10 Ways to Be a Better Nurse


10 Ways to Be a Better Nurse

These mind, body and spirit strategies will recharge your career

By Elizabeth Scala, RN, MSN, MBA
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Jane Doe, RN, has been a nurse for 18 years, working on the same unit for the past 10. Lately, Jane has been feeling unhappy, but she cannot quite figure out why. Is it boredom from doing the same thing day in and day out? Could it be frustration — even jealousy — as she watches others on her unit receive promotions or go on to do new and exciting things with their careers? Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above — and more.

Well, there’s good news for Jane. It’s that time of year again: a time when we start fresh, set goals and get involved in new endeavors. Jane can take action and fall in love with her nursing career all over again. But how? What can Jane do to reinvent herself in 2017? Here are 10 ways for Jane — and you — to be a better nurse in the new year, with a whole-person focus!



Jane has been irritated by the turnover on her unit. New nurses come … and then they go. She wonders, “Why am I still here? Why can’t I find something better?” Here are four ways to shake off that sense of professional stagnation:

1. Take a non-nursing class. One way for Jane to better herself as a nurse and improve her prospects is to take a class, training, webinar or workshop OUTSIDE of nursing. Surprisingly, non-nursing educational experience can make you much more marketable. If you are looking for a new nursing position, it’s important to showcase all the talents and skills you possess, including ones not directly related to nursing practice. Taking a course in leadership, public speaking or technology will round out your skillset while stimulating your mind.

2. Attend a conference. Attending a conference is another great way for Jane to spice things up, learn information that she did not know existed, get inspired and bring new ideas back to her workplace. Nurses have opportunities galore to attend conferences — most professional organizations hold them at least once a year. Meetings of international nursing groups may even let you travel outside the country to mix, mingle and learn from colleagues around the world. Again, be sure to also consider conferences that are not strictly nursing-related. There are safety summits, research symposiums and leadership events that we can all benefit from.

3. Get certified. If Jane has worked 10 years on the same unit, it may be time for her to take her career to the next level. Getting certified in her specialty — or adding new certifications to the ones she already has — can add to her knowledge base and reenergize her professionally. Speaking to nurses across the country, I have found that we all have one thing in common: We LOVE to learn! Specialty certifications give you a chance to soak up new information in a form you can put on your resume.

4. Stretch yourself. For nurses like Jane, nursing can feel like running on a treadmill: always moving without ever really going anyplace. Sometimes, the answer is to add more to your plate. Serving on committees, joining in evidence-based practice projects or volunteering to be a peer reviewer for a nursing journal can help you look beyond the daily grind and identify new options and opportunities. The sky’s the limit! If you’re not sure where to begin, ask your supervisor, peer mentor or nurse manager. There are undoubtedly loads of projects that could use your help this year — and nursing leaders love it when you step up to do more. 

A personal anecdote: As a young psych nurse, I was concerned about the noise on our unit. Since we wanted our patients out of bed and in groups during the day, I felt it was especially important for them to rest during the night. That was not easy because my unit was LOUD. In particular, the staff were loud, with no consideration for the patients’ need for a quiet, restful healing environment. Noise was one of the questions on the patient satisfaction surveys at that time, so I decided to volunteer to serve on the department’s patient satisfaction committee. We created an entire noise campaign, using buttons, signs and even decibel meters to encourage staff to work on making the unit more quiet. Through that project, I was afforded the opportunity to present a poster at a conference of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. I believe that sparked my interest in scholarly work, presenting and publishing.



As nurses, we must constantly pay attention to work-life balance. When work is the only thing on the calendar, work is the only thing that will get done. That is what has happened to Jane: Nursing fills up her entire existence, which leaves her feeling bored and unfulfilled. These next three suggestions can help combat that lassitude:

5. Find an activity. After being a nurse for 18 years, Jane has let go of the hobbies she used to enjoy. Growing up, she was an avid swimmer, winning competitions for her school and town. Taking up swimming again might not directly make her a better nurse, but if she reignites her passions outside of work, she will feel much more energized and ready to care for patients each day. Finding something that you can do outside of work will reinvigorate your body and help balance your day. (Getting some exercise wouldn’t hurt either!)

6. Eat better. Nurses tend to be creatures of habit, and one of those habits is eating food in the workplace that is anything but healthy. Jane’s customary morning donuts and the vending machine cookies she always buys after lunch spike her blood sugar and then leave her crashing and burning for the rest of her shift. There is a better way: She can spend a few hours on her day off planning some healthy meals and snacks that are easy to take to work. When your body is fueled with healthy nutrients, your mind can focus better and your energy will stay more consistent.

7. Turn off the devices. The influx of tablets and mobile devices has made it harder than ever for Jane to power down. Even at bedtime, she’s still checking her social media and playing mobile games on her phone. A goal she may want to set for herself in the new year is to spend an hour a day away from her smartphone, pager and tablet. Instead, she should try to get outside, read a book and look for alternative ways to stimulate her mind and recharge her body.

Another anecdote: Last year, I did a presentation on burnout for a group of emergency department nursing leaders. One of them revealed to us that she slept with her laptop on her nightstand. Whenever an alert would pop up, she would wake up and tend to it right then and there. I almost fell out of my chair! To be the best nurse that you can be, you need to rest. Your body and your mind need time to shut down and reboot. If you are always working even when you should be asleep, you will never be at your best.



For Jane, the heart of the matter is that she no longer finds meaning or value in her work. Today’s healthcare environment can make it challenging to do so — I hear from so many nurses who feel drained by the simple fact that they do not have time to actually BE with their patients. These last three suggestions can help reclaim that sense of purpose:

8. Volunteer. If Jane’s work does not afford her enough opportunities to connect with others in a meaningful way, she could spend a few hours a week swinging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity or playing with the puppies at the local animal shelter. There are always other people (and animals) who need our help, especially if we are willing to get our hands dirty. Volunteering is a way to rekindle that spark and remind ourselves of the value of caring.

9. Reflect and revisit. To me, it sounds like Jane needs to check in with her career goals, set some targets and prioritize. This time of year is great for goal-setting and making new plans. Jane should reflect back on her 18-year career, appreciating how far she has come and how much she has learned, and then honestly ask herself, “What is next for me? What do I want to be doing in six months, one year and three years from today?” Jane will be a better nurse in the new year if she takes a few moments to honestly answer those questions. From there, she can decide what steps she needs to take to move herself forward towards her professional goals.

10. Network. Malaise — personal or professional — thrives in isolation. If Jane sets up a profile on LinkedIn and starts connecting with other nurses across the country, she can get involved in discussion groups, learn new things from her peers and network. I cannot stress this final point enough: Network! Network in person. Network online. Network in your organization and outside of it. The more people you can meet, the more doors are opened for you. Connecting with other nurses can bring new life to your career!

Keynote speaker and Nurse’s Week conference host Elizabeth Scala, RN, MSN, MBA, is the bestselling author of Nursing from Within. Her website is www.elizabethscala.com.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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