Navigating the Nursing Journey with Purpose

Nurses, what’s next?

As a labor and delivery nurse, I am part of one of life’s biggest moments for families I may never meet again. This calling requires a positive attitude and an ability to instill hope throughout each 12-hour shift. But at a certain point, I found myself feeling exhausted and disconnected from this work, and all my effort to maintain a cheerful demeanor and engagement only exacerbated the burnout. This toxic positivity, or pressure to exude optimism, had a pernicious effect on my well-being and I found myself at the polar opposite state from compassion.

I heard chatter in the break room and hallways from colleagues who were experiencing similar exhaustion, and although I was keenly aware of the tools and resources available from my organization—employee assistance programs, wellness calendars, etcetera—I didn’t know any nurses who used them, and I didn’t know how participating in these activities would alleviate my burnout.

Reconnecting to your purpose.

Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

While pursuing my doctor of nursing practice degree, I began performing research on the impact of recognizing one’s purpose on job satisfaction and work engagement. Defining your purpose can be challenging. Simply saying “I am a labor and delivery nurse” doesn’t describe who I am, what I believe in, and where I see myself going.

Uncovering a deeper understanding of what my purpose is, the values that guide my decisions, and the passions that drive my future allowed me to view my work as part of my purpose.

Mindfulness at work.

A crucial step in this process was starting to practice mindfulness while I was at work. By recognizing how I was feeling during patient care, colleague interactions, and work tasks, I could better understand the root of my frustrations and reconnect to my purpose as a nurse. I refocused my attitude and thoughts from “being a nurse is my means to an end” to “educating and helping families safely bring new life into the world fulfills my purpose of teaching and serving others.” In doing so, began to feel more fulfilled by what I do and have a stronger connection with my patients.

Finding the right resources.

Self-actualization, the desire to become the best one can be, sits at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Before we grow in our purpose, we must first satisfy more basic needs like safety (job security), love and belonging (friendship), and esteem (recognition). This is when we can utilize the resources that are available to us as nurses. Tap into the resources that resonate with your specific needs: join virtual nurse communities, start a monthly unit outing, or get involved with organizational projects or volunteering.

But be discerning. Once I defined my purpose, I began to discover how I could continue to grow within it. This is when I joined a committee that aligned with my purpose and career goals, found a mentor who was in a role I aspired to, and began taking courses offered by my organization to earn certificates in areas that supported my professional development.

Aligning these resources to my purpose was key. There are plenty of programs, guides, and classes available to nurses, but if the intended outcome of the resource does not support my purpose, it will not help me feel more satisfied with my work. Think of this concept like shopping for a new pair of jeans. You wouldn’t try on a pair that aren’t your size, the right color, or the length you need.

Three steps to fulfillment at work:

  1. Define your purpose. Purpose is not something we can acquire; it’s what we create through our actions and beliefs. When we live our purpose, we feel energized and motivated, which enables us to make a greater impact on our work and connect more deeply with others. Defining your purpose is a personal experience and should reflect your preferred learning style. Reflective journaling, talking with colleagues, or taking notes in the moment are a great place to start and further explore the question, “What about my work, relationships, and interactions brings me joy, energy, or excitement?”
  2. Set your mindset. People who consider their work to be a calling that aligns with their purpose tend to be more satisfied with their work than those who see it as “just a job.” Setting your mindset is a skill; however, there are meaningful, achievable actions that can make our work feel purposeful. Setting intentions or short-term goals that align with your purpose can help you to continue growing in your career and connect work to your meaning.
  3. Find your resources. Once you have identified your purpose, align your work and activities with it by exploring the resources offered by your organization, associations, or online communities for nurses. Utilize these resources to continue growing within your purpose, experience greater satisfaction in your work, and empower yourself a s a nurse.

In times when motivation wanes, patient care becomes draining, and self-care feels like a second job, the symptoms of burnout can take hold. Knowing your purpose can serve as a guiding North Star, leading you to a life filled with meaning and fulfillment that is enhanced by your work and professional activities.

Jaclyn Davis, DNP, MSN, RN, a seasoned engagement coach with more than a decade of experience in nursing—labor and delivery, ICU, management, and executive wellness leadership—has a passion for helping nurses discover fulfillment in their profession. She recently graduated from Yale University with a doctorate of nursing practice in healthcare leadership, systems, and policy.

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