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CRNA S2 83 | Work-Life Balance

Achieving a work-life balance can be the antidote to burnout. While many employees indulge themselves through overtime to receive more pay, is tilting the scales of that balance worth it? And if you are a nurse, what does it look like when you’re a CRNA compared to an RN? In this episode, Jenny Finnell gives us the answers. She shares her experiences in trying to achieve a work-life balance, then explains the downfall of having no personal time in your profession. What is more, Jenny reveals a life-changing tip that will help you overcome the challenges of living a busy day-to-day life. So tune in to this show to not miss out!

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CRNA Work-Life Balance Compared To RN

What is work-life balance as a CRNA? In this episode, I’m going to share with you how I have found a work-life balance as a CRNA. I’m also going to briefly compare what it’s like being an RN compared to a CRNA in finding that work-life balance. At the end of the show, I’m going to share a tip: If you do this one thing, you will be able to achieve a good work-life balance. You can also apply this to being an RN. Make sure you stay tuned for the last tip.

Welcome back to another episode. We’re going to discuss work-life balance as a CRNA, how I can compare it to being an RN, and also the one thing that if you start doing, reflecting on, and taking action on, I promise that you will find yourself being able to achieve a good work-life balance. Let’s go ahead and get into it. If you’re a routine reader, thank you. Welcome back to the show. If you’re new, welcome. I’m excited you found me. I’m excited about your future as a CRNA. I’m excited that the show can be a part of that.

I love to share insight from my time being a CRNA as well as compare and contrast my journey. It always helps to get insight. When I was working as a nurse, I had known prior that I wanted to become a CRNA after investigating this career path and discovering that I found it to be exciting. I knew I would be excited to go to work every day. I had a passion for being a CRNA because I love the idea of pharmacology and pathophysiology.

Early on, I knew that this career path would light me up. However, the other things about this career path are also equally very appealing such as the pay. One of the things too, more so than the pay, that I was after was work-life balance. I remember thinking as an RN that my goal once I became a CRNA was to work part-time, so I could equally contribute financially to our family but also get the time I wanted with our children and for myself or personal time.

Flexible Hours: What Shift Works For You

That was ultimately one of the reasons why I desired to become a CRNA, on top of the fact that I knew the actual career path was going to be enjoyable. I was craving a better work-life balance. I’m excited to share this episode with you. Let’s first talk about hours. As a nurse, I was working twelve-hour shifts. There were some nurses who were working eight-hour shifts, although I would never want to be going into that unit every single day.

I knew I would never be happy going to work five days a week as an ICU nurse. Twelve-hour shifts allowed you some time off during the week, which I enjoyed, but that being said, as a CRNA, I don’t mind going to work because I enjoy my work. I have worked eight-hour shifts as a CRNA. It’s not bad because when I go to work, I enjoy my day. It doesn’t feel the same.

That’s one of the first things I want to point out. I know a lot of you are used to twelve-hour shifts. A lot of you achieve a balance that way because let’s face it: Going into working in the ICU is incredibly stressful. To do that five days a week, even if it’s only eight hours, is a good recipe, in my opinion, for burnout. Even twelve-hour shifts are too much. It’s three days a week. It’s different because going into work five days a week as a CRNA won’t lead to the same burnout you would experience as an ICU nurse.

That’s one of the first things I want to point out. After we had kids, I did do 36 hours in a pay period. The way I did that, so I still got a day off is I would do five eight-hour days for one week. The next week, I would do four eight-hour days. Technically, in a pay period, it would be equivalent to working 36 hours a week. That’s how I achieved that balance in my schedule, working eight-hour shifts as a CRNA but not quite working 40 hours technically a week in a pay period. That was an option for me.

I’ve had a lot of flexibility in my shifts. It doesn’t mean it always happens right away. I can’t say that every institution is going to be this flexible, but I’ve worked at four different places. There has only been 1 out of those 4 places that have been somewhat more rigid with their scheduling. Before I left that place, they were forced into being more flexible because people were leaving left and right because they were trying not to be flexible. I have found that facilities that are more flexible with their staffing and hours tend to have longer-term staff.

