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Are Nurses Addicted to Work?

Nurses are a tough breed. They seem to hold a lot of authority for mindsets that don’t serve them. They admire the nurses in the most acute specialties. Those are the “real” nurses. If you didn’t start in med-surg or work as a CNA, you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Real nurses work overnights. Real nurses work shift after shift without calling out. If they call out, what will happen to the other nurses? Real nurses don’t complain.

Do you see the problems with this mentality? It’s built to crumble. Read on to learn about unsustainable nursing mentalities.

Looking to leave the bedside? I can help.

Mindset Shift

Not everything has to be a competition, but with nursing it feels like it is. This has deep roots in the “nurses eat your young” mentality. Nurses are always putting other nurses down.

It has to do with the hierarchy of hospitals and clinics. Doctors are at the top,

setting the tone for “I am better”. Even when there are amazing doctors out there, the clear hierarchy is set. This mindset trickles down into the nursing staff, including assistants.

The nurses that have been there the longest are at the top of the rung. And the newer nurses are at the bottom. But the competitive mindset of “I’m better than you” doesn't just stop there. It continues into other aspects of nursing.

The nurses who work on the floor the most are “better” than the per diem nurses. They put more time into their clinics, so they’re at the self-created top of the totem pole. This creates a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.

So instead of thinking about who has been there the longest or who has worked the most shifts in a row, take a step back. That type of thinking serves no one. And it will likely ruin your mental and physical well-being in the process.

Not a Competition

Nursing isn’t a competition. It’s a job. Never forget that. Other jobs don’t have to jump through hoops to be recognized in the workplace.

Sure, there will always be some healthy competition in the workplace. That’s part of what drives innovation. But if you feel like competition is becoming detrimental to your wellbeing, it’s time to take a step back.

Not Responsible for your Work Ratios

It’s okay to call out. You can take days for your mental health as well as your physical health. And you don’t have to be on your deathbed to take a day to yourself.

Instead ask yourself: am I in the right frame of mind to safely administer patient care and medications right now? If the answer is “no”, call out. The hospital will not protect you from losing your license if you make a medication mistake because you’re not in the right mindset.

No one should be bullying or questioning you for using your well-deserved, allocated time off. There is no award for never using your sick days but physically and mentally crumbling. If there was an award, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Someone may try to guilt trip you with something like:

  • If you take a day off, who will work?

  • The ratios will be unsafe.

  • It will just be harder on the other nurses.

Repeat after me: “It is not my job to fix unsafe patient ratios as a bedside nurse”. That’s an administrator's role. You can say no to any shift you want. And you can use your sick time as you see fit. Don’t let anyone talk you into burning out because you can’t use your time.

You have a Right to a Safe Work Environment

There are plenty of nurses that talk about how many steps they get in a day, and how they didn’t take breaks. They relish in the fact that they had 30 patients without help. That they had to come in sick because their floor needed them. Or that they had to keep working after an injury because their patients needed them to be there.

This type of mentality will lead to more pain in the future. You have a right to a safe, healthy workplace environment. You don’t have to work while injured. You don’t need to be yelled at by patients, or physically abused. You don’t need to come in while sick.

There is no other workplace that puts their employees' lives in danger quite like nursing. Especially for an industry that promotes health and wellness. Make sure you’re fighting back and letting your workplace know that “no” means “no”. There is no nobility in a herniated disc or long term covid.

How to Realign Your Values

If you’ve found yourself in these mindset traps, don’t worry. You can get out. It’ll take some practice, though.

If you’re sick of the bedside altogether, you can just quit. Find a non-traditional nursing job to replace your current, toxic work environment. You’re a highly qualified, talented healthcare worker. There are plenty of other niches that would be happy to have an expert on their team.

If you want to stay within the traditional healthcare role, you can learn to set strict boundaries. Say “no” frequently and firmly. You can remind them that those practices are unsafe. Or that you have a right to take your paid time off without retaliation. And if they aren’t listening, just find another facility. The good thing about a nursing shortage is that there are plenty of jobs. You don’t have to stay in a toxic one.


Nursing can be a really unhealthy workplace environment. Nurses will belittle other nurses for calling out or reporting unsafe patient ratios. If you aren’t working all the time, you’re not the most admirable one on the team.

It’s time to put an end to these unhealthy mindsets. You’re worth is not tied into your work. And you have a right to report any unsafe conditions and take any time off you need. If you’re at a facility that doesn’t respect these boundaries, maybe it’s time to leave.

Looking to leave the bedside? I can help.

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