Why I quit nursing to travel! (guidance for healthcare professionals)

why I quit nursing X-ray radiographer

Why did I quit? First things first. Nurses and healthcare professionals are THE most AMAZING, SELFLESS people. Second, I absolutely loved going into that hospital every day. So why did I quit? And why do so many quit nursing (or other healthcare careers)?

Why did I quit?

I quit after working for 5 and a half years in one of London’s busiest hospitals. I had made great friends there, had such happy memories, had learnt so much, but it was pretty stressful at times. Working shifts of 12 hours or more filled with equal bouts of non-stop adrenaline  and monotony takes it’s toll after a while. You needed to constantly concentrate and it felt like you couldn’t give the patients the time they deserved due to the never-ending list of other patients you needed to see.

Plus, whilst I put my heart into that career and always did my best, I didn’t LOVE it. I loved the environment I was in. If it wasn’t for my amazing colleagues and the laughs we would have (both inside and outside of work), I would have sacked it off years earlier. THEY made me love the job.

Despite this, I just knew there was more out there for me to discover and learn about. I wasn’t content staying in one place location-wise, friendship-circle wise, job-wise and in an emotional sense. I was too passionate for life to be stuck here just doing the motions. London was and will always be where my home is, but I needed to get out and discover the world for myself. I needed to meet other people who would challenge my way of thinking and everything I had ever known. And travel was the way to do this.

So you want to quit nursing?

Despite nursing being a hugely fulfilling and rewarding career, many nurses actually want to quit the profession. It is a demanding job, and even though they give their patients the absolute best care, it just never seems enough.

Leaving is a hard decision to make. You’re always selfless and helping others so it feels strange that you now want to put yourself first. You feel bad for wanting to be selfish and to do something for you. But you know you’re made for more.

You’re also worried what your colleagues will think of you for abandoning the career. Many will be happy for you for taking the plunge but some will be jealous you have the courage to do so, whilst they are still there, trapped and miserable. They’ll convince you that you’re making a terrible mistake or that you won’t be able to get another job. Ignore them and trust your gut.

Leaving nursing is a big decision. Especially if you don’t know what you’ll want to do instead. You trained so hard and for so long. But these skills will NEVER be wasted. Nobody can take your qualifications away from you. And you can ALWAYS come back if you miss it.

Some people realise once they start training and going on placements that nursing is not what they expect. They keep changing specialities thinking the next one will suit them, but it never turns out to be what they had in mind. They convince themselves to finish the Degree, then once they start working autonomously, having responsibility and not having to shadow someone constantly, that it will be different. And usually it is. But sometimes it isn’t. If you feel like it is just not for you, don’t feel guilty. Don’t worry what people will say, trust your instinct.

Some people realise straight away that nursing isn’t for them, whereas some have a crisis after years working as a nurse and realise they want to get out. Either way, don’t worry that you’ll be ‘too old’ to start another career. It’s best to start something new later on in life that you enjoy, than to stay in your comfort zone miserable. That comfort zone is a dangerous old place you know. Nothing grows in the comfort zone. You can ALWAYS learn new skills.

Things to bear in mind if you want to quit nursing:

  • Don’t leave without having some kind of a plan. If you want to just travel for a few months, make sure you have enough money saved. When you have a goal, it makes going into work and doing those extra shifts all the more bearable as you have a motivation (ie: saving to travel!).
  • What is it that makes you want to leave? Is it the pay, your colleagues, the actual job or the shifts? If you can identify the factor and then eliminate it (for example transfer wards/hospitals/departments), would you still want to quit?
  • Do you see yourself progressing in this career? If so, then quitting isn’t the answer.
  • What are your hobbies, your passions? Can you do a job that is related to them? Or do you know what kind of job you would like to do instead, but are anxious because of what people will say? Either way, be prepared for people to knock your ideas but stay focused on what you want to do and what makes you happy.

Why I quit being a healthcare professional to travel:

As I’ve said, I didn’t leave because I hated the job (which is the reason why most people quite nursing and other healthcare jobs). I did enjoy the job, but I didn’t want to spend 40 years of my life doing it, however great my colleagues were. I just knew there was another calling for me.

Always I have pushed myself to achieve more and get out of my comfort zone, and once I started to get complacent at the job I realised I needed to set myself another challenge. A completely new challenge. And the challenge was to live abroad and learn a foreign language. I realised that career wasn’t everything and that money doesn’t always bring happiness, but experiences do.

I had progressed up to Band 7 (senior level) within 3.5 years. That is an exceptionally fast rate: some people work their whole life and never make it to Band 7. But in London it is a lot easier to progress quickly as the turnover is high. I also was always doing a lot of extra things for the department which helped me progress very quickly.

Once I got to Band 7 and was there for a couple of years, I realised there was nowhere else left for me to go, unless I furthered my studies and did a Postgraduate (which I didn’t want to do) or went into Management, and I definitely didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day.

Why did I choose to do a Healthcare Degree?

