Nurses Coloring Outside the Lines

If you watch television or movies, it seems that all nurses work in hospital ERs. While “Nurse Jackie” has demonstrated that nurses can rtake the bull by the horns and save lives through autonomous action, the public (and some nurses, too) are often led to believe that our scope of practice is pretty limited and we’re relegated to hospital-based employment.

These days, more and more nurses are coloring outside the lines, busting stereotypes, and otherwise subverting the dominant myths that attempt to keep nurses in cozy little boxes, relegated to corners they never asked to be placed in.

“I-Can’t-Do-That” Syndrome

If you’re a nurse who wants to do something different, your job is to not listen to the voices trying to convince you to do things just like everyone else. Many nurses seem to suffer from “I-Can’t-Do-That Syndrome“, convincing themselves that they can’t take a less trodden path because nurses just don’t do so.

Have you chosen to not take a particular career path because you “just couldn’t” do it? Here are a few potential examples to get you thinking:

  • Even though you didn’t want to, you took a Med-Surg job right out of school because you were told you’re “supposed to”. You were miserable going against your better judgment, and you had a terrible first year. This experience caused you to almost quit nursing altogether.
  • You had a great idea for a novel business in your community, but a friend convinced you that “nurses don’t run businesses” and that you didn’t have the savvy to do it. Nine months later, someone else launched the same business and it’s wildly successful.
  • You stayed at a horrible job for an entire year because you were told that it would look bad on your resume to leave sooner, even though you knew it was an unsafe practice environment and your license was at risk. In the course of that year, you were involved in an incident that was no fault of your own but caused the Board of Nursing to record a negative mark on your license.

Do you see the similarities here? In each scenario, the nurse failed to trust her or his judgment and intuition, and the situations ended up being less than stellar, if not quite negative.

The Lines Were Drawn By Someone Else

Nurses, the lines that say you can’t do something were drawn by someone else, perhaps even by nurses themselves; just because the lines are there doesn’t mean you have to heed them. In fact, you can simply tear that page out of the book; or perhaps you’ll just recycle the book altogether. The choice is yours.

If you want to go from an LPN to a PhD, why shouldn’t you? If someone tells you that you’re not smart enough, put some gauze sponges in your ears and do it anyway. If your business idea is incredibly different than anything any other nurse has ever done, it’s still worth considering. If you really and truly don’t want another degree and feel you can create a career without going back to school, maybe you can.

Risk Is Relative

In all career decisions, there’s risk; a business may fail, you may be shut out of certain jobs without a BSN, and quitting a bad job may endanger your ability to pay the rent. These are calculated risks, and only you can decide if they’re worth taking.

You can, of course, turn to trusted advisors and confidantes, be they family, friends, mentors, or colleagues. Sometimes we need others’ wise counsel, and other times we just need to trust our gut.

Nurses, risk is relative. You don’t risk going against doctors’ orders and changing a dose of medication on your own; you can question the order or refuse to be the one to fulfill it if you think it endangers the patient, but you can’t change it unilaterally. However, you can risk starting a business, coloring outside the lines, or doing something different with your career.

Are you a risk taker? Do you let the lines confine you? Or do you feel it in your heart to try something out of the ordinary? Choose your own lines, nurses; don’t let others draw you them for you.

About Keith

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Keith Carlson is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist.

With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers.

Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms, as well as at