Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Nursing Job

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Education Development Nurse, Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse walks and thinks about reasons for leaving a nursing job.

Bullied. Kicked. Spat at. Cussed at. Threatened. Scratched. Ridiculed. If you experienced this in your workplace, would you stay or would you go? Would your answer change if we were considering the reasons for leaving a nursing job versus a job in a corporate setting?

The unfortunate truth is that many nurses face this treatment daily, and with the pervasiveness of this culture, sometimes they can’t escape it even with a job change. It’s no wonder why there’s such a large percentage of nurses leaving the profession.

But what about those who stay? What about nurses who remain in the profession, but change jobs? The reasons that cause people to leave a job tend to be pretty similar — from needing a different schedule to receiving a better salary offer — but there are some specific reasons for leaving a nursing job in particular. We’ll jump into these below.

Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Job in Nursing

  1. Toxic work environment
  2. Scheduling
  3. Salary
  4. Career change
  5. Advancing career
  6. Unethical practices
  7. Burnout
  8. Lack of resources
  9. Tending to health
  10. Poor management

1. Toxic Work Environment

One of the most common reasons a nurse might leave their job is due to a toxic, stressful workplace environment. The healthcare industry has been ranked as the most dangerous profession due to the prevalence of workplace violence. When compared to other professions, nurses are more likely to experience physical, sexual, and psychological injury.

Can you relate? Nursing can be incredibly stressful and taxing on the body, even in units with a supportive nursing culture. Once you add in violence (from patients, patients’ family members, or coworkers), mistreatment, and bullying — you can see why this leads some nurses to leave their job. If you’re not feeling supported in your current nursing role, know that you don’t have to tolerate it.

2. Scheduling

The variety of nursing schedules has its perks and pitfalls. While working 12-hr shifts can bring flexibility to some nurses’ lifestyles, others need a schedule that provides off-duty evenings and weekends. Adding in major life changes, such as having children, can make working holidays less enjoyable and have nurses searching for a change.

You may have personal reasons for leaving a job or simply want a different pace of work. That’s okay. As your life changes, naturally your scheduling needs may too. You don’t have to make your life fit your job — you can find jobs that fit your life.

3. Salary

Let’s face it — you should be compensated for the experience, degree, and expertise that you bring to the profession. When you receive an offer for a more attractive salary, it logically follows that you would consider changing jobs, especially if some of the other aspects of nursing are out of your control (i.e., working short-staffed, high workload, etc.).

Is salary among the common reasons for leaving a nursing job? A survey found that pay and benefits are the second most common reason to leave a job, with 58% of nurses who changed roles stating that they moved for higher pay.

4. Career Change

In nursing, it’s widely acceptable, and even encouraged, to change specialities. It helps you become a more well-rounded nurse. Some nurses start out in the emergency department, then realize it’s not the specialty for them, and move to another unit like telemetry.

In this instance, the career change is not leaving the nursing profession, but leaving that particular nursing specialty. Nursing is full of opportunities — from remote work to non bedside roles — you can make a pretty big shift in your career while still using your nursing license.

5. Advancing Career

Perhaps you really love your job, team, specialty, and patient population — but you have a desire for growth. It’s pretty common for people of any profession to make a job change in order to advance their career. In nursing, this may look like switching from being a bedside nurse to a nursing manager in the same unit or taking a break from working and going back to school.

6. Unethical Practices

Initially this may sound similar to a toxic work environment, however, unethical practices are slightly different. While toxic dynamics are focused on clear harm done by individuals, unethical practices are often more nuanced. They can be built into policy and systems, stay cloaked in good intentions, and exist beyond the individual’s control.

