Nursing is your calling but you followed it to the Africa Mercy only to meet disappointment. This isn’t everyone, but I’ve heard it enough to know I’m not the only one.

“Nursing on the Africa Mercy isn’t challenging enough. I want to use my brain more!”

If you’ve never said or felt that, you don’t need to keep reading. I don’t want my experience to taint yours. However, if you don’t feel challenged or fulfilled here, you have company. I’ve been there. Lots of us have been there. If you’re wondering how you’ll make it to the end of your commitment, or you just can’t stop judging this place, then I want to share something with you.

But first, can we be real?

My honesty needs to be read without a spirit of judgement. This isn’t about negativity, pointing fingers or shifting blame to what people around us should be doing better. This is all about how we, as nurses, can choose to make the best out of situations that aren’t what we expected. This is about being part of the solution instead of complaining.

Honesty without fear that someone will take our feelings personally is a must. That’s why I’m declaring this a safe space. I’ve gone through disappointment and stagnancy at different stages of my journey with Mercy Ships and I want to share how I’ve handled it. Truthfully, those in any department can meet disappointment when they arrive. It’s not just nurses. My perspective has more examples pertaining to nurses, but anyone from any department can ask themselves this question that might shed some light. Before I get to that, here’s what happened to me.

When I first arrived to the ship I served in a different department for 6 weeks and by the time the hospital opened, I was ready to use a stethoscope. However, I had set myself up with unrealistic expectations. My role was different on the ship than it was at home and it surprised me. I really wrestled with what it meant to be a nurse cross-culturally and with a patient population with lower acuity than I was used to.

I gained some perspective after Ruben and I decided to stick it out for longer. Two years longer, to be exact. Surprisingly, once I started looking for the good and committing myself to cross-cultural nursing, everything changed. But I still struggle with the thought that maybe my career is at a stand-still the longer I’m here.

Great! Now I get to practice what I preach because I find myself wishing for all the things I can’t have. I crave all the things that nursing on the AFM simply doesn’t give me. I try to focus on how wonderful this place is, but I feel my skills sliding and wonder if my brain is melting. When the time comes, will I be ready to re-enter the world of high acuity nursing again?

What do I do with a problem? I Google it. I typed “nurse entrepreneur” into the search bar looking for different avenues of nursing for the future. Coincidentally, lots of real nurse entrepreneurs are trying to encourage and equip bedside nurses (like me) to be more satisfied with their work.

I stumbled across a gem of knowledge that gave me a new perspective. My search results included Elizabeth Scala’s website, a nurse entrepreneur who writes about how nurses can get the most out of careers that have grown stale and unfulfilled. She offers a FREE video series titled, “I’m a Nurse, But I’m Not Sure I LOVE Nursing Anymore!”

Exactly my thoughts! Well, I still love nursing but why have I felt so bored recently? I thought this video series might help me find what was missing.

The question that opened my eyes

Scala asked this and it gave me a major nursing “AHA” moment:

What don’t I want from my nursing career? what do I want from my nursing career?

I paused the video series and opened my journal. I made two lists.

See, the thing is, we translate our deep desires to a focused, pointed result. However, it’s the raw desire that we need to unearth to get what we really want. For example, you really want a specific job at a specific hospital. Deep in your heart you desire to work in a positive environment or with a patient population that sparks your passion. You want to be supported and excited about your daily work, about your career.

We don’t find that through the perfect job. It might help, but look at what you really want. Make a list and look at it hard. Can you fight for any of those things exactly where you are now?

When things don’t go as planned, we give up and discontentment brews. When we start nursing and feel all those negative emotions, we start dreaming of the greener grass on the other side and plotting our escape.

When nurses crave more challenging or fulfilling work, asking this question can help.
Green like this. But I’m happy not having a lawn. I don’t want to mow.

Here’s what I found:

I don’t want:
  • to feel disconnected from my patients
  • to be driven by a lack of time or resources
  • to be voiceless
  • to be burnt out
I do want:
  • to be directly interacting and engaging with my patients
  • to feel free to allocate and discern the best way to spend time/resources for my patients best interest
  • to be involved with creating policy
  • to feel rested, encouraged and energized by and for my work

When I look at that list, I see desires that are not bound to a single course of action, a single role, a single job. I can pursue those goals and ideals in my career right here. In fact, some of those goals are much easier to attain on the Africa Mercy.

Of course as I grow, a move or transfer to new opportunities may be necessary, but for now I can give a worthwhile effort with the amazing opportunities in front of me. I have a list of concrete action items that I’ve tried before, and some new ones I’ll try soon in an effort to open up the challenges that will get me excited HERE, on the Africa Mercy.

food for thought

How much do the opinions and thoughts of others influence your level of honesty about your work? Have you dealt with unmet expectations after months of build-up prior to joining Mercy Ships? Have you had a perspective shift that changed your satisfaction with your work?

Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 in the next week which will have practical tips I’m aiming for in the next year of working with Mercy Ships.

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2 comments on “For Nurses Craving A Challenge: Part One”

  1. Oh, my goodness. I am SO happy to hear that you PAUSED the video and answered the questions. And that it sparked THIS. This is music to my ears. What an honor, thank you Ivanna. You are making my day!!! For real. I am sharing this post far and wide, and thank you for putting you and your nursing journey out there. Great work!!!

    • Thanks for putting your work out there. As soon as I heard those questions, I knew I needed to spend some time thinking about them. I can’t get where I want to go if I don’t know where I’m going! It was cool realizing that some of the things I crave for my career are actually things I already have.

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