How to Successfully Leave Nursing? – 18 Step Exit Strategy to Avoid Regrets

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

The world of nursing is filled with endless opportunities. However, there are times when some nurses feel the need to make a change in their career paths, either temporarily or permanently. If you are one of the nurses considering a career change, you may be wondering how to successfully leave nursing? Even if you feel like leaving nursing is the right choice, it is vital to do so properly. In this article, you will find an 18-step exit strategy to successfully leave nursing. This strategy will help ensure you leave nursing in a professional manner so you can return later if you choose to do so.

Do Nurses Leave Nursing?

According to a survey by ShiftMed of two hundred fifty nurses, twenty percent of nurses report they are very likely or extremely likely to leave the nursing profession within two years. A total of forty-nine percent said they have considered leaving nursing and may still leave at some point. The number of nurses considering leaving nursing has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, with many nurses reporting feeling burned out and physically and emotionally exhausted. Another survey by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses found that sixty-six percent of respondents said issues related to the pandemic have led them to consider leaving the profession.


Do Nurses Regret Leaving Nursing?

Whether nurses regret getting out of nursing is a matter of opinion. It has been my experience that nurses who leave the profession to pursue a different career altogether are content with their decisions. Nurses who leave because of burnout or personal reasons may regret the decision later. The good thing about nursing is, if you keep your license current, you can always return to the profession if you want.

6 Tell-Tale Signs to Know It's Time for You to Leave Nursing

Are you are considering a career change but are unsure if it is the right time to make a move? Here are some tell-tale signs that it’s time for you to get out of nursing.

1. You feel emotionally overwhelmed:

While nursing can be a rewarding experience, it is not uncommon for nurses to feel the weight of being overwhelmed emotionally. Nurses who work in specialty areas are often more likely to feel the emotional effects of the job. For example, oncology, critical care, and pediatric critical care are nursing specialties may be more emotionally taxing than others.

2. You feel unfulfilled:

Most nurses feel a sense of fulfillment with their jobs. It is, naturally, a good feeling when you can care for others and experience life events with them. If you get to a point where you feel like nothing about work satisfies you, this could be a sign it's time for you to leave nursing.

3. You can’t seem to separate work problems from issues at home.

It is normal to go home from work and think about a patient or something that happened during your day. However, if you get to a point where issues at work interfere with life at home, it may be time to take a step back and consider if a career change is necessary.

4. You are experiencing physical symptoms related to stress on the job.

As enjoyable as nursing can be, it is normal to feel stress on the job from time to time. When stress becomes an issue or results in physical health issues, it can become problematic. If you are experiencing symptoms such as high blood pressure, weight gain, binge eating to deal with stress, depression, or anxiety, especially when you think of work or are at work, this is one of the tell-tale signs you may need to leave nursing.

5. You feel irritable around patients or coworkers.

Everyone experiences a bad day at work here or there. However, if you begin feeling anxious more often and you feel irritable or moody toward your coworkers or patients, it may be time to consider a new path or at least a break from nursing.

6. You don’t have time for family, friends, and other things that are important to you.

Work is important, but it should not take the place of family and other important things. If you get to a point where your work and personal life is no longer in a healthy balance, you should pay attention. Lack of time to do things that are important to you or be with family can cause a strain on relationships and affect your mental health. When it becomes difficult to get life back in balance, or it seems impossible to do so, this is a sign you should consider leaving nursing.


The decision to leave nursing should not be taken lightly. Like any career, if you choose to leave, you should go about it in a manner where you have the option to return. Here are some tips on successfully leaving nursing and avoiding possible regrets.

1. Making the Decision

Sometimes, the most challenging thing about leaving nursing is deciding to do it. Whether you are recently considering a career change or have been contemplating it for a while, the reality of the decision can feel a bit overwhelming. If you have a spouse or significant other, talk with them about your desire to leave nursing. You may have a close friend who has been in the same situation who can be a sounding board for you as you work through your thoughts and plan your departure from nursing.