Having flexibility in your life is key to career satisfaction and finding a good work-life balance. Click To Tweet

That’s one thing when you go in for your job interview to make sure you’re asking about the flexibility of shifts and the options for you to do different types of shift work. As a CRNA, in my first five years, I played with eight-hour shifts. I did 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 24-hour shifts. I played with everything. Before we had kids in my first few years working as a CRNA, we didn’t have kids. I didn’t mind doing the long shifts. I did 13s, 14s, 16s, and 24s.

My experience as an ICU nurse is that when you work a 12, 13, 14, or 16-hour day, your day is done. There’s not much else that you can do on that day. When you’re getting off work at 7:30 at night and getting home at 8:00, it’s not like you’re like, “I’m going to go to the gym.” You’re usually like, “I’m going to eat dinner, crash, and mindlessly stare at a television screen before I pass out.” Your day is pretty much shot. There’s not a whole lot else you can get done.

I felt like that was your entire day. When you work an eight-hour shift, you can get out and go to the grocery store. You can go to the gym, pick up your kids, spend the evening with your kids, eat dinner, and play with your kids before bed. There’s a better work-life balance, especially if you have a family for the shorter days that you work. At least that’s my experience.

However, I also equally have a friend and a colleague that’s a CRNA. She has four children. She works full-time. She prefers long shifts because that means she has days off with her kids. She sacrifices three days a week that she works for twelve hours. She doesn’t get to see much of her kids and tuck them into bed, but she gets weekdays with them fully. For her, that feels good.

This is personal style and preference. I prefer the opposite where I don’t want to miss whole days. I would rather have my evenings. It’s less stressful for me, in general, to have my evenings and be able to pick them up from school or see them after school and have an evening with them versus having an entire day. You have to pick what you feel works best for you and your family.

As a nurse, I felt like I wouldn’t like the eight-hour days because I would have to be going into a unit I didn’t like working in. I liked my unit. The staff was great, but I didn’t like the physical job. I didn’t enjoy the idea of being an ICU nurse five days a week, so I didn’t do it, but as a CRNA, I don’t mind going to work five days a week because I enjoy the work. To hit it home, that’s the difference as far as the work-life balance between being a CRNA and an ICU nurse that I can at least shed some light on and the fact that being a CRNA tends to be more flexible with the hours depending on where you work.

The place that I was referring to was not flexible when I first got hired there. Their full-time FTE position was 46 hours a week. At first, I was like, “That’s pretty much working six hours of overtime a week.” That felt like a lot. It was a lot. I then dropped to 36 hours a week there, but they were rigid, “You had to at least close PACU one of your shifts.” That was a twelve-hour day guaranteed. I don’t like twelve-hour days. That means I miss my entire day with my kids. I don’t like that.

They were rigid with that rule. I was like, “I’m going to go somewhere else that won’t make me close and work until 7:00 or 8:00 at night.” You have to find places that have that flexibility. They do exist. You have to seek them out. Places that tend to have more flexibility tend to have long-term staff. I did 16s and 24s. After we had kids, I didn’t want to do that anymore. I came back and did ten-hour shifts, but that even was too much because it felt rushed in the evening. I had 100 bottles to clean. It’s freaking insane. It was such a mess. I was like, “I need eight-hour days for my sanity.”

CRNA S2 83 | Work-Life Balance
Work-Life Balance: Weekends and holidays are way better work-life balance as a CRNA compared to an RN.

When I asked for eight-hour days as a CRNA, I had to wait probably a solid three months before they could move me because they needed to shift other people into the ten-hour position. It wasn’t instantaneous that I got to move to eight-hour shifts, but it did happen. That is something also to be aware of. Sometimes when you have a request like that, they can’t instantaneously move you all the time. Sometimes they can. Sometimes they can’t. It’s something to be aware of as well.

I don’t know how flexible it is in the ICU either. I never tried to do eight-hour days in the ICU, but there was no one doing ten-hour days that I can recall in my ICU time. I can’t speak to all ICUs. I do also know that for the nurses who are doing eight hours, there was a waitlist. Some people wanted to do that. They were on a waitlist to get the eight-hour shifts. It wasn’t like they automatically say, “Go to eight-hour shifts.” They had to have an opening for you to even take that shift. Keep that in mind.

