Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Your Nursing Career Mitochondria

We all know that mitochondria are the energy-producing powerhouses within each cell of our bodies, synthesizing ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for us around the clock. In terms of your nursing career, what are the mitochondria that power your engine? What impetus, desires, goals, or motivations drive you forward? If you need to stoke the fire of your nursing career, the spark cannot be created in a vacuum.


A nursing career needs a great deal of feeding and watering; there are so many moving parts, and there's a lot to do in order to keep them all happy and flourishing. In the course of your career, you will need personal and professional fulfillment, career-related accomplishment, purpose, and a sense of belonging; these are the building blocks of the fire in your nursing belly. If this is the case, what are the mitochondrial inhabitants of your career that consistently provide the spark of energy to keep going?

The Driving Force

Some of your nursing career mitochondria may originate from the place from which you first decided to become a nurse. You may have been inspired by a family member (I had three nurses on my father's side of the family), or perhaps by a friend who was a nurse. I can't tell you, dear Reader, how many nurses have told me over the years that they were thunderstruck by the compassionate nursing care that they witnessed being provided to a loved one, and this was the impetus for pursuing this particular career path.

If you no longer resonate with your nursing career or feel as if you've lost your nurse mojo, this may necessitate revisiting the original driving force behind your becoming a nurse in the first place. If your original motivations for entering the profession no longer hold true for you in the present, some soul searching may reveal where you need to look next for inspiration. That soul searching may reveal that you're ready to leave nursing and pursue something new, and that's perfectly fine if it's your reality; however, if you have simply moved into another stage of your career and need to find a new fuel for your nursing engine, that can be done.

Dig Deeper

Let's say you basically went into nursing because you had the goal of helping people; those were your emotional marching orders for applying to nursing school and going through the necessary steps to get your license and begin practicing.  There were no grand plans or lofty ideals, but a deep-seated desire to be of service.

Now, twenty-five years into your career, you're obviously older and more mature, and perhaps your desire to serve others no longer feels like enough. You've sat with the dying, tended to the ill, comforted the bereft, and accomplished everything you ever wanted to in the course of your satisfying career. You still like being a kind and compassionate nurse, but you find that the fire has gone out and your mitochondria are no longer making the ATP you need to move forward with positive energy and enthusiasm.

Perhaps you were 26 when you began, and now at 51, your life and what you want out of it have changed. Perhaps your children are now grown and out of the house and your parents have passed away. Maybe you've gotten divorced, or maybe you just feel like a different person than you were when you first held that stethoscope.

Well, at this point you need to dig deeper to find where your nursing career mitochondria are going to come from now. What are the factors that will create a new source of energy and career ATP? From where do your motivation and satisfaction spring now? This may need to be a soul-searching process; it need not be painful, but some introspection and deep thought and radical honesty may be what's called for to get you there.

Nurse Keith's Journey

For myself, I am indeed 52 at the time of this writing, and after 21 years as a clinically oriented nurse in home care, hospice, public health, and ambulatory case management, I have chosen to not have a clinical position at this time. Although I do love working with patients and families, I've realized that the impact I want to have in the world goes beyond what I can accomplish in the one-to-one intimacy of the nurse-patient or nurse-family relationship. I now need something more universal, and that's what I've spent the last ten years building as I searched deep inside myself for what was next.

At this juncture, my mission is to reach nursing professionals through writing, podcasting, and creating media platforms that provide inspiration, education, and motivation for nurses. I want nurses to feel supported as professionals, and I love speaking directly to them about their struggles and pain and how to overcome or subvert them. This is my current joy; this is what brings me my nursing mojo, the fuel of my career.

While I no longer care for patients, I believe my work in helping nurses find more meaning and satisfaction in their careers is impacting many more patients than I could ever touch myself; my hope and vision is that nurses who have had a positive experience interacting with me or my words will go out there and be even more inspired to do and be their best. Patients feel it when we nurses are inspired and present; if I can play even a tiny part in one nurse achieving that, I'm totally satisfied and my work is worthwhile.

My career mitochondria are different now, but the feelings of satisfaction and joy are the same; I've simply found a new means to a similar end.

It's Your Turn

So, nurses, now it's your turn to dig deep. Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Are my original motivations for becoming a nurse still equally powerful for me now? 
  2. In terms of my nursing mojo, is it still there? Have I lost my mojo, or is it just a little blunted? 
  3. When I first became a nurse, my greatest satisfaction came from _____________. At this point in my career, my greatest satisfaction comes from __________________. 
  4. If I feel I need something new to reinvigorate my career mitochondria, do I believe that this new thing will still have something to do with nursing? 
  5. If I realize that my new career mitochondria can most readily be found outside of nursing, am I willing to reconcile myself with that fact and pursue that path? 
  6. On a scale of 1-10 (since nurses love 1-10 scales), my career satisfaction is currently a ____. 
  7. Based on my current level of satisfaction, am I willing to do whatever it takes to get that number up to an 8 or 9, even if it means taking radical and courageous action?
These may not be easy questions for you to answer, but I believe they're crucial. I also believe that they need to be pondered seriously and frequently throughout your nursing career. Your satisfaction is not a static entity; rather, it's a moving target on a continually transformational continuum. Ongoing self-examination is one key to career fulfillment over time. Again, your career mitochondria are not always going to magically appear when you need to refresh them; you have to feed them, water them, and provide an environment where they can thrive and multiply with abandon.

Find your nursing mojo; stoke the fires from which your career mitochondria are born. Those happy and well-fed mitochondria will pump out your career ATP in enormous bursts of energy. Create a career that isn't based on complacency or low-level burnout, but instead on reveling in the joy of work that puts food on your table while feeding your soul and satisfying your heart of hearts.

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Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of "Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century," and has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org,  MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives.

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