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4 Long-Time Nurses on Why They Left the Profession and What They Did Next


Long hours, stressful working conditions, and lots of pain and suffering. That’s what it feels like to be a nurse for thousands of providers. It’s no wonder nearly a third of all active nurses are considering leaving the profession, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Company.

But where do nurses go when they decide to quit? Finding another career after devoting so much of your life to healthcare can be nerve-wracking, but there is a life outside of nursing.

Lauran Syed worked as a registered nurse for ten years before becoming a life coach in Evergreen, Colorado. She decided to quit after the COVID-19 pandemic changed the trajectory of her career.

“There was an element of burnout that was still lingering when I decided to leave my job, as well as the fact that the pandemic upended our lives in New York,” Syed said. “I moved back to Colorado not only to be closer to my family but because I was stressed out in my job and with what felt like never-ending lockdowns and a completely changed lifestyle in the city.”

Nurses often cite stress as a major incentive for wanting to quit the profession. A recent study in JAMA Network Open identified the five top reasons nurses leave their jobs. They include stressful work environments, lack of leadership, burnout, inadequate staffing, and low pay.

Many nurses decide to transition to medical adjacent fields, albeit ones with less stressful work environments. But working as a physician assistant requires furthering your education.

Teri Dreher, a former ICU nurse, recently found a new career as a patient advocate. She describes her role as a cross between an “advanced practice nurse, a lawyer, and a bulldog,” for patients.

Her favorite part of nursing was standing up for her patients, so she decided to make it her full-time job.

“Patients and families tell us how grateful they are for our expertise every single day,” Dreher explained. “We go to the wall for our clients and protect them as if they were our own family members. Today, every person in America needs a patient advocate, and no one is better equipped than nurses. We know where the danger spots are and help our clients avoid them.”

Other former nurses are finding a home in the wellness and aesthetics industry. Jennifer Rushak Baldwin worked as a nurse practitioner before opening her own aesthetics studio as a way of improving her work-life balance.

“Medical aesthetics has given me a whole new avenue to serve people on both a medical and emotional level,” she says. “My work has offered me a renewed sense of meaning.”

But many ex-nurses are looking for careers outside of healthcare – even if it means putting their nursing skills on pause. Elizabeth Hanes was a registered nurse before becoming a business coach and consultant.

“The main key to successfully transitioning from full-time nurse to another career is to start the new career on a part-time basis, then gradually reduce your clinical hours as you increase the time you spend in the new career,” said Hanes. “This way, you don’t feel the financial pressure of needing to succeed immediately in your new career. You can take your time, learn the ropes, and gradually replace your existing income.” 

She managed to explore other careers on the side while still working full-time as a nurse. It gave her a chance to build up a list of clients and refine her skills before giving up the safety and comfort that comes with having stable employment. Hanes encourages other nurses who have fallen out of love with the profession to do the same.

“For example, if you want to start an infusion business, then learn as much as possible about how that industry works: regulations, insurance requirements, overhead costs, marketing, etc.,” she says. “The same is true for freelancing. Many people don’t realize that professional writing is a venerable industry, with a well-entrenched ecosystem that operates in very specific ways.”


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