Sometimes it can work that way as a CRNA as well but overall, my experience has been that it’s way more flexible and achievable as a CRNA. Where I work, one of the CRNAs I work with had twins. She has six children. It’s a lot. I don’t know how she does it. She dropped to part-time. She came back to work in August 2022. She’s already able to drop to part-time. Relatively quickly after coming back, she was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’ve got to drop my hours. I can’t do this. I have six kids and twins at home.”

They’re able to give her what she wanted. I gave her a high-five because she was like, “This is my last shift as a full-time CRNA.” She was so excited. Having flexibility in your life is key, in my opinion, to career satisfaction and finding a good work-life balance. Your life is going to shift. There are going to be times in your life where you’re going to be okay with working more hours and other times where you’re not going to be okay with working more hours.

It’s about finding a career that allows you the flexibility to pick and choose what works for your life. Shift work is the same thing. It’s picking what shifts are best for you. If ten-hour shifts work because you can have a day off every week, then that works. If getting off at 5:00, 5:30, or 6:00 is still doable as far as having family time and having enough time at the end of the day, then that would be the shift you would enjoy.

For me, that wasn’t enough time. I still felt rushed with that ten-hour day. I like eight-hour days as a CRNA. Where I am in my career is I’m PRN, this gives me flexibility. I have a couple of PRN positions, which allows me to pick up as much or as little as I want. If I want to work full-time hours as a PRN, I can, especially because I have two different positions. If one place doesn’t have as much availability for me to work, I can pick up hours at the other place. That’s always an option as well.

Weekends And Holidays: Time For Yourself And Family

There’s a lot of flexibility in this career path that I wouldn’t have had as a nurse. As I spoke to before, one of my dreams was to work part-time and still achieve a good financial reward for working part-time. I’m able to finally work part-time as a CRNA and still contribute financially to our family. Especially as a working mom, that’s nice to be able to still work part-time and get that time with your young kids. They can be young kids or teenagers.

I heard a coworker tell me after we had our second, “A lot of women want time off to be home with their young babies and their kids, but if you think about it, the more important time to be more present with your children is in the teenage years because that’s when they’re influential. They can make a lot of bad decisions and get into a lot of trouble.” I was like, “That’s a good insight. I’ll remember that to equally make sure that I’m as present when they’re teenagers versus when they’re babies.” I wanted to share that. That will probably always stick with me. I’m terrified of the teenage years. We will see.

Be careful of working overtime because the last thing you want to do is have this impressive career and burn yourself into the ground because you have no personal time. Click To Tweet

That explained some of the hours and shift differences that I’ve had as a CRNA working 16 to 24. The caveat to that as a 24 is if you don’t sleep for 24 hours, you spend the next day sleeping. It doesn’t feel like you have a day off because you were running your butt off all night long a lot of times; at least we were where I worked. That was the case most nights. You didn’t sleep. You’re exhausted. You get off at 7:00 AM and sleep the day away.

It didn’t benefit me. It wasn’t like I had a whole extra day off. I went home, slept half the day, woke up in the evening, and try to go to bed to work the next day on a day shift. It threw me off. It felt like doing night shifts all over again. That’s why 24-hour shifts for me didn’t work. If you can find a place that allows in-house 24-hour coverage where you get to sleep most of the time, maybe that will work, but even on slow nights, I couldn’t sleep because it was a plastic pillow. I was sweaty.

I had to share a room with my colleague, who usually snored. Almost everyone snored. Why does everyone snore? Am I the only one who doesn’t snore? Maybe I do snore. Maybe I don’t snore. Even the skinny and petite woman that I slept with would snore. I’m like, “Stop it.” I feel comfortable elbowing my husband and giving him a jaw thrust in the middle of the night, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that to my colleagues. It didn’t work. I tried it. It’s the same with the sixteen-hour shifts.

