Monday, May 16, 2022

Be Your Very Own Nursing Career Detective

If you're an older nurse, you might remember TV shows and movies with a private eye or detective carrying a magnifying glass as he or she doggedly searched for clues to solve a perplexing case. You might remember Columbo, The Rockford Files, or any number of shows or movies. If you're a younger nurse, you might be more likely to think of Sherlock with actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

When it comes to your nursing career, you need to be your very own private eye or detective because good ol' Sherlock or Columbo won't be able to help you with this particular case.

So what does it take to be a nurse private eye? Let's explore how to develop your investigative skills.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

The root of the word detective is detect, which means to perceive, recognize, discern, or be aware of. And of course, the root of the word investigator is rather obvious.

Luckily, being your own private eye or detective is a lot like using the nursing process. What do investigators do? They collect evidence, also known as doing an assessment. The facts are your best friends in this endeavor; keep your emotions out of it at first as you gather the evidence -- you can feel into it later on in the process.

Your assessment of your nursing career is the gathering of facts and clues. And what are you looking for exactly?

Here are some potential questions to ask yourself -- this is only the beginning of the assessment, but you'll get the picture.
  • Am I happy in my nursing career? 
  • Do I feel well taken care of by my employer and colleagues? 
  • Is the culture of my workplace supportive, kind, and collaborative? 
  • Does my workstyle interfere with my lifestyle? 
  • Is there something I want that I don't have (in my work or my life)? 
  • How could I make my career even more satisfying and fun? 
  • Am I bored or engaged in my work and career? 
  • Are my contributions seen as valuable? 
  • Could I earn more money and receive more respect elsewhere? 
  • Is there room for advancement in my current workplace? 
  • What are my values? 
  • What is my personal mission as a nurse and human being? 
  • Does my work reflect my values and personal mission?
No Stone Unturned

As you complete your initial gathering of clues, you want to make sure you've left no stone unturned, just like the great detectives who don't give up until they solve the mystery or crime in question.

Remember my admonition to keep your emotions out of it at first? Well, that wasn't for nothing. Once you've gathered your data and assessed the current state of your nursing career, your next step is to dig a little deeper. The detective may remain consistently unflappable and non-emotional, but in this case you actually want to dig into your emotional life as another aspect of the investigation.

The questions about whether you're happy in your career and if you're respected and valued at work are important. If the answer is no, then you probably have some feelings about that. If you've been thrown under the bus at work, been the target of lateral violence or bullying, or otherwise had a negative experience, this can color the way you look at the world and any other potential opportunities. In such circumstances, you may be wearing lenses that seriously impair your ability to see reality clearly.

A negative workplace culture can sour your entire professional experience, and if bullying, harassment, or intimidation are a part of the mix, you may have some serious trauma on board. If you're feeling traumatized, cheated, scorned, or otherwise castigated, how will you be able to show up and shine in job interviews? Clearing your trauma and negativity paves the way for your future.

Working with a psychotherapist, counselor, or psychologist is not an admission of mental illness; rather, it's an admission that your work experience has taken a bite out of you, and you need to heal that wound and collect your thoughts. Seek such help when you know in your heart it's essential to your healing and well-being. There's no shame in that.

When you've ironed out and healed some of the emotional trauma caused by your career, you can then more healthily approach the process of creating a newly inspired professional trajectory. This increasingly healed place is where a career coach can help you with the goal-setting and motivational support that will hold you accountable and moving forward.

When I say that you should leave no stone unturned, I mean it. A so-called "geographic cure" may not work on its own, meaning that simply changing jobs can't always solve the underlying issues. Sometimes we develop knots in our psyche that need to be untangled, otherwise we carry our grudges, resentments, and hurts to the next job -- and the next and the next -- until we feel we'll never be happy in our work again. Healing those painful places is key to embracing your career with renewed trust, healthy boundaries, and a sense of mission and purpose.

It's Elementary, Watson

How do we know what to do next and solve the case? Well, dear Watson, it's elementary.

Some workplaces are simply too toxic to tolerate, and we simply need to parachute out of there and land in a new situation. Just leaving can work, but a little healing along the way can help.

Other workplaces may actually be just fine, but we may be carrying such negativity with us that we project it onto our colleagues and employers, creating a scenario where just can't let go of our seething anger about what's happened to us in the past. This is a recipe for chronic dissatisfaction.

If your workplace is deadly toxic and beyond the hope of change, you clearly need to get out of there. If you realize you're physically unhealthy and the source of your unhappiness is that you're in pain, out of shape, eating poorly, sleep-deprived, and not looking after yourself, then by all means do what needs to be done to turn that around. If an addiction is nipping at your heels, get help. If nights are killing you, switch to days in the interest of your survival as a nurse.

A healthy, fit nurse who feels good about his body, prioritizes his health, and loves his work will be much more effective on the job. That's elementary, for sure.

Your well-being in your career is elementary because you simply need to break down the elements of your career, workstyle, and lifestyle, and then do your due diligence and the hard work that will bring you to the next glorious chapter of your life and career.

For now, case closed. But keep your Sherlock Holmes hat and magnifying glass on hand -- you never know when your career will need further investigation down the road.


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. They regularly cavort with their remarkably adorable animal companions, George, Buck, and Lorca. You can find George the Cat on Instagram by using the hashtag #georgethecatsantafe. You can find Buck and Lorca wherever tasty treats and fun walks can be found. 

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