I Hate Bedside Nursing.. Now What?
By Carrie Mesrobian on 08/30/2021
You never would have expected this when you first started out in nursing school, but it’s a thought you can’t quite shake now: I hate bedside nursing.
For someone who’s invested a lot of time, energy and money into becoming a nurse, that can be a downright scary thought. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely out of options for carrying on in this field.
If you’re a nurse who’s found yourself burned out due to the demands of bedside care or just looking for a new direction in your career, you’re not alone. We spoke with several nursing professionals about possibilities for nurses beyond patient-focused bedside care to offer insight on finding meaningful work that fits your interests and abilities without starting back at square one.
Is there a nursing career path outside of bedside care?
You might have thought that should bedside care not agree with you, your nursing career would be over. Not true by a long shot!
“Nope, you’re never stuck at the bedside in nursing,” says Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads of NurseTogether. “The nursing profession provides a wide variety of wonderful opportunities for nurses. Some nurses love working with patients in acute care, some nurses love doing computer work, some nurses enjoy teaching and some nurses enjoy working in management. There is something for everyone.”
Jobs for nurses can span multiple areas, says Heidi Holt, RN and talent screener at Incredible Health. “Nurses can consult for attorneys on medical malpractice issues,” Holt says. “Occupational health RNs help manage employee health for many large corporations or government entities.”
Jennifer Krengel, an RN and MDS coordinator at a nursing home, says these shifts happen quite a bit in the nursing profession.
“I do believe that wanting to change from bedside or direct care nursing is a very common occurrence in a nursing career,” Krengel says. “I’m guessing if data was collected, many nurses make the transition after 10 to 15 years, some much sooner.”
Krengel advises that leaving bedside care for new roles involves some soul-searching about what it is you need, both personally and professionally. Is it wanting a different schedule that works better with your family’s needs? A desire to advance in your career? A need to get away from the physical and mental stress that comes with the job? Knowing what exactly is pushing you away from direct patient care makes planning your next step much easier to manage.
Molly Rindt, RN and talent advocate at Incredible Health, also believes a good self-inventory is the first step.
“What is it that I do not like about bedside nursing?” Rindt suggests asking yourself. “Will I be happy in a new role?”
Mike Zenk, a military nurse with 25 years of experience and who is now the director of aeromedical evacuation operations for the Air Force, reports that just changing environments can be helpful for those finding bedside care wearying. He started his nursing career in a medical/cardiac step-down unit and didn’t like it at all.
“We were severely understaffed, felt unsupported,” he recalls. His next role in an Army hospital emergency department was completely different.
“I found that all the stress of the previous job had prepared me to walk into an ER environment and thrive,” Zenk says. “I enjoyed the pace of the ER and the variety and complexity of patients that we would see.”
Having direct patience care experience is critical to advancement to other types of nursing roles.
“It is vital that nurses who no longer do direct care jobs have lots of experience in direct care,” Krengel says. “This should be a requirement. I will never believe that one can be a good nurse without direct care experience. While education is very important, I think that the experience is what makes nurses proficient.”
Krengel offers a range of options for nurses seeking to transition from bedside care.
“School nursing, community education programs, vaccination clinics, just to name a few options,” Krengel says.
Nurses are needed for case review at insurance companies, plasma donation centers, wound care clinics, large factories, companies, prisons, camps, government facilities and daycare centers. There are also research nurses, which are nurse writers who specialize in science and policy areas.
“If nurses want to complete higher degrees, the list of job opportunities expands,” Krengel says.
Liphart Rhoads adds to this expanding list of non-bedside nursing roles. “Other options besides working at the bedside include nurse educator, patient case manager, unit or office manager, and informatics or analytics nursing,” Liphart Rhoads says.
The right education
Many nurses manage the switch from bedside care by advancing their education.
“Some require extra training, such as informatics or medical coding or educator,” Rindt says. “Most are just waiting for the right opportunity.”
“If management speaks to you, then look at a Nursing Management Master’s degree,” Zenk suggests. “If you like crunching numbers, get a Master’s in Nursing Informatics.”
But Zenk also believes there are ways to find solutions while still in a bedside role. “Most of my ‘good jobs’ in nursing came from telling people what I wanted to do, and volunteering to do jobs that others didn’t want,” Zenk explains.
Krengel also recommends looking into roles in traditionally overlooked areas of nursing, such as assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities and nursing homes. “Long-term care is an untapped resource of opportunity,” Krengel says. This broad level of experience can make it easier to make the switch from bedside to other roles.
“Education and experiences that help nurses pivot from direct to non-direct care would be a range of experience,” Krengel suggests. “New graduates who start their ‘dream career’ in a specialty like obstetrics, emergency and intensive care right away have a much harder time switching areas and careers than nurses who started with broad medical/surgical or nursing home jobs.”
Zenk echoes this advice and also emphasizes the importance of managerial and communication skills for those wanting to transition to a non-bedside role.
“Communication skills are essential, making certain that the team you are working with understands the goals involved and are aware of the deadlines is imperative to success,” Zenk says. “Management is a more difficult and delicate job than bedside nursing has ever been for me.”
Are you in a position to make a move?
If you’re looking to move on from bedside nursing, you may need to round out your educational qualifications. A fully online RN to BSN program can help make that step manageable. Our article “How an RN to BSN Program Will Differ from Your ADN Experience” can provide an inside look at the RN to BSN program experience at Rasmussen University.