I get off at 11:30 or midnight. I wouldn’t be going to bed until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I would sleep half my day away and sleep until 10:00 or 11:00. The problem is once you have kids, you can’t sleep in anymore unless you have a significant other or a partner who gets up with the kids. The kids are up at 7:00 AM. If you go to bed at 2:00 and they’re up at 7:00, it’s like, “I have to make sure I get up, so they don’t choke on poison. They’re little. I can’t let them go.”

Sixteen-month-olds try to find things to hurt themselves. They try to swallow magnets. That’s what they do. You can’t say, “I’m going to sleep while they’re down in front of the TV.” As a parent, it would be incredibly hard to make that work unless you had a significant other who was taking that morning shift so you could sleep in. Even then, half of my day is gone. It’s like, “Is it worth doing the late shift? Is it worth doing eight hours?” You have a nice relaxing evening, go to sleep on time, get up, and do it again.

It’s a matter of what you think works best for your life. I like getting out of work and having time to go grocery shopping or go to the gym. That’s the way I did it. After we had our 1st and even our 2nd, I would routinely go to the gym at 5:30 in the morning, work out from 5:30 to 6:30, and drive straight to work. I did my spray bath and then went to work. You put your hair in a scrub hat so you can be sweating. No one is going to know. Have a nice workflow.

That’s what I would do. It allowed me to start my day early and get my workout in. By 3:00, when I got out, I had my workout done. I had my work in. I would go grocery shopping. I could pick up my kids and enjoy my evening. That was what worked for me and what felt good. You have to figure out what works. Had I worked twelve-hour shifts, there’s no way I would go to the gym at 5:30 in the morning and then work a twelve-hour shift. That would be brutal.

It goes to show that it depends on what your preference is for your days. Weekends and holidays are way better work-life balance as a CRNA compared to an RN on this one. I was on a day-night rotation for a while, which was not fun. I worked for three years and I never got off every other weekend. Normally after a certain period, the more senior nurse you become, you can get on until every third weekend. I was a nurse for three years and still had to work every other weekend. That was not fun.

CRNA S2 83 | Work-Life Balance
Work-Life Balance: Work an occasional overtime shift intermittently but don’t kill yourself either. Enjoy life.

I remember thinking, “If I stayed a nurse, I would miss out on so many things with my children, including holidays. I am 100% not okay with that.” I’m sure most people are not okay with that, but they’re forced to have to do it. That never feels good to be forced to have to work on Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or a weekend when it’s your child’s birthday party weekend, “I have to do a birthday party on a different weekend because it’s my weekend to work.” You beg your coworkers or colleagues to switch with you.

As a CRNA, I had a completely different experience where in my first position, we had to have weekend coverage. We were a level-one trauma center, but it wasn’t a full schedule, meaning there were two 24-hour CRNAs and an 8-hour CRNA. As we got busier, we also staffed a ten-hour CRNA on the weekends. We had an 8-hour, a 10-hour, and two 24-hour CRNAs attending. That’s how we staffed our weekends. We even started bringing in students on the weekends as well from SRNAs in training. You get to work weekends too for free. It’s just temporarily, though.

That being said, that was how that position worked. It was optional, meaning you volunteered to work on the weekends. You got paid a much higher hourly rate to work on a weekend. I’m sure it’s way higher now, but at the time, it was $135 an hour. It has to be higher now. I got a bump as a PRN from $110 to $150. That’s a huge bump. It’s $40 an hour bump. I was like, “I’m not going to complain about that.” Things are fluctuating with the world and how short-staffed everyone is, but hourly rates have gotten bumped significantly. I’m sure it’s higher now. This is back in 2018. Things have changed a lot since then.

You would get paid more per hour coming in on the weekend. It was always optional. In my five years working there, on occasion, they did rotate. If you never volunteered to work a weekend or a holiday, and they were short and didn’t have anyone else to do it, you could potentially be mandated. There were a few threats a few times. I remember it happened to me when I was on maternity leave, coming back and saying, “I’ve been off for this long. I haven’t worked. I would be first up to be responsible.” I forget what holiday it was.

