The nursing profession has been in the spotlight for the last year and has received an enormous amount of recognition for the amazing work of nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, most recently nursing has dominated in the news due to the alarming rate that nurses are leaving the bedside. Our own survey found that 43% of respondents are considering leaving the healthcare profession in 2021. Nurses are suffering from burnout, and moral injury, due to the high levels of stress and increased workloads during the recent pandemic. Nurses were exposed to devastating mortality rates and often felt like lone soldiers at the bedside in COVID-19 patient rooms.
Nurses are notorious for having ‘grit’ and being ‘resilient’, but a lot of nurses are walking away from their jobs to take a break and take care of themselves. Self-care and preservation of mental health is more important than any amount of money.
There are a few ways to decrease the risk of nursing burnout and suffer from less moral injury as a registered nurse. RNs have the luxury and flexibility of when choosing when, where, and how they want to work.
Take Some Time Off
If a nurse can afford to take some time off completely, this is the way to go. Even if you stay home and don’t travel, the time away from the bedside can help recharge your mental batteries and give you some perspective. This can mean a two week break from work with paid time off, or a more extended time off if your job is flexible and will allow a leave of absence, or you are willing to leave your current job, or are between jobs.
This option may not be realistic for all nurses, since bills still need to be paid during time off. But, if you can swing it, you should. Take some time, visit with family and friends, and set a personal goal or two to achieve during your time away from work.
Take a Per Diem Nursing Job
Per diem, also known as prn nursing, is a special type of nursing that allows for a lot of flexibility, but lacks some of the benefits of permanent staff nursing. Per diem nurses work as needed (prn). Per diem nurses work for a facility and are usually committed to one or two shifts per pay period, which tends to be a 2 week timeframe. PRN nursing means nurses can still make money and not have to work full time! The strength in per diem is its flexibility.
Plus, per diem nursing rates are usually higher than full time staff rates because they are not fully benefited positions. The downside is that nurses don’t receive benefits like health insurance, as they would as a full time staff nurse. There are other options to continue these benefits including COBRA, state-provided insurance, or private-party provided insurance.
Working far less—nurses can combat burnout. They can take time to relax, get outside, get back to their personal lives, travel, and remember what is important to them. Per diem nursing is a nice compromise between working full time and taking a full break from work. Vivian has partnered with multiple healthcare systems across the country to bring per diem jobs to the site and give healthcare workers even more options to find the right job for them.
Consider Travel Nursing
Travel nursing has a long history of schedule flexibility, especially for time off in between assignments. It’s no secret that travel nurses are paid well, but most people don’t understand they are paid well because it is A LOT of hard work. From the onboarding process, to finding housing, to packing, to traveling to the assignment location, and finally starting the first day- it all gets pretty hectic and stressful. Add onto that with bigger patient loads, sicker patients, and all out pandemic chaos- and travel nursing became a lucrative, but very, very difficult job. This contributed to more nurses leaving the bedside during the pandemic to make more money elsewhere, and now that they have some cash saved, they are ready for a solid break from hospitals. Some travel nurses are even returning to permanent staff jobs for stability and to be close to home.
As the pandemic continues to wind down, travel nurse rates are returning to ‘normal’, but they are still much higher than what staff nurses make. Plus, travel nurses have the option to take unlimited amounts of (unpaid) time off between assignments, something that is not usual for a staff nurse. Travel nurses can opt to work in smaller hospitals within their specialty or to gain more experience by trying out a larger, academic institution. Travel nursing can provide a nice change of environment and staff that nurses work with, but nurses cannot change specialties while traveling, unless they have recent (within the last six months to 1 year) experience in another specialty. Although this may not be the perfect way to combat nurse burnout, sometimes a change of pace is a great place to start.
Change Nursing Specialties
Sometimes nurses just need a change in scenery to help them avoid or reduce burnout. Many nurses cannot afford to take extended periods of time off without accruing more stress in their lives. Working as a permanent staff nurse in a hospital, especially during 2020, was about as difficult and tough as it gets. For those nurses looking for a change, try checking out other, less acute, specialties in which you can practice outside of a hospital setting.
Specialties where nurses can work in outpatient clinics or even in people’s homes as home health nurses are appealing to a lot of RNs right now. Nurses are leaving the ICU in droves to work outpatient cardiac rehab and ambulatory care centers. Home health is exploding as both in-person and telehealth visits rise post pandemic.
Nurses with experience can easily apply for these jobs on Vivian and find a new specialty that can help reduce their work-related stress levels. Trying a new specialty may help nurses re-engage with their career and feel less compelled to leave the profession all together.