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When You Want to Quit Being a Nurse

"Some days, this job takes a piece of me–a piece I will never get back." As an ER trauma nurse, and then a nurse anesthesiologist, I thought this to myself over and over again for many years. Eventually, I felt like I had given up so many pieces of myself that there was nothing left. I felt like I wanted to quit being a nurse when I had originally entered nursing out of deep-seated passion and purpose.

Compassion Fatigue

These feelings of being depleted left me confused and led me to conclude that there was something seriously wrong with me and that I was the only one who felt this way and who wanted to quit nursing–I was wrong on both counts. The experience of compassion fatigue is common to so many nurses. And, there was nothing wrong with me–"The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet." (Rachel Remen). I had simply walked through water and desperately needed a very good towel because I was soaked-to-the-bone in compassion fatigue.

Self Compassion

Self-compassion is the warm towel that we can wrap around our broken, deeply drenched, soaked-to-the-bone selves. Self-compassion comes along and supports our bruised, and sometimes absent feeling, hearts.

When we practice self-compassion it can help us shift from feeling that our jobs require us to give away a piece of ourselves that we will never get back, to feeling empowered by the difficulty of the work that we do. That’s right: the thing that you feel is depleting you can become the thing that fuels you.

Practicing self-compassion can be done in real-time in the clinical setting and it isn’t something we have to wait to do until we are out of the stress of the moment or are finished with the workday. I have practiced self-compassion in code blues, at the bedside of dying patients, and in the boardroom.


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