Why I Left My First Nursing Job

I can’t stress how difficult the transition is from a student nurse to a professional nurse.

I even had experience as a CNA, EMT and LPN and nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock that was working on my own taking patients as a registered nurse for the first time.

It is well documented how tumultuous the first year it is for new nursing graduates.

The average nurse turnover rate (how many nurses in a particular unit/department/hospital that seek a new nursing position elsewhere) in an average year was 16% in 2015.

New grads have twice the turnover rate at 30% in the first year as a new nurse graduate and a whopping 57% in their second year as a new grad.

This can be chalked up to a variety of factors including heavy workloads, disillusionment of the profession, crazy hours/schedules, insufficient time spent with patients, or seeking a more challenging work environment.

I was a part of this statistic leaving my first RN position after 9 months to seek a more challenging work environment after nailing down the basic/fundamentals in a general med/surg/ER rotation position. I wanted to work full time ER, the opportunity presented itself.

I felt HORRIBLE leaving after they had invested so much time and training in me. They paid for me to take classes like:

  • PALS (between $100-$200 – pediatric advanced life support certification)
  • ACLS (between $100-$200 – advanced cardiac life support)
  • TNCC ($365 trauma nursing core course)
  • They supported me and mentored me by assigning a preceptor to train me for 3 months.
  • They paid for all occupational health pre-employment screening and immunizations.
  • They even had started me in a nurse residency program in an effort to help transition and retain me as a new grad which was around $1,500

They truly invested their time and money into me. The guilt about even considering applying for a new job was overwhelming.

However, I know that is a risk hospitals take by hiring new graduates. I also know that every one is replaceable. I also know that sacrificing your happiness and job satisfaction for the sake of an organization who would replace you within 24 hours isn’t worth it. I also know the nursing profession is vast and has room for everyone to find their niche.

I reached out to a mentor of mine during this time and asked if I should feel guilty about leaving. She told me “Absolutely not.” So when my nursing students reach out to me about 6 months – 1 year after starting at their new position and say “should I stay or should I go?” I validate their feelings. So many new grads stay at their first job when they aren’t happy and unsupported because they feel guilty.

  • Maybe they didn’t think they would have to work night shift for SO MANY years until they reach seniority and get the shifts they wanted.
  • Maybe their orientation got cut short because someone went on maternity leave and they weren’t adequately trained.
  • Maybe they don’t like the unit they are working on.
  • Maybe the culture is not supportive of new graduates.
  • Maybe they didn’t expect to take so much time on call.
  • Maybe they thought the commute was doable and they quickly realized it is NOT.
  • The point is, nurses are so valuable to a unit until they aren’t and then they are replaceable.

Here are some reasons I left my first nursing job:

I had to take so much more call time than I expected to. It was such a small unit I had to take mandatory call time if there weren’t enough patients. I took 48 hours of call in the month before I resigned. At the time I was pregnant and I wanted to save up my paid time off (PTO) for my maternity leave but I also couldn’t take the pay cut of not getting paid for being on call.

I was young and excited about the nursing profession. I wanted to see everything and learn so much more than what the hospital I was at could offer. I went from a 3 bed ER to a 10 bed ER. I went from seeing maybe 3 patients a shift to seeing 3 patients an hour. I wanted to be challenged.

I didn’t want to have to float to the medical surgical floor. I’m an ER nurse at heart – through and through. I knew I had to work on a medical surgical unit to get my feet wet but I knew I wasn’t going to stay there for very long. I had mastered the basics and was ready for more. I was also ready to dedicate my career to emergency medicine.

I didn’t want to work straight night shift for years and years until I gained seniority and get moved to day shift. Departments are moving away from the seniority based scheduling because it hurts retention of new employees but it is still an issue for many new grads. I know this because I follow up with my students after they graduate and they say the same thing.

Please note: I LOVED my first nursing job. I was happy there. I felt supported. My orientation was exactly what every new graduate should receive. I still recommend for my students to go to that hospital and department to work. In fact, I later re-applied for a leadership position at that hospital because I enjoyed it so much. If you take a look at my reasons why I left, none of them were factors that could have been controlled by my manager or the hospital. It just wasn’t a good fit for ME and where I wanted my nursing career to take me.

If you are contemplating switching jobs, one of my favorite personalities Ken Coleman has a quiz on his website called “Should I Quit My Job?” which will offer some insight into your job satisfaction and if a career switch is right for you! https://www.kencoleman.com/

For more information on recruiting and retaining new graduates, I retrieved the statistics and facts used in this blog post from:


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1 Comment

  1. Carolyn Sullivan
    February 10, 2020 / 10:06 pm

    So often they say that nursing eats it’s young, I wish they would let them be like interns, try out a few positions till they find the right fit.

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