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Nursing Job: Should I stay or should I go?

Nursing Job: Should I stay or should I go?

So, you’ve been at this for a minute. Nursing isn’t new anymore, and this last year was anything but fun, but how do you know when it’s time to move on from your current unit or hospital?

Burnout is real.

In a study of over 10,000 nurses, nurse burnout levels reached levels 4x higher than pre-COVID levels. Besides burnout, there are many reasons to change units or even hospitals. After a few draining 12-hour shifts, it can be hard to compare facts to your fragile emotions.

Nursing Job: Should I stay or should I go?

There are a few questions to ask yourself before you make any big decisions.

First, what do you want to do in 5 years? If you can’t commit to five, try three. If you can answer that question in minutes, without debating the merits of one choice vs. another, it’s time to take some steps in that direction. If you want to be an ER or ICU nurse, it’s time to apply. If they don’t take you now, ask yourself what steps you can take towards critical care. Have you taken advanced life support classes? Would working on a telemetry floor help give you monitoring experience you aren’t getting on med/surg? Does your dream job require a higher degree?

Next, think about what you gain from the opportunity.

Don’t forget, a higher salary isn’t the only goal. You will likely get a pay raise or a sign-on bonus when moving from one area to the next, but you may lose long-term benefits like pension plans, retirement packages or overload yourself with longer commutes. A few dollars an hour won’t stack up to a free 5% match on your retirement fund (you ARE contributing to a retirement fund, right?).

What about your insurance? Do you or your family rely on particular doctors or medications? Any hospital HR department should give you detailed information on coverage packages before you are hired. You may also want to consider tuition reimbursement.  Even if this isn’t your dream job, if your hospital is willing to pay for your tuition in full, it may make more sense to stay put for a few years and save yourself an average cost of 40,000 dollars for a BSN and even more for a MSN or higher.

The average nurse in 2020 made about 73,000 dollars, but averages don’t tell the whole story. This number is usually based on your entire compensation package, not the pay you actually bring home. This means the cost of your health insurance is factored in.  Typically, hospitals pay thousands more to insure their nurses than the nurse pays out of pocket for health insurance, making this a valuable part of your benefits packageCheck out this cool map to see how much your geographical area is likely to make. Are you underpaid or will you struggle to find a more lucrative position?

Is short-staffing or workload getting you down?

Ask yourself what it is you don’t like about your current position. Did your unit lose a bunch of nurses, so everyone is trying to share a heavier load? How long has it been like that? Bad nurse leaders don’t last long, and most staffing problems are cyclical. If it was good pre-pandemic, there are many reasons to believe it will get better. If it has been terrible for years, it’s time to get out.

Unless you feel unsafe, don’t let current circumstances dictate your future plans. Dissatisfaction might mean it is time to explore your options, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Be wary of big sign-on bonuses, as they sometimes mean the hospital can’t get staff to work there without them. Don’t trade one problem for another unless you’ve done your homework, which may mean doing a little social media stalking. Try to get some first-hand experiences from nurses who worked there recently. Is everyone leaving? Take that as the sign it is.

Nursing Job: Should I stay or should I go?

Finally, are you bored?

If you aren’t learning something every day (it doesn’t have to be a big thing) or dread going to work, you are probably experiencing burnout. While sometimes change can help with burnout, starting a new position is stressful! Instead of switching hospitals try switching roles. Can you go for a charge RN position, or can you switch to a different unit?  Sometimes it is better to test the waters before taking the leap.

Whatever your decision, there are thousands of nursing opportunities. You will find the right one for you with a bit of perseverance and planning!


Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN


Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?


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