Part of my job is speaking with fellow nurses on a daily basis. I speak with nurses about the upsides and downsides of travel nursing, local contract nursing and staff nursing. I speak with nurses from all walks of life. Some nurses I speak with work in prisons, some in doctor’s offices, some in outpatient clinics and some in hospital settings.
We always talk about the structure of working in various settings. What is the pay, the scheduling, the benefits, the retirement packages and so on. Some like what they hear; others not at all and then there are those that want to “think about it”. While I will have varying degrees of responses to the pay and benefit structures there is always one common thread with each and every nurse I interact with. This thread is they are ALL looking for something else.
I literally speak with hundreds of nurses a week. The searing question in my mind is why so many are looking for something else. What is it they are looking for? For many years I fooled myself into thinking it was all about the money, or scheduling flexibility or benefits. I have come to the realization that I have been wrong on all counts. Oh sure, there will be a very small minority that will say I am wrong and that IS what I am looking for. But even with these nurses I think a little introspection will reveal that even that minority will eventually admit that they too are wrong.
So what is it that nurses ARE looking for? It is actually quite simple. Nurses are looking for things money can’t buy. They are looking for respect from peers, supervisors and patients. They are looking for conditions that make them feel good about their practice. This can include working environments with patient ratios that can allow them not only to med pass but to teach. This can also include work environments that provide tools to permit and encourage good patient care practices. Nurses are looking for work environments where co-workers are also friends. They are looking for employment opportunities where employers see value in them; employers that treat them as colleagues and not as employees. They are looking for employers that are willing to work with scheduling that can accommodate family needs of the nurse. Nurses want employers that recognize not just the importance of the nurse, but of the nurse’s family and outside life as well. Last (but not least) nurses want to walk out of work feeling that they did a good job and that they made a difference in someone else’s life - no matter how small.
Oh sure, money and benefits are important. However, in my many discussions with nurses from all walks of life I have found nurses that will walk away from high paying jobs because they never found what they are really looking for. By the same token I have found many nurses who will not leave a lower paying job because they have.
What truly strikes me as sad is how many nurses never really find what they are looking for. Not too long ago I spoke with a nurse in tears telling me that she has fifty thousand dollars in student loans and after one year in nursing she realizes she made a fifty thousand dollar mistake. While I was speaking with her I realized that not only did she not find what she was looking for but that she didn’t really even KNOW what she was looking for. Incredibly, she only realized that what she found was not what she was looking for.
Perhaps there will be a day when most employers will realize what is really important to nurses. While I am proud to say that I work with a company that does realize what is truly important to nurses and strives in all ways to provide it. It is also with sadness that I say: as of yet, large numbers of nurse employers have not. Perhaps one day that will change.