Where next?: how the pandemic has made nurses reconsider their careers

Whether leaving the register, changing roles or improving practice, considering well-being is vital

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Hospital admissions for patients with COVID-19 are rising, alongside staff sickness from the virus and fears of NHS services being overwhelmed.

There is a feeling of déjà vu and absolutely no one wants to be here again.

Nursing’s ‘Big Quit’ – why nurses are fleeing the profession

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus long-running workforce issues, such as short-staffing, fair pay and increasing demand for services.

It has also led many staff to seriously reconsider if they want to continue working in the NHS or social care anymore.

Some 13,945 nurses, midwives and nursing associates left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register between 1 April and 30 September 2021, representing a four-year high and leading some to label it nursing’s ‘Big Quit’.

But is voting with your feet the only way to be in charge of your own destiny? Are there other moves you can make for your career and – crucially – personal well-being?

Flexible working and changing roles within nursing

One small glimmer of hope over this past year came in the form of new rules on flexible working, allowing NHS nurses to make unlimited requests for different working patterns from their first day in a job.

‘I’m not saying working part-time or for plaudits (or peanuts) is going to solve all frustrations’

This was identified as a ‘major culture change’ by the RCN and something that could help staff to recover from the pandemic.

Similarly, the pandemic is prompting some nurses to change roles – we’ve responded to this with articles highlighting ways you can identify transferrable skills and find a new job or leave with good grace.

Other ways to find satisfaction in your career

There are also steps you can take to find personal and professional satisfaction or show appreciation for your team – for example, achieving recognition for high standards of practice, such as becoming a Queen’s Nurse if you work in the community, or by entering awards.

Barts Health NHS Trust’s adult critical care unit demonstrated an outstanding response to the capacity challenges of COVID-19, and their hard work saw them named RCN Nursing Awards 2021 Team of the Year.

I’m not saying working part-time or for plaudits (or peanuts) is going to solve all frustrations.

But recognising achievements, however big or small, and taking action for your own well-being could help as we seek to find a way out of this pandemic.