What does this look like? Consider a nurse who consistently works short-staffed and is unable to provide the quality of care that their patients deserve or meet their professional standards. Other examples of unethical practices include:

  • Witnessing or being asked to participate in coercive behaviors (i.e., pushing a patient to receive medical care that goes against their cultural beliefs)
  • End-of-life decisions (i.e., prolonging life with fatal prognosis or watching patients pass alone)
  • Improper consent (i.e., a physician rushing through surgical procedure education and leaving without time for the patient to ask questions)
  • Lack of interpreter services (i.e., a patient who speaks sign language but only has an interpreter during the day, leaving the night-shift nurse unable to communicate with the patient)
  • Inappropriate nurse–patient ratios (i.e., a critical care nurse with three unstable patients, two of which require assessments every 15 minutes)

7. Burnout

One survey of over 3.9 million nurses found that burnout was a very common reason for leaving a nursing job — with 31% citing burnout as the primary motivator. Some of the top reasons for burnout were stressful work environments and short staffing. Common causes for burnout in nursing include:

  • Working long shifts
  • Short staffing
  • Inappropriate nurse–patient ratios
  • Poor leadership
  • Pressure to do more
  • Lack of support
  • Emotional strain
  • Sleep deprivation

The concept of burnout is also linked to moral injury, which can occur when healthcare processionals are forced into situations that violate their ethical code. These experiences can add up and lead to more severe cases of burnout.

It’s essential to take the time to rest. For some, that may look like stepping away from the bedside, for others that may look like changing your work hours from full time to per diem. You know yourself and what you need best — listen to what your body is asking for.

8. Lack of Resources

Have you ever felt like you were pressured to do more with less resources? Many nurses report feeling like new tasks have been assigned to them, but as their responsibilities have increased, their support didn’t. In fact, nursing workload is a major issue and nursing workload is increasing.

Despite the increasing demand for care, the number of nurses has not increased proportionally, resulting in an imbalance between work to be done and nurses to do it. What’s the toll? Nurses cite higher workloads and time pressure as significant stressors. This stress negatively affects a nurse’s mental health, job satisfaction, burnout, and job turnover.

9. Tending to Health

Maybe you love your nursing job, but your body needs a change. This can happen in any profession, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, not all models of nursing are conducive to certain health conditions, which makes this one of the reasons for leaving a nursing job.

For example, imagine you are working in the intensive care unit (ICU) and have to turn your patients every two hours, stay standing on your feet for 12-hr shifts, and severely limit restroom breaks (even urgent ones) due to the critical status of your patients. If you also develop a health condition that affects your bowel or bladder control, stamina, or limits your ability to lift weight, you may not be able to perform the functions of your job.

A word of support and encouragement: Mental health issues are equally as important as your physical health issues. Perhaps you don’t see yourself in the example above, but instead you are struggling with chronic anxiety or depression. It is just as valid and necessary to leave your job to care for your mental health as it is to care for your physical health.

10. Poor Management

Every team needs a good leader. They set the tone of the unit, make important decisions that directly impact you (i.e., your work schedule), and represent the nursing staff to higher leadership.

You can feel it when you aren’t supported, right? You know the difference between a nursing manager who has your back and one who buys you pizza in an attempt to placate you. Having a good nursing manager correlates with higher job satisfaction, so it’s no surprise that many nurses leave their jobs when there is poor management.

Reasons for Leaving a Nursing Job: FAQ

You learned about the top reasons, but what do you do once you’ve left? How do you talk about it? What do you say in future interviews? These common questions and answers will provide guidance.

What do I list as the reason for leaving a job in a resume?

You do not have to state a reason on your resume. If you have significant gaps in your professional experience, be prepared that it may cause questions during your interview. Some online applications may ask you to give a reason for leaving a job — wording it in a respectful manner will reflect better upon you.

How do I talk about my previous job in an interview?

Be honest, yet tactful. Depending on why you left, such as a spouse’s military relocation, it may be easier to be candid. If you left a toxic workplace, rather than speaking about your past manager negatively, focus on what you need in a workplace.

What are the best jobs for nurses leaving nursing?

Nurses make wonderful educators, advocates, researchers, and consultants. Your nursing skills will translate well to many careers. For more inspiration, check out this list of common career changes for nurses.

You Should Come First — Even as a Nurse

As you can see, there are plentiful reasons for leaving a nursing job. Remember that a job is a job — you can always find another one, but you cannot get your time back or replace your body. If you’re looking for a different fit, we can help point you in the right direction. Get started with jobs on IntelyCare today.