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The importance of leaving work at work as a nurse practitioner

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When you begin your career as a nurse practitioner, or even several years in, you are likely eager to do your best, work your hardest, and give 110%. You might mull over difficult patient cases after leaving work for the day. You might even chart at home after hours to stay on top of work because you feel less stressed spreading out the work or doing this is just the culture of your workplace.

When I was a new grad NP, I never brought charting home. I was lucky to complete all my charting within my workday, and because of this, I thought I was crushing my work/home life boundaries.

I wasn’t paying attention to how often my mental space was taken up by thinking about work after work. On my drives to and from work, and during my weekday evenings, and sometimes on weekends, I would find myself thinking about my patients. I was worried about how they were doing or whether I remembered ordering all the necessary labs. Did I follow up with that one specialist provider? Did I refill that patient’s medications? How about the patient who became frustrated when I wouldn’t prescribe that controlled substance, should I have written the script? Can patients tell I’m not really sure what I’m doing?

While I didn’t have physical work coming home, I had mental work coming home with me. In some ways, this is just as draining (if not more draining) than bringing home charting. Often we don’t notice we’re bringing work home.

Why you should leave work at work

When we constantly bring work home with us (whether it’s charting or thinking about work after hours), we feel more mentally and emotionally depleted. We need balance in our lives. New grads can be especially susceptible to imbalance. When feeling overwhelmed at work, we often compensate by working hard outside of work hours.  

While not an issue in the beginning necessarily, a long-term imbalance can contribute to experiencing burnout. Feeling emotionally drained, cynical, and no longer finding pleasure in your work and even aspects of your home life.

How to leave work at work

First, be aware that you might be bringing work home with you. It’ll be obvious if you are physically bringing work home because you will be doing it (i.e., charting at home). Awareness of mentally bringing work home is a bit sneakier.

Side note: We don’t always have control over bringing work home physically. You might work somewhere where the expectation is that you chart at home, or you are overwhelmed with work and need to create more breathing room by bringing a bit of work home, in the beginning, to stay afloat. Just make sure this is not a permanent occurrence.

What you do have control over is your mental real estate. Allowing work to take up significant mental space outside of work is something we can learn to control.

Ways to help improve your ability to leave work at work include:

  • Create an intentional routine that signifies work is done for the day at work (i.e., you finish your work email inbox, or when you drive home, you listen to music or a podcast that signifies work is done)
  • When you catch yourself thinking about work, tell yourself you will think about it later, when you’re at work. With frequent redirection, you will eventually think about work less outside of work hours  
  • Talk to your employer about work imbalance and collaborate on ways to increase efficiency at work, so it’s not coming home with you
  • Work on staying in the present moment wherever you are (i.e., mindfulness, meditation)

When you leave work at work, you can be more present in your life outside of work and more effective in your job when at work.