Clarity of Purpose and the Nurse’s Future


Published: 14 October 2020

When you finished nursing school and began searching for your first position as a professional nurse, you may have had a very clear picture of what you wanted, be it surgical, home health, critical care, hospice or some other specialty that caught your eye during your education.

The clarity of purpose you experienced after completing your studies can be very empowering and energising, but what happens when that sense of clarity fades and you feel adrift and without a clear direction?

Losing the Glow

After a few years, that initial post-graduation glow may have dimmed somewhat once the realities of your work life became apparent, even if you landed your dream job right away. You may have experienced compassion fatigue or burnout, or perhaps you were subjected to bullying, incivility or just the garden-variety gruffness of more experienced nurses.

Aside from those situations, you may have simply arrived at the disappointing realisation that you are feeling disenchanted with the profession you thought you were going to love forever. No matter how it happened, perhaps one day you could sense very clearly that the glow was gone.

nurse feeling burned out

Losing Your Way

Sometimes it’s not that you’ve been bullied or become disenchanted with nursing; you may, in fact, just feel that you’ve lost your way. You’re not super unhappy, burned out, or feeling mistreated by your colleagues. Your employer is attentive, and the salary and benefits are acceptable. Still, something doesn’t feel quite right.

Losing your way in nursing can translate into a feeling that you’ve accomplished all you can in a particular corner of the profession and you have no idea what else is possible.

Or perhaps, since graduating 15 years ago, you’ve gotten married, had three children, bought a farmhouse and started growing organic food on your little plot of land. Now that you’ve settled into married life with children and a homestead, working in the emergency department no longer calls your name and you’d prefer to work in some less adrenaline-soaked milieu.

Losing your way doesn’t always need to be characterized as bad. Dorothy lost her way in The Wizard of Oz, but she met some awesome friends and found The Emerald City in her own sweet time. But you see, Dorothy had the clarity of purpose - she needed to get to the city and meet the Wizard of Oz - and that was the driving force behind her journey.

Creating Clarity of Purpose Again

When your nursing career clarity of purpose has diminished enough to make you realise that change must occur, there are steps to take in order to bring things back into focus.

In a SWOT analysis, you assess and record the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that define you and your career. You may realise that the group of nurses you drink with every Thursday have become a negative influence and are threatening your ability to grow, as they seem to just enjoy complaining. Meanwhile, a strength may be that you see those nurses as deleterious and have identified a LinkedIn group and local nurse meet-up where members focus on positive career change.

You can request informational interviews with other nurses who do things that interest you in order to gain an understanding of what their work entails. Learning about other areas of nursing can help you to cross things off your list that you’d never do, and circle the intriguing things that seem worth exploring further.

A career coach or counsellor can help you focus and assess your options. You can also seek a mentor among your peers, your former professors or preceptors, or perhaps from a nursing organisation you belong to or join.

Podcasts, blogs, social media and other nursing-related platforms offer plenty of valuable content, and many nurses have written books about their experiences that offer advice for other nurses in search of meaning or purpose. Specialised nursing groups on LinkedIn and Facebook are populated with interesting people who are willing to connect with and support other nurses, and there’s much to say for the power of community when you feel isolated.

nurses sharing experiences


Spend time with nurses who are inspiring and forward-thinking, seek out channels of helpful information, be honest with yourself about what you want and don’t be afraid to hire a career professional for support.

Just because you can’t see the Emerald City right now doesn’t mean it’s not there, so seek out your own friends along the road of nursing and find your new professional place to call home.