Monday, May 01, 2017

A Nurse, A Wall, And A Bloody Forehead

As a nurse career coach, I hear a lot of stories, and some of those stories revolve around the way that nursing has sucked the life out of a nurse's ambition and self-confidence. And what I see is that nurses who feel demoralized and beaten down sometimes stay in jobs that are killing them because they just don't see another way. 

A Wall and a Nurse's Bloody Forehead

When a nurse is hitting a wall, she or he needs to move away from the wall and find a door or window to slip through. But what I see over and over again is nurses banging their heads against the same wall over and over until their proverbial foreheads are bloodied and raw. 
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. While such dogged, blind persistence can occasionally yield the desired outcome, I'm not a big fan of bloody foreheads and head injuries. 
You see, folks, it's not just about not banging your head against that wall -- sometimes you don't even recognize that the wall is there. But once you acknowledge its presence, it's all about what you do when you're desperate for change. 

Seeing The Wall

The first order of business is, of course, seeing the wall. Do you know you're trapped, or are you too caught up in misery, anxiety, ennui, or utter boredom that the wall is virtually invisible to you? 
If you can't see the wall, the moment you wake up and notice it's there can be breathtaking. You say, "Of course! I'm burnt out and tragically unhappy! Why couldn't I see it before?" 
When I was a nurse case manager for impoverished urban patients with HIV, Hepatitis C, addiction, mental illness, and other comorbidities in a city in Massachusetts, my wife eventually had to step in to inform me that I was burning out. I was so wrapped up in the drama, I couldn't even see it. I guess I had found a new normal, and that normal was totally abnormal and unhealthy. 
Sure, I was over-involved, codependent, and totally immersed in my patients' troubled lives, but I couldn't clearly see that the physical symptoms, depression, anxiety, and loss of joy were completely connected to my work. 
When I removed myself from that environment and those relationships, it was like a fresh breeze of clean air pouring into a musty house that had been sealed up for years. Thanks to Mary, I removed myself from the trap that I was in, and it was the beginning of an amazing journey of healing, self-discovery, and forging a new path for my career. 

If You Don't See A Door......

Some nurses tell me that they feel trapped. They also confirm that their foreheads are indeed bloodied and bruised from that darn wall-banging. However, they also tell me they don't see a way out. 
It's been said that if you can't find a door to knock on, you have to create the door. You can also knock down the wall with a sledgehammer, or just cut a window in the wall to let the light in.
To paraphrase the singer Leonard Cohen (may he rest in peace), light gets in through cracks in the wall. Those cracks could be created by inklings of doubt about the healthiness of this current job. It could be the fact that all of your favorite work buddies are abandoning ship at an alarming rate and leaving you in the dust. You may also get strongly nudged by your spouse (like I did) and told unequivocally that you're a miserable wretch and you need to give notice stat -- or else! 

Opportunity Doesn't Always Knock

Opportunity doesn't always come knocking; opportunity often needs to be created, manufactured, and manifested through hard work, elbow grease, and inspired action. 
You can create opportunity for yourself by trying the following: 
  • Connecting with other professionals on LinkedIn and chatting on the phone with them about the trends they see, the certifications they're pursuing, or the work that they love. 
  • Attending meetings of your local, regional, or state nursing association
  • Setting up meetings with your closest friends, associates, colleagues, and confidantes in order to brainstorm your next career move
  • Engage with a career coach to initiate change and be held accountable for your actions and plans
  • Attending a national conference related to a nursing specialty or career focus that interests you
  • Rejecting your own self-limiting beliefs that hold you back
  • Digging into social media, blogs, and podcasts that offer career inspiration, advice, new ideas, or windows into employment trends 

Apply A Bandage And Move On

If your forehead is currently bloodied and bruised from banging repeatedly against that wall, it's time to clean the area, cover it with a clean bandage, apply some ice. Once the first aid is done, you can then proceed to tear down the wall, cut a window in the wall, or create a door that you can walk right through to a brighter future. 
Staying in a position that no longer works for you is frankly a waste of precious time, as well as your talents and skills. If you're working in an environment where bullies rules the roost, that's another signal that getting out is paramount. And if you feel undervalued, overworked, underpaid, or otherwise disenfranchised as a nursing professional, that's another signal that greener pastures are calling.

When your forehead has healed and you've created a new opportunity for yourself, you may look back on the days of utter professional unhappiness and laugh at how long it took you to make a move. You may also then feel inspired to help respected but unhappy colleagues to follow in your inspired footsteps. 
Nurses are valuable, respected, and in high demand. You should be happy in your career and feel good about what you do and where you work. If the walls are in your way and you need a change, summon your courage and break on through to the other side (with a nod to the late Jim Morrison). 
Get out there and break down those walls, nurses. It's time.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is co-host of, 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,, 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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