At college I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was older. I was forever changing my mind. All I knew was that I wanted to help people. The time was coming when we were having to apply for University courses. My mum suggested I went into healthcare as she could see I loved looking after people. As I didn’t have a clear path, my mum helped me see that going into healthcare would be a good option, so she organised some work experience for me at the local hospital. I found it kind of boring but I didn’t really know what else to study at University and the deadline was coming up to send in our UCAS applications. All my friends seemed to have their minds made up on what they wanted to do, so I convinced myself that my future was in healthcare.

At the time (back in 2006), the NHS paid for the University tuition fees of all healthcare students (except doctors/dentists). This was a big swaying factor for me as the cost of University fees in the UK is shockingly high. Plus I didn’t want to come out of University with a loan and start my career in debt. At least if I didn’t like the course, or didn’t want to use my Degree once I had graduated, I would still have a useful Bachelors of Science Degree at the end of it.

I think it is very difficult for 17 year olds to know what they want to do when they are older. How can a few hours work experience determine whether you want to do that job for the next 40 years?

When did I realise nursing wasn’t for me?

Even before I started the course, and many times throughout my University Degree I had a feeling it wasn’t for me. I found the majority of the course very interesting and absolutely loved learning about all the anatomy but other parts of the course were darn-right boring and something just didn’t feel right. I put it down to the course and knew it would be better once I started working though.

Often I would tell my mum I wasn’t too keen on the course – there were too many assignments for what should be a practical job. She encouraged me to just finish the degree and then after that I could do whatever job I wanted, just so long as I got a degree. And she definitely had a point. Plus I had no clue what I wanted to do otherwise, so didn’t want to be stuck at square one again if I quit, so I carried on with the course.

How difficult was it doing a Healthcare Degree at University?

Studying for the course was hard. Most of my friends in University did subjects that required them only to be in University around 12-14 hours a week. Yet mine was very full on, being at uni all day for 4 days a week and then doing clinical experience in the hospital one day a week. Our course lasted 45 weeks each year, meaning we only got 3 or 4 weeks off in the summer, not like 3 or 4 months off like the rest of my friends! It was really tough, but knowing I would come out with a skill and no debt (as I worked every weekend to pay for my accommodation and spending money) was what kept me going.

graduation pic why I quit nursing
Me on Graduation Day

How did working as a qualified healthcare professional compare to being a student?

Towards the end of the course we were all applying for jobs. I had my heart set on Guys & St Thomas’ (GSTT) NHS Trust in Westminster, London. That was where I was going to work, no questions about it. I applied to 2 other London hospitals as a backup, but GSTT was the only one I wanted. I don’t know why – I had never even stepped foot in the place, I just felt some intense draw to there, I guess because of the location.

Working as a qualified Healthcare Professional (HCP) was so much better than being a student. You felt equal, like you mattered. Healthcare students always get ignored and get the horrible or boring, menial tasks. As a member of staff people respected you and trusted you. It was a huge learning curve and I really enjoyed the sense of responsibility, the sense of being a valued team member, and I guess that made me forget the sometimes dull monotonous tasks that came with the job. After a while though, the novelty wore off. The job definitely wasn’t glamorous and I knew there was no way I would spend my whole life looking after patients.

Did I quit because of the NHS?

Absolutely no way. I loved working in a busy NHS hospital. I am a huge supporter of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and will never tolerate anyone badmouthing it. That incredible rush you get through your body when you are working in Accident & Emergency or the operating theatres and a big trauma case comes in: I miss that. You’re not going to get that working in a private hospital, and whilst the fast pace of the NHS was tiring, I definitely got a kick out of the adrenaline.

Do I regret going into a healthcare job?

Absolutely NO WAY. That job made me so resilient, so determined, so independent and gave me so much confidence. I will always look back with happy memories. I don’t think anyone should ever feel like it was a waste of time studying anything in healthcare, even if they don’t enjoy it.

Do I miss working in healthcare?

Yes and no. I miss knowing that I have really made a difference to people’s lives. I miss the adrenaline and being in the thick of the action. And I also miss the banter. But I’m not sure my passion is to work in healthcare any more. As I mentioned, all I had ever wanted to do in my life was help people. Working in a hospital, as an au-pair and English teacher, as a flight attendant, as a writer. All totally different careers but all with one common thing: TO HELP PEOPLE. Maybe I was just put on this planet to help people in many different ways and not just one. I’m happy with that.

Will I go back to working as a Healthcare Professional?

Whenever I go back home old friends always ask: “do you think you’ll ever go back to working in the hospital?”. Truth is, I have no idea. I’ve been back to the hospital several times in the years since I have left, to see old colleagues and because quite frankly, that hospital really felt like home to me. So many memories as I walk along those corridors and through the waiting rooms. I definitely miss the feeling of empowerment the place gave me. I left on a high which was the best way to leave. Who knows if I’ll be back. I haven’t closed the door on my healthcare career. For now all I know is that there’s still a lot more things I want to achieve and try out before I settle down into a career again.

 

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