something that makes you feel alive inside.
You will never be “the best” in the world in anything, and we must get comfortable with that.
I hope my story has inspired you to fight for yourself.
To trust yourself to figure out a new way to fulfill your purpose whether that is changing specialties, changing institutions or even changing careers.
I hope you have the courage to be brave in your decisions.
But most importantly, I hope you have the courage to choose yourself.
To love yourself.
Because once a nurse, always a nurse. Remember that.
The Nurse Empath.