2. Consider alternatives to your career.

Have you thought about what you want to do after getting out of nursing? Perhaps you have a whole new career path in mind or are considering going back to school. Think about where you want to be personally and professionally in the next year, five years, or longer. If you know what you want out of life, you can make a clear plan of how to accomplish those goals and choose a new path to get there.

3. Do not tell coworkers you are planning to leave before talking to your supervisor/employer.

Practicing professional courtesy is essential if you want to successfully leave nursing. Although you may have a close friend who is a coworker, it is good practice to discuss your plans to leave with your boss first.

4. Prepare a letter of resignation.

I would emphasize the importance of preparing a formal letter of resignation when leaving a job as much as I emphasize the importance of having a professional resume when applying for a job. While the concept of preparing a letter of resignation may seem dated to some people, they serve an important purpose. An in-person meeting with your employer, which I highly recommend, should not replace a formal written notice of resignation. Letters of resignation serve as a form of formal documentation of your intention to leave a job, but they also help human resources keep your records organized. When you apply for a new job, your former human resources department can use your letter of resignation to verify your last day of employment, the previous supervisor for reference's sake, and contact information.

5. Schedule a time to visit with your employer and discuss your decision.

One of the most important things you can do when preparing to leave nursing is to schedule a face-to-face meeting with your boss. Make sure you ask for a convenient time for both you and your employer so you can talk without interruption. Think about what you want to say during the meeting beforehand. Be honest about your thoughts and feelings. If you had difficulty making the decision, it is okay to tell them. Be sure to express your gratitude for your experiences while working for them. If you had unpleasant experiences while working for your employer and feel the need to discuss them, be professional and courteous. During this meeting, your attitude and presentation could determine whether you have future opportunities to return to work there or burn bridges.

6. Get yourself mentally prepared for the meeting with your employer.

Leaving nursing can be an emotional journey, especially if you have been in the profession for a great deal of time. Preparing yourself mentally to discuss your decision with your boss will make the visit a little easier. If you are confident this is the next step for you, commit to declining any counter-offers your employer may make to try and keep you on board. While their offer may be tempting, keep in mind why you have decided to leave nursing.

7. Submit your letter of resignation.

Take your letter of resignation with you to your meeting with your employer. After you have had an opportunity to visit with your boss, offer the letter of resignation.

8. Be sure to give at least two weeks' notice.

As tempting as it can be to leave your job without giving notice, try your best to work for at least two weeks. If your employer has enough staff or has someone else interested in your position, they may give you the option of leaving sooner. However, if they do not, it is a good professional practice to provide them with time to find your replacement.

9. Meet with your human resources department to finalize any exit interviews or paperwork and return any items that belong to your facility.

A formal meeting with your supervisor is different than meeting with HR. Once you have notified your supervisor that you will be leaving and have submitted your letter of resignation, you should visit with a representative of your human resources department. Many employers, especially larger healthcare organizations, may ask you to participate in an exit interview. You will need to schedule a time to return any property that belongs to your employer, such as keys, smart devices, or name badges. It is vital that you do not overlook this step, as leaving the facility on your final day with items that are your employer's property can be considered theft, even if it was not intentional.

10. Be prepared to give feedback about why you are leaving nursing.

Although you are not required to share your reasons for leaving a job or profession, doing so can be helpful for your employer. Be honest, but kind. If you have become overwhelmed with the stress of a nursing career, explain that your departure is not about your feelings related to your employer but rather a decision to help you focus on things that are important for you personally. It may be beneficial for you to mention that you plan to keep your nursing license active in case you decide to return to the profession later.

11. Never bad-mouth former employers or coworkers.

After you have given notice or worked your last day on the job, it can be easy to want to vent frustrations about your former employer or coworkers. Instead of resorting to that behavior, maintain a professional attitude. If you are asked about a former employer, make it a point to find something positive to say. It is vital to take this approach as potential future employers may view your negative attitude about a former boss or workplace as a sign that you will treat them with the same disrespect. Work hard, keep an upbeat attitude, and remember if you can't say something nice, don't say anything.

