How to Attract the Right Work Culture in Nursing

When I first began a nursing job right after graduating from nursing school, I was ecstatic to finally have a career. I was excited to finally hold the title of nurse and work in a field that I was passionate about. However, the longer I worked in a large hospital, the more I felt that perhaps I had made the wrong decision. As I struggled to make myself go to work each day I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. I had dreams of quitting my job and joining the circus or becoming a zookeeper – anything but going to the massive building and being a nameless body there to do grunt work.

During nursing school, I had visions of treating patients, getting to know their names, their favorite colors, their jobs. I longed to be appreciated and recognized in my work and for the opportunity to continue learning and growing, eventually working my way up to managerial positions where I would inspire my nurses to greatness, just like I had achieved.

And yet, here I was, in a very big and very busy hospital where my manager shouted at me without even knowing my name. Patients were rushed in and out so often I didn’t have time to learn their names. There were always mountains of paperwork to be done, and no one that wanted to do it. Work was constantly shirked by nurses, leaving new employees like me to pick up the slack. The break room was constantly a place of gossip and negativity.

It was not a place I enjoyed working.

But before I threw in the towel on nursing as a whole, I thought it might be worth it to just look for a different position. Perhaps working in a huge facility wasn’t the right place for me. Maybe my personality just didn’t mesh well with my coworkers, and that’s why something always felt off.

A few months and many interviews later, I landed a nursing job at a small local clinic. I worked closely with a doctor who was patient and kind and knew everyone’s names. My nurse manager was friendly and enthusiastic and welcoming. The patients came in more reasonable numbers and I was able to get to know them as I worked with them for treatment. All in all, the simple workplace change made all the difference and helped me see I was in the right profession.

If you are also feeling unhappy in your current work situation, the issue could be due to work culture and not because you chose the wrong career path. If your main complaints are not related to the actual nursing job, and all that entails, it is possible that you just need a change of scenery that meshes more with your values and goals. Here are some things to think about if you’re considering a change.

Make a List

Actually, you’re going to make two lists. Take a sheet of lined paper and draw a vertical line down the center. In the left-hand column, write down everything that you don’t want in a nursing position, things that would make that job difficult to continue working in. They could be things like “mandatory night shifts” or “unpaid overtime.”

Once you have that list done, or at least a few things on it, go the right-hand column and note down the things that you do want in a position. Write down as many things as you can and focus on what your ideal nursing job might look like. A great boss, same-age coworkers, access to a nap room for night shifts – write down everything you can think of. Visualizing your ideal workplace is the first step in being able to recognize it when it shows up.

Talk to Others

Once you know what you want in a position, it’s time to go on a scouting mission to find what you want. Select an organization that stands out to you as a good possibility and go there as a visitor. As you take a tour of the facility or talk with employees, take note of your gut reactions and instincts. How does the atmosphere feel? Calm or chaotic? Do the employees, especially other nurses, seem happy or miserable? Are they able to make time for you and any questions you have? How do they interact with patients?

As you observe, try to ask questions if possible. Find out how long other nurses have been working there, or what their biggest challenges have been so far at the organization. You don’t want to pry too much but asking a few general questions about the work culture can help you feel out whether or not you’d be a good fit for that location.

Identify Your Values and Goals

What is it that you value most in nursing? Is it providing the best care with the most recent technology? Is it making time to address patient concerns on a personal level? Or perhaps you value a smoothly running organization that moves like clockwork? Whatever you value in a workplace, this is what you want to look for. A facility that excels in the latest technology but lacks customer service may not be right for you if you personally value empathy and compassion more than the speed of treatment.

You’ll also want to think about what your ultimate nursing goals are. Finding an organization that will support you and your goals is incredibly important if you want to work your way up to manager or trainer. If your goal is to go back to nursing school as an educator, you’ll want to find a workplace that encourages continued learning and research and will facilitate your abilities to teach or train others.

Being in a place that has the right work culture for you means that you’ll stick with nursing a lot longer. I almost gave up on nursing because I was in a hospital that was too large and impersonal and didn’t give me the opportunities for growth that I desired. But once I moved to a smaller clinic, my career choice was reinforced, and I am much happier now. You can do the same when you are able to identify what it is that you look for in work culture and attitude.

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