HealthJob is supported by readers. Some of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
Nearly everyone reaches a point in a job when it feels time to quit. This could be related to work stress, a personality conflict, work schedule, a new job opportunity or outside influences. Pay is a factor in some areas of the country, where travel and temporary nurses hired by staffing companies can earn more than their permanent counterparts. Finding the right way to quit a nursing job can mean better career opportunities in the future, whether it’s through the same or a different employer.
Why Consider a Job Change?
There are dozens of reasons why someone might feel it’s time to leave their job, some of which are easily fixed and others that can weigh heavily and impact career enjoyment. Some are factors experienced with any job such as management styles, job expectations and family circumstances. Yet with nursing, there are additional contributors that might influence someone to quit.
Jamie Marshall, MSN RN, is clinical operations manager for the intensive care unit at Indiana University Health North Hospital. She cites fatigue, moral stress, burnout and reduced capacity to care as major concerns that can contribute to a nurse wanting to leave their current job.
“Anytime you’re not excited to come to work, maybe look at what is impacting your view of not being engaged and happy,” Marshall said. “You definitely want to be somewhere that’s fulfilling and is a joy to come to work.”
According to a survey from Morning Consult in 2021, 18 percent of health care workers quit their jobs due to the pandemic while another 12 percent were laid off. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses conducted a study last year of more than 6,000 acute and critical care nurses which indicated that two-thirds have considered leaving the profession.
Marshall recognizes that fatigue and moral distress are more prevalent now than in prior years.
“I definitely have had staff opt to come out of the ICU environment because it has been so intense in terms of the death and the dying,” she said. Marshall has helped nurses find other avenues to continue in nursing while removing elements that make the job overly stressful.
Alternatives to Quitting a Job
Assessing the parts of work that are fulfilling and which aren’t is a first step toward determining whether to quit a job. Making adjustments to a current job, such as working a different shift, might be a better option than quitting. Many departments have resources available to help nurses work through some of these challenges through counseling or mentoring.
Kathleen Poetz, RN BSN, currently works in pre-admission testing at IU Health. Over her 30 years in nursing she has left jobs for a variety of reasons, from career advancement to maternity leave. She had been working in preoperative care until the pandemic created delays in operations, then a surge to address the backlog. Poetz began feeling overwhelmed by the additional hours but was able to move to a different nursing job within IU Health. A temporary break from nursing more than a decade earlier made her realize how much she enjoys being a nurse.
“I knew that I was meant to take care of people,” Poetz said.
Another alternative might require more education. Nurses can pursue many avenues through advanced degrees or certification, such as a nurse anesthetist, a nurse practitioner or critical nurse specialist.
“That’s the great thing about healthcare, and nursing in particular, there is a lot of flexibility. There is a lot of opportunity for development,” Marshall said. “If someone has a mentor to talk about it, what are the things you like best about your job and what role specifically highlights those things that you love best about it.”
How to Know When it’s Time to Quit
One of the most significant experiences for Poetz was her first nursing job, when she questioned when it was time to quit.
“I was young, and I was disillusioned,” she said. After completing nursing school she anticipated spending most of her time building relationships with patients and directly caring for them. Her first job was so different that she found herself disappointed every day.
“I wasn’t the best employee. I was coming to work, but I was angry,” she said. “I knew my reputation as a nurse was at stake.”
That’s when she knew it was time to leave. She quickly found another position that allowed her to directly work with patients.
Marshall acknowledges that some turnover is positive, as people move into new roles or further their education. Because each person’s career needs and job satisfaction can be completely different, she tries to ensure nurses can find the best position that will help them develop in their career and be satisfied with their job.
How to Quit
Television and movies glamorize leaving a challenging job in a burst of glory, but realistically a departure should remain professional to ensure future employment. Employers often ask job seekers for referrals, and it’s impossible to predict whether a former colleague will be the one eventually hiring.
Giving an employer enough time to find a replacement is one way a nurse can show courtesy. In many professions that means a minimum of two weeks’ notice. In nursing, many organizations request two weeks although four weeks is preferred to allow the employer time to find and train a replacement. Marshall said that for known departures, such as maternity leave or an out-of-state move, early notice is appreciated so there’s plenty of time to fill the opening.
After deciding to quit, a nurse should provide notice to their immediate supervisor. It can be through a written letter, email or verbally. Marshall said most employers prefer it be communicated both in writing and verbally. A printed copy can go on file while a personal conversation opens the dialogue to identify other reasons behind the departure.
Many organizations will schedule an exit interview. While this can be an opportunity to share challenges of the job or difficulties with certain colleagues, it’s not the time to gossip or overly vent. Stick to facts and identify any communication that might have occurred to resolve an issue. By keeping the conversation positive and constructive, the organization may be able to find practical solutions to retain future candidates. Resisting the urge to complain about conditions keeps future opportunities open.
Feeling fulfilled in any nursing position is important, in particular to ensure a job is the right fit to provide the best care for patients. Nurses shouldn’t feel stuck in any one job, especially if able to shift roles within the same organization. By identifying the pluses and minuses, there’s a greater chance for a better fit with a future job. No matter what, communicating with an employer, giving plenty of notice, and maintaining a professional attitude will go a long way in furthering a nurses’ career.