12. Ask your employer or coworkers for letters of reference.

When you begin applying for new jobs, you will need solid references. If you have left your previous employer in good standing, it will be easier to secure positive references. When asking for references from coworkers, you should seek out people who have degrees equal to or higher than yours as they can attest to your abilities to perform jobs at your professional level. Keep in mind, leaving nursing doesn't mean you should not have nursing references. Any job you previously worked on should be considered a potential source for employment references.

13. Wrap up any incomplete work or projects.

Depending on your current role and job responsibilities, you may have projects that are not yet finished or other jobs that need to be done. It speaks well of you when you care enough to finish work or assignments before leaving instead of leaving them for someone else to do when you go. As you complete tasks, be sure to note where you have stored important files or other helpful tips for others who may do your job later.

14. Show gratitude.

Chances are, your nursing job was more than simply the means to earning an income. You may have been with your employer for several years before deciding to leave. You have probably developed good relationships with your peers and supervisors during that time. You may have learned new skills or worked your way up the ladder. Take time to thank coworkers and leaders for their contributions to your personal and professional growth. By doing this, you are showing good professional etiquette.

15. Make plans for doctors appointments and insurance coverage.

If you have been with an employer for any amount of time, chances are you have some medical coverage. Before you lose benefits, take advantage of any available wellness visits or necessary follow-up appointments. This step is especially important if you have any preexisting conditions that future insurance coverage may question.

16. Make sure your company-issued equipment, such as laptops or cellphones, does not have any of your personal information on them.

If you have been issued electronic devices for work, it is not far-fetched to think you may have used them for personal reasons at some point. Before turning over said equipment, it is good to go through them and delete any personal information you may have stored on them.

17. Decide what to do with your retirement money.

Financial planning can be confusing at times, and even under the best of circumstances. When you decide to leave your career, the idea of what to do with your money may be the last thing on your mind. Don't let this critical matter go unattended. If you have money from a retirement plan or other work-related sources that should be coming back to you, understand your company's policy and procedure on payouts or transitions. Handling the financial end of your business correctly the first time can save you a lot of frustration later.

18. Maintain grace and poise.

No matter how much you may want to leave nursing with a “hold no prisoners” effect, do not do it. Successfully leaving nursing means doing so with the right attitude. Today you may feel as if you never want to see another stethoscope or pair of scrubs for the rest of your life. That's not to say that your feelings will not change later. If you conduct yourself professionally, the road to return to nursing could be much easier if you decide to return in the future.

My Final Thoughts

In this article, we discussed how to successfully leave nursing? If you are considering leaving the nursing profession, it is essential to follow the right steps. By following the 18-step exit strategy to successfully leave nursing featured here, you can make the transition from your nursing career to a new one while maintaining professionalism.


1. Should I Maintain My License After Leaving Nursing?

It is always good to maintain your nursing license even after you successfully leave nursing. Some nurses take time away from the profession and decide to return later. It is much easier to return to the industry if you have kept your license current. Your state Board of Nursing can tell you the requirements to maintain your license.

2. Will I Still Be Called A Nurse After Successfully Leaving Nursing?

Once you have graduated from nursing school, become licensed as a nurse, and keep your nursing license current, you can expect to be called a nurse even if you leave the profession. If asked, you may choose to say you are a nurse but pursuing other interests at this time. Either way, you earned the degree and a license.

3. Can I Ever Go Back To Nursing After Leaving It?

If you successfully leave nursing by giving proper notice to employers and keep your nursing license current, there is no reason why you should not be able to return to nursing later.

4. If I Move On To Other Careers, Will My Income Significantly Drop?

If you move on to another career, it is possible that your income will drop. On the other hand, there is a good chance you will find a job that pays more. The change in income will depend on what you choose to do after you leave nursing.

5. How Often Do Nurses Leave?

In 2021, researchers found there was a sixty percent increase in the number of nurses planning to leave the profession than there were one year earlier. Several factors contribute to the number of nurses who leave the field, and dissatisfaction is not always at the top of the list. As baby boomers reach retirement age, those working in the nursing profession leave nursing, creating a need for new nurses to fill those spots.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).