The Future of Nursing is Flexible: How contracting helped give me my life back


Eighteen months ago, I was ordered to take five weeks off work by my doctor after experiencing extreme burnout.

At the time, I was working full-time in the emergency department (ED) at my local hospital in Brisbane. Like me, many others working in healthcare experience the same thing – exhaustion and fatigue – choosing to ignore the signs so that they can continue helping others, resulting in them getting sick themselves and unable to fully recover. That time off work gave me space to realise that my lifestyle, which had left me physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted, was unsustainable. I began to question my future in nursing.

Becoming a nurse was something I had always wanted to do – the desire to support people through their most trying times drew me in, and I studied nursing and secured a Bachelor of Nursing Science. But no nurse will ever tell you it’s an easy profession. Australian nurses face all kinds of challenges, from long hours, overtime and abuse, to staff shortages and retention issues. In fact, recent studies reveal three quarters of the nation’s 450,000 nurses feel burnt out (72.1%), while two thirds report an excessive workload (66.4%) and working overtime (66.3%). The national nursing shortage – exacerbated by an ageing population – is only adding to the pressures placed on permanent employees, particularly those who work in the public sector.

Getting a doctor’s note for extended leave was a turning point in my career and in my own mindset. Despite being desperate to help people and feeling like I was letting my patients down, I wasn’t really caring for myself. I knew a change had to be made if I was to continue – which led me to explore contracting work.

This career pivot was – to put it simply – life-changing.

As a full-time nurse, I was consistently working more than eight twelve-hour shifts in the ED per fortnight. Not only was I constantly exhausted and worried I wasn’t delivering the best-quality care, I also felt I was missing out on valuable time with my daughter as she was growing up.

Now, as a contractor, I’ve reduced my days in the ED to three per week. The other two days, I’m out in the field with 15 clients, working normal hours so that I feel like I have a life again. My cup is full, I’m feeling better rested, spending more quality time with my family and confident in the level of support I can provide my patients. And my pay hasn’t dropped – in fact, it’s improved.

Working in the community has always been a passion of mine – particularly disability support – which I did alongside studying my degree. Contract work has given me the space to return to this, as I can now choose my hours and fit work in around my studies. Plus, now that my energy levels are recharged, I actually have the brain power needed to learn something new. I can now provide support to patients with disability, mental health and palliative issues, while still getting to help those in the ED and it’s an incredibly rewarding balance.

Plus, as a single mum, being around for and caring for my family is so important. With this new-found freedom I’m able to have breakfast with my daughter, do the school run and spend the evenings with her. My work-life balance has never been better, my mental health and sleep quality has improved, and so have my relationships with my family and friends.

Shifting to self-employment, however, can come with its challenges – a major one being having to take care of all your tricky tax and financial admin. According to Hnry (Australasia’s leading digital accounting service for the self-employed), this can take independent earners up to 7 hours a week on average. Never one to gate-keep, I’m proud to say I could not have made this shift to self-employment without Hnry. Their helpful, always-available team of accountants mean my Sundays are no longer filled with dread about uploading my invoices, expenses and outgoing payments. They take care of everything for me – including automatically calculating and paying my student loan, HECs, medicare and taxes whenever I’m paid.

My colleagues in the ED often ask me how they can improve their work-life balance, and I only have one answer: work for yourself. It gives you the freedom to control your own schedule and factor in what matters to you. For any nurses who may be thinking about taking this leap, I say go for it. You’ll honestly never look back.

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Aprill Hatt is a registered nurse from Brisbane.

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