Monday, October 03, 2022

Your Nursing Job: The Same Old Bed of Nails or a Comfortable Old Shoe?

Some of us have nursing jobs that are feel like a bed of nails, and some of us nurses have jobs that feel like comfortable old shoes. Have you ever fallen into either of these categories in terms of your work experience as a nurse? I posit that either one can be detrimental to your career in the long run.

The Old Shoe Nursing Job

If you've been working at a decent enough nursing job for a number of years, it can begin to feel like an old worn shoe: comfortable, fraying at the edges, and perhaps less supportive than it used to be.

Old worn out shoe
Photo by Christian RoƟwag on Unsplash

Perhaps you've had a work experience that reflects at least several of the following characteristics:
  • You like your colleagues well enough
  • Your bosses are decent
  • The work you do is relatively enjoyable -- or at least tolerable
  • The salary is stagnant
  • Benefits (if you have them) are acceptable but not overwhelmingly generous
  • You're not learning very much over time
  • You feel like you're just this side of career stagnation
I hear from many nurses who are in a nursing position that matches a number of the above-named aspects. When a nurse feels stuck and in a rut, there are plenty of questions to ask, including but not limited to:
  • What about your current job is and is not satisfying? 
  • What kind of learning happens for you on the job? 
  • Do you feel like you're growing professionally or just marking time? 
  • Are you treated well enough? Could you find a more positive and supportive workplace culture? 
  • Do you feel that you're valued for what you do, or are you just a cog in an organizational wheel? 
  • If you think about leaving for another opportunity, what kinds of thoughts and feelings do you have? Is it just too scary to consider? 
  • Are you afraid to leave because it's relatively comfortable? Are you avoiding looking for another job because you feel beholden to stay for your colleagues and/or your patients? 
  • Do you simply not know what you'd rather do otherwise? 
These types of questions can lead to very interesting discussions about self worth, career development, personal and professional history, and how you view yourself as a healthcare professional and nurse.

An old shoe may be comfy and familiar, but it can lose its supportive structure and allow your feet to really take a beating. Is your current job kind of like that old running shoe you just can't let go of?

The Nursing Bed of Nails

bed of nails

A nursing job that feels like a bed of nails is just a bad fit. In this scenario, it hurts to get up and go to work. You feel pained, uncomfortable, and vaguely aware that this is a form of torture that would probably be good to escape from, but you may very well feel stuck and unable to move.

Don't get me wrong: a challenging job that pushes you beyond your current comfort zone isn't necessarily a bad thing. This type of situation can be good for your career as it can often motivate you to learn, grow, and take your skills and knowledge to the limit without violating your scope of practice or endangering your patients or your nursing license.

Having said that, many of us have likely been stuck in jobs that felt dangerous, edgy, beyond our ken, and simply too much to handle. A nursing job that pushes you too far and feels unnecessarily painful and difficult can have some of the following characteristics, as well as others not listed:
  • You feel as if you're regularly pushed to work beyond your scope of practice
  • A bully (or bullies) stalk the halls and make people's lives miserable
  • Management is inept, if not downright hostile
  • The workplace is riddled with gossip and backbiting
  • You don't readily connect with the patient population and feel like caring for them is like nails on a chalkboard
  • You don't feel challenged, and your skills, knowledge, and expertise are stagnating
  • You feel nauseous, anxious, or plainly fearful when you arrive to work
  • Overall, work is just a consistently unpleasant slog
Being miserable, stagnant, and pained at work is no picnic. And you know what? It's not necessary at all -- you always have the choice to make a move, look to a new horizon, or otherwise exit gracefully, stage left.

Do you have the gumption and wherewithal to leave? Even a bed of nails can feel oddly comfortable and familiar -- after all, the devil you know can sometimes be better than the devil you don't. Right?

Finding a New Career Frontier

walking towards a new frontier
Photo by Rob Bye on Unsplash

Whether your job feels like a bed of nails or a comfortable old shoe, there's often something that needs to change. If you're not making plans to leave, consider where your resistance is coming from. Is it fear? Is it discomfort with change? Or is there a lack of self-confidence that needs to be overcome?

Whatever the feeling is that's keeping you from busting out and moving on, consider the notion that change can be exciting, renewing, and occasionally revelatory. Fear can either be motivating or demotivating -- which would you prefer?

Consider that if early homo sapiens and other ancient human species were overly afraid of change, they never would have crossed the Bering Straight and populated far-flung continents. If Civil Rights leaders had been too fearful of the reactions of white supremacists, they never would have marched, boycotted, and pushed back against the egregiously racist status quo. And if Florence Nightingale didn't have the courage to buck the system of the good ol' boys of medicine and create biostatistics and crucial practices of infection control, modern nursing might still be in the Dark Ages, serving coffee to physicians who see us as nothing but unskilled non-professional handmaidens.

Consider these questions:
  • Is your current job satisfying? 
  • Are you learning enough to keep engaged and interested? 
  • Does your workplace feel congenial enough?
  • Is the workplace culture positive and supportive? 
  • Is management responsive and self-reflective? 
  • Is this job leading somewhere in the context of your career? 
A bed of nails and a comfy old shoe can be equally difficult to disengage from, albeit for different reasons. If you're stuck in either of these scenarios, what would it take to get out of bed or throw that old shoe in the trash? What would you need in order to take that leap of faith and move on?

Nimbleness, professional and personal growth, forward movement, and the willingness to pivot throughout your nursing career are hallmarks of living and working in the 21st-century healthcare universe -- are you ready for nice new nursing shoes and a more comfortable bed? If you're feeling like you're at the end of your rope, I'll hazard a guess that you're more than ready. What are you waiting for?


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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