Nurse practitioners at any level of experience can become overwhelmed with their jobs. Increasing patient volumes may challenge even the most efficient NP. Complex clinical cases can be difficult for new grad nurse practitioners to digest. And, starting a new position involving the navigation of different staffing structures and an unfamiliar EHR system can be downright difficult. So, what do you do when your nurse practitioner job becomes overwhelming?

I receive a lot of emails from nurse practitioners in this position. One new grad NP, for example, recently reached out to me letting me know she was now in her first nurse practitioner position and struggling. Clinically, she had a lot of questions. Not to mention, was unfamiliar with resources available to her patients as well as the clinic culture. Uncertainty as to what her schedule would hold day to day was a major stressor. Over the course of my nurse practitioner career, I’ve developed a few strategies for dealing with such overwhelming days on the job. Here’s how I approach them: 

Keep perspective

For utterly overwhelmed new grad NPs, I can say based on experience that time is on your side. Clinical knowledge comes with experience. As you establish yourself in a practice or hospital department, the norms for patient care in that setting become more and more familiar allowing for more efficient practice. So, be patient with yourself. Know that the days of asking question after question of your coworkers will pass. It’s tough to stick with your career in the initial months and even year of practice, but the nurse practitioners that do and make the most of the experience will benefit greatly on the backend. Hang in there!

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For experienced nurse practitioners, I can say the same. Changes in my hospital department, or a job transition to a new clinical setting have previously left me off of my NP game. With time, however, the unfamiliar becomes less and less overwhelming eventually leading to the mastery of a new skill set. Don’t be afraid to make a career transition. It may be uncomfortable, but you’ll come out a better nurse practitioner

Identity causes

The sensation of being overwhelmed in my nurse practitioner life is typically multifaceted in nature. More than one change or issue occurs simultaneously to tip me over the edge. So, I break down the problem. Is it my schedule that has me feeling frustrated? Or, is lack of support causing anxiety throughout my workday? Does a requirement for clinical support leave me dependent on other providers? Or, is it a combination of theses issues that has left me feeling in over my head? 

Once I’ve got a clear picture of the root causes of the sensation, I outline the steps that must be taken to minimize each problem. In some cases, this simply means adjusting my outlook or attitude. In others, it means asking for assistance or changes from administration. Most often, it means taking steps to improve my own performance. 

Break it down

Once I’ve taken the time to identify the issues that are causing me to feel overwhelmed, I break each down into a set of more manageable tasks. As a new graduate, for example, I would set an efficiency goal for each week- such as completing at least half of my charts on time. Or, I would choose one clinical component to focus on mastering. Finding a place to direct my attention rather than withering away in a feeling of hopelessness allowed me to see that I was making progress. It’s difficult to find yourself in a situation where you are challenged, particularly if the challenge is a big one like inexperience as an NP. So, break down the challenge into smaller pieces you can handle. Set goals for yourself as to when you will accomplish each of these smaller pieces and measure your progress.

Stay motivated

When you’re overwhelmed as a nurse practitioner, you have two options: to overcome the challenges you’re facing, or to shrink away without addressing them. Choosing the latter means you stagnate clinically and professionally as an NP. Accepting the challenge head on means you will grow in your career and reach a higher level in your practice. Which will you choose?

Whether you use goal setting for self-motivation of keep in touch with former nurse practitioner school classmates who spur you on, get a plan in place for staying motivated throughout this overwhelming time in your career. It will get better, I promise! 

When have you felt overwhelmed as a nurse practitioner?


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2 thoughts on “Overwhelmed? How I Cope as a Nurse Practitioner”

  1. I love the support in this post! This resonated with me in so many ways – 5 months into my first job and this is great advice. Breaking it down helps to make the tasks in front of you more manageable and less overwhelming. I keep reminding myself I won’t feel like this forever. Thanks!

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