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  • Writer's pictureMegan Filoramo

Looking in the wrong place?

Let’s face it, nurses are having a tough time, many can’t take it anymore and are leaving the profession. It’s heartbreaking when you think of it, to work so hard to become something to then feel so terrible that the only option seems to be to give it up. 

I think we all understand at our core that it’s more than just changing a job, it’s an identity shift, a loss. We all know that the majority of the nurses leaving the profession are not doing so to follow another passion, they are leaving as a last ditch effort to help themselves.

Don’t believe me? Look at all the research. The top reason for nurses leaving the workforce is burnout with secondary factors being a stressful work environment and working in a hospital. The top contributors to burnout are increased workloads, lack of support from leadership, and lack of collaboration or sense of team.

So obviously, once we have all this data, we start working on solving these things. 

However, there is another, less taken approach, that may have a more immediate impact on our day to day experience.

We know what is going wrong, but do we know what is going right?

This is exactly what one study looked at. Instead of interviewing all of the nurses that had left or thought of leaving, they asked the nurses who stayed WHY THEY STAYED!

It is what Dan and Chip Heath in their book Switch, How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, describe as the bright spot approach. Instead of focusing solely on all the problems and brainstorming solutions for them, what happens if we focus on the Bright Spots, the things that are going right, despite the circumstances?

It seems obvious but with the human negativity bias, it’s not our default programming to look for what’s working. After all, if it’s working why would we spend our mental capacity there?

We miss a huge opportunity if we don’t look there. Magnifying what’s working may eliminate the need to solve for some of the things that aren’t working.

Through the study of nurses who stayed in the profession, they found that when they interviewed nurses who were overworked and stressed but stayed in the profession a shift occurred when they asked the nurses what they were good at and about the meaning of their work. Nurses who stayed had a deep connection to the profession of nursing, they tapped into their identity and skills as nurses. They focused on what was going RIGHT. This work done by Whitney and Troste-Bloom was the beginning of Appreciative Inquiry (if you want something to google for more info).

So how do we grow our identity as nurses? It brings us back to why we do what we do and reminding ourselves that we are really good at it. It is building up our strengths.

This isn’t something that we are socialized to talk about,  how great we are at our jobs (especially if we are women). But as nurses we continue to build our strengths and skill sets every day. With all the changes and advances in medicine we are in a constant state of growth.  

Did you ever stop to think about that?

If you want a quick way to build up how you feel at work, make a list of all the things you are good at, all the things that you do that are important at work. And don’t just list the tasks, list the intangibles: listening to a patient’s story for the third time, looking something up that you don’t understand fully, advocating for a patient’s pain management needs, explaining medications to a patient until they have a good understanding and noticing when they don’t, supporting a coworker who is struggling. See if you can fill up a whole notebook page (or at least every inch of a post-it.) You don’t need to show it to anybody, you need to show it to yourself.

This is a protective measure. We need to protect our own. We need to help build each other up so we can keep ourselves from drowning. 

As Marty Seligman, father of positive psychology, said, “Treatment is more than just fixing what is wrong, it is building what is right.”

There is A LOT right with you :)

Let’s start there. 


Something just for you

If you missed it, this is our year to reclaim the joy of nursing (as proclaimed by me). On the first Thursday of each month, I am hosting a free online event. . Each month we will explore another approach to feeling better at work. We will share our experiences and do some coaching. 

It’s a once a month opportunity to join a community of nurses and get some of the support and ideas that you need to keep doing this work. Just click here to register for the next event on February 1st at 7pm EST.

References (in case you wanted them)

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: how to change things when change is hard. New York, Broadway Books.

Shah MK, Gandrakota N, Cimiotti JP, Ghose N, Moore M, Ali MK. Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Nurse Burnout in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(2):e2036469. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.36469

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