Monday, February 13, 2023

Feeding Your Nursing Career

Your nursing career is a lot like your body; it needs to be fed, watered, exercised, and well-rested in order to function optimally. What kinds of nutrition does your career need? What nutritional deficits does your nursing career demonstrate? Are you willing to feed your career as well as you feed your own body?

How do you choose to optimize the nutrition that you feed to your body every day? Are you conscientious about eating enough fruits and vegetables? Do you monitor your intake of saturated fat? Are you drinking enough water and exercising? Do you avoid processed foods and soda? As you care for your body, you should also be caring for your nursing career.

Individualized Career Nutrition

Optimal nutrition for your nursing career may be quite dissimilar from that of your friends or colleagues. One nurse's career might thrive on continuing education, attending clinical conferences, and learning new bedside nursing skills. For another nurse, her career nutrition means claiming her place as a dancer, learning to integrate her love of dance with her love of being a caregiver, perhaps through offering movement classes for nurses in need of self-care.

Your nursing career nutrition may be spiritual, emotional, intellectual, psychological, or none of the above. While we may sometimes want a prescription for what we need to do with our professional journey (e.g.: get a job in med/surg, earn an MSN, get a doctorate, work in the ICU), not every nurse is going to travel the same path as her nurse brothers and sisters. This can seem like both a blessing and a curse.

Nutrition Changes With Time

Do you eat the same way when you're 55 as when you were 25? Probably not; in fact, I hope not. Our nutritional needs change over time, and those of us who are paying attention know when to change gears as we age. Let's face it, we can't overindulge in our 50s like we did in our teens; our bodies just can't take the punishment we inflicted on them back in the day.

So, if you need to alter your nutrition as you age and change, doesn't it follow that you would also need to alter your career's nutrition in the same manner?

When you're fresh out of nursing school, you're like a sponge; there's so much you haven't yet experienced; every catheterization, blood draw, and central line dressing change has the potential to be a revelation. After 20 years or so, perhaps there's less novelty, and the new clinical skills you can pick up along the way just don't bring the same level of excitement and accomplishment.

If you feel tapped out and your nursing career is feeling a little anemic or dehydrated, it may be time to inject something new into your career diet; in other words, get something new on your plate. Whether it's a class related directly to nursing or a program that teaches you how to launch a podcast, something novel can break the spell of your career ennui and open your eyes to something new and different.

When we get bored with a cookbook that we've used for ten years, do we just keep cooking the same old recipes over and over again? No, we don't; if we need a cookbook in order to make anything more than cereal and coffee, we'll likely go out and get ourselves another one and deliberately bring some novelty into the kitchen.

Your career's nutritional needs will change, just like your body will crave different types of foods at different stages of development.  Pay attention to what you're feeding your nursing career.

A Nutritional Assessment

Here's my prescription for a nutritional assessment of your career. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • How do I feed my nursing career? 
  • What is my career asking of me? 
  • Am I satisfied with how my nursing career is in this very moment? 
  • What am I craving as a nurse? 
  • What experiences/knowledge/skills would be fulfilling and enlivening? 
  • What would I like my nursing career to look like in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 
  • How can I optimize my career's nutritional intake?
A nutritional assessment of your nursing career means looking honestly and nakedly at what makes you tick as a nurse. If you've been hiding from your own feelings about your career as you silently burn out, this process could be somewhat painful. Those who have been avoiding their feelings about their lives as nurses may need to wash their face with cold water and brace for a dose of reality.

Doing such an assessment of your nursing career may look like leaving your last clinical position and opening a consulting practice, free from the bedside and nursing documentation. This assessment process could lead to a decision to (gulp!) go back to school and earn your PhD because, for better or worse, your professional goals simply aren't going to come to fruition without those three letters after your name.

Feed your Career What It Wants

Asking yourself these types of questions means being willing to listen to the answers and then feed your career what it's asking for. If your body was dehydrated, would you deny it sodium and water? If you had scurvy, would you choose to not eat foods rich in vitamin C? If you had diabetes, would you just shovel donuts into your mouth every day? If your career is calling for a certain diet, it's your duty and responsibility to give it what it needs to thrive.

Burnout and compassion fatigue don't just happen in a vacuum; if you can keep your career nutrition healthy, consume the right professional diet, and immerse yourself in a professional environment that truly feeds your soul, you're on the path to a healthy, well-fed, and satisfying nursing career.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University,, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. 

Living in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, Keith shares a magical life with his partner, Shada McKenzie, a gifted, empathic, and highly skilled traditional astrologer and reader of the tarot.

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