According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, there are almost 4.2 million registered nurses working in the United States. Another interesting statistic revealed by this survey is that there are four times as many nurses (of all levels) as physicians, with nurses making up the single largest group of all healthcare professions. Unfortunately, however, the immense and invaluable contribution that nurses make to patient outcomes, patients’ satisfaction, and the healthcare field more broadly often goes unrecognized, leading to nurses feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and ‘stuck in a rut’. If that’s how you’re feeling at the moment, read on for some tips on how to make the situation better.

Take stock of your feelings

The first thing you need to do is probably to sit down and have a think about what it is that you are actually feeling. The daily life of a nurse can be a rollercoaster of emotions, and it’s interesting to note that while 85 percent of nurses reported in 2020 that they would choose the same career again, another survey from the same year found that nurse burnout had soared—although 93 to 98 percent of nurses in that same survey still reported being happy with their choice of career. In short, being a nurse comes with many challenges and many rewards, such as the knowledge that you have contributed to taking care of ill patients and even to saving someone’s life.

Asking yourself what you currently feel about your job is crucial to figuring out how to move forward. If you are finding it hard to identify your own emotions, it might help to journal or talk to a friend or a counselor. If you are talking about this with a friend, make sure you choose someone who will really listen to you and refrain from interrupting you, minimizing your feelings or suggesting solutions, unless that is what you would like them to do.

Start a gratitude practice in your workplace

If you realize that you are feeling underappreciated, one thing you could do is start making a conscious effort to show your colleagues that you appreciate them. There’s a good chance that other nurses in your workplace will be feeling similarly to you, and if you start expressing to them how much you value their hard work, this will hopefully create a cultural shift in the workplace, normalizing expressing gratitude and appreciation—including from others towards yourself. You don’t need to create complicated, formal systems, such as gratitude jars or weekly appreciation emails, unless you want to—a simple ‘thank you’ as you pass each other in the hallway or as you sit down for a quick sandwich will do the trick.

Look into career advancement opportunities

If you are a Registered Nurse, there are lots of career advancement opportunities open to you. You could become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, a Nurse Practitioner, a Clinical Nurse Specialist, a Certified Nurse Midwife, a Certified Nurse Anesthetist – the list goes on. All these roles require you to complete a graduate degree—either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. In the course of your studies, you will be able to specialize in the clinical area or population segment that you are most interested in working with.

Going back to college for a graduate degree might seem daunting at first, but you can do it in a way that works for you. You could quit your job and become a full-time, on-campus student if you would like to and have a way of financing it—maybe even moving to a new area in the process, which will give your life a much-needed shake-up. However, you can also earn your graduate degree online while continuing to work and to tend to your other responsibilities—the Baylor University online programs, for example, allow you to study flexibly and to complete clinical placements close to where you live.

Gaining a graduate degree will be a way to change your career significantly without making the move to a completely different field. The job of a nurse practitioner, for example, is significantly different from that of a registered nurse: a nurse practitioner often works much more independently and is allowed to perform most of the tasks that a physician performs, such as diagnosing and treating conditions, interpreting test results, and prescribing medication. If you choose to study for a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, this will also open up leadership opportunities for you, and after a few years of working as an advanced practice nurse, you could apply to become a nurse manager. It’s worth thinking, therefore, about what your skills are and what you enjoy doing, and then choosing a career advancement path based on that information.

Make a lateral career move

If you decide that you don’t want to work in clinical settings anymore, but you don’t want to give up on your passion for improving health and wellbeing, you could also consider a more ‘sideways’ career move. For example, you could become a health advocate and help those who are facing medical problems get the care they need and deserve. Similarly, you could train as a health coach, which is someone who works one on one with private clients to help them identify and achieve health goals, such as quitting smoking, reducing stress, or improving their nutrition.

If you find laws and legal trials exciting, another career move you could make is to become a legal nurse consultant. In this job, you will perform expert analyses of clinically related issues that are important in a legal situation—for example, you might review the clinical record of a patient who is suing a hospital to determine whether the medical professionals named in the lawsuit were at fault or not.

As a legal nurse consultant, you will also be called upon to testify at trials as an expert witness, i.e., a professional not involved in the legal case at hand who provides technical information about their field to help the jury determine the truth of the matter.