I was like, “That is not fair to pick on me because I’ve been on maternity leave to say I am responsible for working.” I went up to my manager and told her that. She was 100% in agreeance with it and was like, “That’s not fair.” She put me down on that list. Someone ended up volunteering to do it anyways. It never was a mandating situation. In my five years working there, that was the closest it ever got where we didn’t have enough staff to volunteer.

This also was a place that was chronically short-staffed. We had a lot of locums all the time. It was in a city that wasn’t super robust. If you didn’t grow up there, you usually didn’t want to move there. It wasn’t a happening city, which is usually the cities that tend to have a harder time filling positions because it’s not a hub where people are drawn to. It was only an issue on occasion.

In the other place I worked, weekends always were optional as well. It’s the same with holidays. Speaking of holidays and weekends, they were always optional, at least where I previously worked. In the two places I worked, holidays and weekends were always optional. Where I work, I’m just a PRN. I’m not included in it. The only full-time staff is included in this. They do rotations for holidays, meaning once every 5 or 6 years, you will have a holiday you have to work. Part-time and full-time staff do take that rotation. That is the only time.

I also equally know that a lot of times, CRNAs will send out an email saying, “Can anyone pick up my holiday?” Most of the time, they can have someone who wants to volunteer because you get a much higher hourly pay rate. The people that don’t have young kids or their kids are grown in college don’t mind working at Christmas because maybe their kids have kids, and their kids are doing Christmas somewhere else.

Every time you say yes to something, you also say no to something else. Click To Tweet

Their plan already was to do Christmas on a different day. They were like, “I might as well go in and make money on Christmas because I’m not going to be doing anything besides sitting in my house.” Usually, you can find people like that who are willing to pick up if someone else wants to get rid of a holiday. Out of those three locations, only one of them does a holiday on a rotation, but it’s once every five years. It’s not very common that you have a rotation for a holiday. Weekends are always optional.

When you become an open-heart CRNA, you tend to have more obligations with calls, weekends, and holidays because you have to be able to staff CRNAs that can do open-heart in case a class-one comes in. Keep that in mind if you join an open-heart team. You may have more requirements than you would have otherwise to being on call and working weekends and holidays.

I did that, but I didn’t think about that prior. I wanted to do open-heart, so I did it. I loved it, but I didn’t want that. That came with it. There was a point after we had children where I said, “I no longer want to do 24 hours. I no longer want to be on the call team. I still love to do open hearts, but you pick. I’m either going to quit doing open hearts altogether or you can keep me and let me be a unicorn because that’s what I want.” Luckily, they loved  me enough to make that happen for me.

I stayed on the open-heart team. I didn’t take calls and do 24 hours. I was the unicorn. Maybe not everyone liked that, but I made that request and gave them the ultimatum, “You can lose me or you can keep me. This is what I want.” They chose to keep me. It goes to show that you are incredibly valuable as a CRNA, especially if you have a good work ethic and you show up for your coworkers and your team. They’re going to usually try to work with you to keep you around.

Working Overtime

We covered weekends and holidays. Let’s talk about overtime. I see a lot of new CRNAs burn themselves out pretty early on with all the overtime. I want to caution you with that because I know you’ve got loans. I get it but be careful because the last thing you want to do is have this amazing career and burn yourself into the ground because you have no personal time.

Loans can get paid off over time. Work an occasional overtime shift intermittently but don’t kill yourself either. Enjoy life. You spent three years in CRNA school. Enjoy some free time. Please, promise me because I’ve seen CRNAs do it. They’re miserable after a year in their career. They don’t have any personal time. They usually realize it at that point then they cut way back.

I did overtime, too, not the way some of my coworkers did, especially in the first year. Almost every other weekend, I was working overtime, but then my priority shifted once we had kids. I was like, “My weekends are for my babies.” I’m grateful and glad that happened because it allowed me to start enjoying life a little bit more and not always worry about making more money.

Be careful with that. Usually, overtime is always an option for a CRNA. They’re always going to want you. We even had overtime for four hours. We come in and help with lunches. We will take anything you can give us. Usually, the overtime was guaranteed pay. It was a couple of hours. It was a $200 minimum. Even if you get called off, you would get the $200 for volunteering to take the overtime. If you came in, even if you didn’t work the whole four hours, you get paid for the four hours.

