Friendships at work are often the best source of emotional support. Nurses with strong connections to other nurses reported experiencing lower stress levels than those without these relationships, according to a 2016 survey.
Research further links friendships with good health. Women with breast cancer were less likely to have a recurrence or die from cancer if they had strong social ties. People with friends also live longer.
Nursing is a demanding profession. Having a life and relationships outside of work is important to balance work-related stress. Yet, making friends as a nurse and maintaining those friendships can be challenging.
In many countries, loneliness has become an epidemic. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted work and social lives, increasing the number of people who lost friends or had difficulty making friends. As an adult, it’s important to recognize that it takes time to build a trusting relationship.
Other barriers may include personal insecurities, an introverted personality, or difficulty allowing others to see the real you. Yet, it is entirely possible to build meaningful and long-lasting friendships that ultimately support a lifetime of health and wellness.
Why Making Friends as a Nurse Is Important
A survey published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found nearly 100,000 RNs working in the U.S. left their jobs because of the stressors encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same survey reveals over 800,000 nurses plan to leave by 2027 because of stress, retirement, or burnout.
Although making friends as a nurse and developing a deep nurse-to-nurse bond is not the sole answer to rising stress from the growing nursing shortage, these supportive relationships benefit a nurse’s mental health and ability to continue caring for patients.
Nurses have more intense experiences on the job than most other professionals, resulting in a higher level of stress. The unique aspects of nursing mean that only other nurses understand what nurses go through on the job.
Throughout my over 20-year nursing career, I had close friends who were nurses when my physical and mental symptoms of stress were at their lowest. During those 20 years, my family moved four times, so I became somewhat of an expert at learning how to make friends in a new city.
Only another nurse knows what it feels like to hold a patient’s hand while they die. Only another nurse understands the stress of working with a high nurse-to-patient ratio on an evening when most patients need extra care. Only another nurse understands waking suddenly at night shaking after a dream that you forgot a patient assignment, didn’t pass your meds, or froze during a code.
Other friends and family may try to be understanding and compassionate about the situations you describe. But, until you live through them, it’s nearly impossible to fathom the depth and range of emotion that can happen in a 10-hour shift.
Nurses with long-term friendships report having lower levels of stress. But, developing nurse-to-nurse bonds can be especially challenging for travel nurses. Travel nurses move from city to city and embrace change while stepping into a room full of strangers and making themselves at home.
Travel nurses become adept at making friends and creating special bonds that can last a lifetime, especially with online social media platforms that allow you to keep up with your friends no matter where you live.
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How to Make and Keep Friends
For better or worse, friendships play a large part in determining happiness. They help develop a sense of belonging, encourage us to become who we want to be, and can even shape goals and dreams.
Each experience and friendship has its own rewards and set of challenges. Making friends as an adult is more difficult than as a child, but it may also be more rewarding.
As a Nurse, How Do I Make Friends With Other Nurses?
A lack of trust, time, and energy create obstacles to developing deep and lasting friendships. Instead of thinking of making friends as a large mountain to cross, consider building friendships in just 10 minutes a day.
You may only need 10 minutes a day to catch up with someone after work, send a text, or forward a meme. When you connect with someone interested in reciprocating your friendship, try leaning into your vulnerability.
Consider building friendships in just 10 minutes a day.
You’re in control of how much you open up to another person. While there is a risk in being vulnerable, it opens the possibility for a meaningful friendship with another nurse.
Making friends as a travel nurse is easier at work since you live in the area for a limited time. Oftentimes, other travel nurses are working in the same area.
It may seem easier for more outgoing nurses to make friends, but there are strategies you can use, no matter your personality. The first time my husband’s company transferred us, I was lucky enough to share an office with a nurse who became my friend.
While I’m outgoing and enjoy talking with strangers, I do not enjoy socializing outside of work, going to parties, or spending long hours on the phone. We had a young family, my husband worked long hours, and I was busy. It wasn’t long before I chose to see a therapist.
Learning how to take care of my mental health was a new experience. But, I quickly learned that having a support system and close friends helped ease the loneliness and smooth the transition into a new city. Making friends as a nurse was an important aspect of my mental health.
Nurses who enjoy socializing tend to organize outings for groups of nurses. It gives nurses time to get away from the job and see each other as people, not just as someone you call for help when you need to transfer a patient or have a question about a medication.
Making friends as a nurse was an important aspect of my mental health.
You can feel uncomfortable doing anything socially when you’re a little shy. But, the key to connecting with others is simple — focus on them, not yourself. When people know you’re truly interested in their feelings, experiences, and opinions, it makes them feel good, and they notice. You’ll make more friends by being interested in them than trying to get people interested in you.
