My first year as a nurse practitioner, I had some doubts about my career path. Anxious about the skills I needed to acquire to excel on the job, lacking confidence as a new graduate, and frustrated with my employer, there were a lot of factors causing me to question my decision to become an NP. Was this really the right job and ultimately career trajectory for me?

I talk with a lot of nurse practitioners who feel the same way. Balancing the business aspects of practice such as employer productivity demands, regulatory guidelines and necessities like charting and other paperwork with direct patient interaction is tough. Early in your nurse practitioner career, managing the ins and outs of working as an NP is even more overwhelming

I often share with MMU participants my own experience and frustration with these responsibilities. In my first nurse practitioner job, on the way to work, I used to imagine that I would purposefully pass my exit and keep driving through Tennessee, into Kentucky and maybe just never stop driving. At least, not until I was far enough away not to make it in to the clinic for the day. While I never bailed on my job, I am not alone in this stress, anxiety and burnout that affect nurse practitioners and physician assistants. But, I’m here to tell you there’s hope! 

If you’re having career doubts, how do you evaluate these to determine next steps? Is it possible to salvage your NP career satisfaction? Here are the steps to take as you evaluate your circumstances. 

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1. Recognize it’s OK to feel this way

Most nurse practitioners go through periods of doubt, burnout, stress, anxiety or adjustment in their careers. This is totally normal. If you’re having negative feelings about your career choices it’s OK. Acknowledging these feelings and your situation is the first step toward generating a solution. 

2. Identify the problem

There may be a number of reasons you aren’t so satisfied with your job or career right now. Pinpointing the exact reason is essential and will help you solve the problem and/or guide your next career move. Start to ask yourself questions about exactly why you are dissatisfied. You might consider: 

  • Do I lack the confidence or skills necessary to be successful or comfortable in my job? Do my professional/clinical abilities contribute to my dissatisfaction?
  • Am I frustrated with my employer or employment circumstances? Or, is my dissatisfaction based on my profession itself?
  • What makes me stressed out/uncomfortable/frustrated about my job? Are these things I can change? Would these things change if I worked elsewhere?
  • Are there logistics contributing to my dissatisfaction such as my schedule or commute?

Identifying the root cause of your nurse practitioner dissatisfaction can be a very freeing activity. You may realize that there’s a single coworker that’s getting you down. Or, one aspect of clinical practice that you don’t particularly like. Pinpointing the problem helps you get solutions in place and put the problem in perspective. 

3. Change the things you can, accept the things you can’t, decide if your situation is salvageable 

Small issues can really get in the way of job satisfaction. An attorney friend of mine, for example, really hated her job. As she went through this exercise, she realized there were a few logistics that were really ruining her day-to-day experience. With an office next to the break room, colleagues were constantly stopping by her desk on the way to grab a drink or snack interrupting her concentration. Not to mention, her office constantly smelled like whatever her coworkers were microwaving for lunch. A simple request for a different office transformed her work environment and contributed significantly to day-to-day job satisfaction. While the fix isn’t always that simple, it can be, or at least it can help. 

If you’re a nurse practitioner frustrated with your schedule, work environment or a colleague, speak up. In some cases, the root cause of your frustration may not be something you can change, but the simple realization that this frustration is really a small piece of your overall job responsibilities allows you to focus on the positive. 

4. Maintain perspective

Short-term discomfort is usually a requisite for long-term success. If you’re a new grad, for example, you’re going to need to hang in there and bear the challenges of the learning curve you face in your first years of practice before you can hope to feel comfortable and confident as a nurse practitioner. Avoid a fatalistic outlook – this is never helpful. One of the fantastic things about working as a nurse practitioner is that there are so many different paths for your career. You may work in legal nursing, you may teach, you may specialize, you can work in the inpatient or outpatient setting. Frustration with your current employer or practice setting doesn’t mean there isn’t an NP niche for you. 

5. Clarify long term goals

If you do decide that a change in employers or a shift in career or nurse practitioner specialty is in order, think about what you really want and need in your next position. Use your current situation to help evaluate your criteria for moving forward. Talk with trusted advisors about your situation. Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone in your uncertainty or dissatisfaction is helpful and encouraging. 

Recognize the benefit of your current situation. If you are frustrated or dissatisfied, continue to evaluate your circumstances. Develop your clinical knowledge and take advantage of learning opportunities to get as much out of your job as possible. List what you like and dislike about your current circumstances to help create your wishlist for your next position or career move. What patient populations do you enjoy working with? What qualities are you looking for in an employer? Are there any disease processes you particularly enjoy managing? Knowledge will help you avoid a career misstep in the future. 

Are you dissatisfied or frustrated with your nurse practitioner career? Have you pinpointed the reason?


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