CRNA S2 83 | Work-Life Balance
Work-Life Balance: Always ask, “If I say yes to this, what would I also be saying no to?” If you do this, I promise that you’re going to feel good about the noes and the yeses because you’ve thought through why.

They would do it in four-hour chunks on occasion when they were desperate, especially for lunch coverage. Overtime can be flexible. You’re usually the first one out. It is usually a per-hour thing, but they give you at least a minimum pay and guarantee when you come in as an overtime CRNA, which is nice. You usually get four hours guaranteed. I can’t speak for every location. That has just been my experience.

Achieving Work-Life Balance As A CRNA

I want to wrap this episode up by talking about how to achieve a work-life balance as a CRNA and even as an RN. This has been eye-opening for me. It has been something that I’ve been only practicing for a short period in my career and life, but now that I’m routinely practicing, it has changed my life and made me so much happier with my decisions and I feel good about them. Here is what I want to share with you: I want to remind you that every time you say yes to something, you’re also saying no to something else every time.

When they call you up and say, “Can you come in?” before you say yes, stop and think, “If I say yes, what am I then saying no to? What were my plans on that day? If I say yes, I’m going to be saying no to these other plans.” That no to the other plan is a boundary, meaning, “I’m not going to do this for you,” then say no and feel good about saying no because you’ve thought through what you would be saying no to if you said yes. This one simple practice will change your life. I promise you.

Here’s an example. I shared how I didn’t go to Annual Congress. I wanted to go and meet students, faculty, and CRNAs, but that also equally fell on a weekend. It was the last weekend of summer. I would have had to leave early so I could get home in time to get my son ready for his first day of first grade. I’m sorry, but that’s a big deal. It’s a big milestone in his life. I wanted to be present for that. I wanted to spend that last day of summer celebrating him and our daughter who’s entering pre-K and be present for my family.

I said no because I knew what mattered more to me was my family at that moment. I said no to Congress. I was asked on Monday. Tuesday was his last day of summer. We had plans to go to Fun ‘n’ Stuff and have fun as a family. I was sent a message from my other peer on position saying, “We had a call-off. Can you please come to work tomorrow?” I said, “Unfortunately, I can’t.” I left it at that. I’m like, “I don’t need to explain why. It doesn’t matter why. The answer is no.”

The old Jenny would have probably felt bad for my coworkers who wouldn’t get lunch breaks or pee breaks. I would have gone in, but then I wouldn’t have thought through it. I’m saying no to my children. The new Jenny is like, “I said no. I still feel bad for my coworkers. I’m sorry, but it’s equally not my responsibility to take that on when my responsibility first and foremost is to my family.”

I shared that story in our Facebook community. I had a nurse tell me that she equally remembers having a maternity photo shoot scheduled. Her manager called and said they’re short-staffed and pretty much begged her to come in. She came into work and didn’t get her maternity pictures for that. I’m speechless because you want to celebrate your body and this amazing miracle of building a human inside your body and have that physically and emotionally. You said no to that for your work.

That is a boundary that you should not cross. I want to stress the importance of this in your journey, whether you’re an ICU nurse or you’re entering your CRNA career path. Always ask, “If I say yes to this, what would I also be saying no to?” If you do this, I promise that you’re going to feel good about the noes and the yeses because you’ve thought through why.

What it comes down to is the boundaries and knowing what your priorities are and making sure you’re holding true to them. That’s going to bring you mental peace and happiness with your career and give you that work-life balance that you want so badly, but it starts with you being able to assess what’s a yes, what’s  a no and why. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you found it helpful.

Thank you so much for reading. Be sure to leave a review. I appreciate all the reviews. Thank you so very much. I love hearing from you. Cheers to your CRNA journey. If you’re a CRNA School Prep Academy member, I am so excited for you. If you’re not a CSPA student, I encourage you to head over to www.CRNASchoolPrepAcademy.com and learn how we can help you in your CRNA journey. Have a good rest of your day. I’ll see you soon.

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