Another trick is to pay attention to what’s going on around you. You may need to keep your phone with you in case of an emergency at home, but don’t look at the screen constantly and avoid other distractions. When you pay attention to what people are saying and how they act, you’ll get to know them far quicker.
Remembering someone’s children’s names or what’s going on in their life shows people that you care. It takes two to have a friendship, so it’s important to recognize whether the other person wants a new friend. Even if they genuinely like you, it may not be the best time to become their friend.
Another option is joining a group of nurses outside of work. For example, consider joining a nursing organization or mentorship program. Look for meet-ups organized for nurses, or consider starting a group focused on an activity you enjoy, like a book club for nurses.
How to Maintain Friendships as a New Nurse
All connections thrive on regular communication and interaction. And like all other friendships, your friendship with another nurse must overcome some obstacles in everyday life. For instance, misunderstandings, miscommunication, and an unequal power struggle can quickly create a divide that ends a friendship.
After moving on to your next job or role within the organization, you may find it hard to maintain your friendships. This is a difficult choice to make. But, like many things in life, some friendships are there for a season and others for a lifetime.
Consider the friendships you want to maintain and spend the time and energy necessary to keep them.
I have a friend I’ve known for 23 years. She’s lived in three cities since I met her, and I’ve stayed in one. Sometimes we talk every month, and other times it’s six months or more before we catch up. But, each time, it’s like we talked just yesterday.
Friendships are the families we choose.
Some friendships come naturally, and others need more work. Neither type is better than the other. What’s important is making friends as a nurse and maintaining those friendships because they give us strength, support, and confidence.
Friendships are the families we choose. While it takes work and commitment to maintain those friendships, the payoff is big. Lower stress levels, better physical and mental health, and friends who know how to support you emotionally are some benefits that pay dividends for years to come.
Nurse Spotlight: Sheryl Leo, RN
Sheryl Leo, RN
Sheryl Leo is a Fastaff Pediatric ICU travel nurse. She’s been practicing for more than 30 years and has been travel nursing since 2013. In January 2019, she took an assignment in a PICU in the Bronx and has been there ever since.
During the first surge of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit became an adult COVID intensive care unit, and Sheryl joined the ranks fighting the pandemic on the front lines. More recently, the hospital’s PICU reverted to pediatric patients. Sheryl has been caring for children fighting COVID, RSV and other illnesses.
Tell us about one or two of your closest nurse friends. How did you meet? How long have you known each other? What is your relationship like now?
Two of my closest nurse friends are Krista and Belinda. I met both of them many years ago when we worked as staff nurses in Orlando, Florida. All of us are now travel nurses working in New York City. Krista and I have been in the same PICU since I came to New York City four years ago. We have been roommates off and on in the past four years.
Belinda works in a different NYC hospital. We get together when our schedules allow and enjoy spending time together. We have talked about being roommates if our assignments are conducive to do so.
What challenges have you faced in developing friendships with other nurses?
There are some challenges to developing and maintaining friendships while you are a travel nurse, especially if you tend to change locations every 13 weeks as some travel nurses do. That is not a great deal of time to form a quality relationship. Because I have been at the same hospital for four years, I am fortunate to have developed friendships not only with other travel nurses, but with staff nurses as well.
How have your friendships with other nurses helped you personally and professionally?
I feel the friendships that I have developed have helped me personally by making it easier to be away from home. It can be sad and lonely when you are far from home if you do not have friends in your life. Professionally, I feel that developing bonds with other nurses can make or break you in a busy unit.
Travel nurses especially tend to have each other’s backs when the unit is bursting at the seams with critically ill patients. It is essential to have that cohesiveness to successfully manage your assignment. These patients can take a turn for the worse very quickly, and we need to help each other to provide the best possible patient care.
How do your nurse friends help you process stressful situations at work?
The unit can be extremely stressful, especially with high-acuity patients, even more so if the unit is short on nurses. PICU nurses deal with life-and-death situations on a daily basis, and it is essential to have support systems in place to help cope with these challenges. We can relate to each other because we have been there together. It is crucial to have this emotional support in order to succeed in this field.
How do you balance maintaining your nursing friendships with other responsibilities inside and outside of work?
Personally for me, it has been a challenge to find enough time to maintain friendships. I work all of my shifts consecutively: eight, 12-hour shifts in a row to facilitate having six days off in a row, so that I can spend time with my significant other and family that is so far away. It can be quite the juggling act to keep it together.
How have you kept in touch with your nurse friends after you moved on to your next role or assignment?
I have built many friendships over the years and have tried my best to maintain them. Social media has helped significantly to keep in touch with friends that are thousands of miles away. When I am able to visit home, I endeavor to see as many of them as I am able to.