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Nearly a third of nurses nationwide say they are likely to leave the profession

Miriala Gonzalez, a registered nurse in Miami, carries a monkeypox vaccine. A new survey highlights major concerns from nurses nationwide regarding future staffing levels in hospitals.
Joe Raedle
/
Getty Images
Miriala Gonzalez, a registered nurse in Miami, carries a monkeypox vaccine. A new survey highlights major concerns from nurses nationwide regarding future staffing levels in hospitals.

Close to a third of nurses nationwide say they are likely to leave the profession for another career due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey from AMN Healthcare shows.

This level is up at least seven points since 2021. And the survey found that the ongoing shortage of nurses is likely to continue for years to come.

About 94% of nurses who responded to the AMN Healthcare survey said that there was a severe or moderate shortage of nurses in their area, with half saying the shortage was severe. And around 89% of registered nurses (RNs) said the nursing shortage is worse than five years ago.

Nurses aren't optimistic about the future, either. At least 80% of those surveyed expect that to get much worse in another five years, the report shows.

Unions representing nurses have long warned about the problem facing the profession, said National Nurses United President Deborah Burger and President of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW Jane Hopkins. Both women are also RNs.

"It's a critical moment in our time for nurses. The country needs nurses. We are very short and we are feeling very worried about the future of their work," Hopkins said.

Nurses, other healthcare workers and members of the Service Employees International Union rally for better staffing levels at West Hills Hospital on January 12, 2023 in West Hills, California.
Araya Doheny / Getty Images for SEIU
/
Getty Images for SEIU
Nurses, other healthcare workers and members of the Service Employees International Union rally for better staffing levels at West Hills Hospital on January 12, 2023 in West Hills, California.

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly exacerbated problems, but short staffing was an issue even before then, Burger and Hopkins said.

"The staffing crisis didn't just happen. It's been around for years. Unions have been sounding the alarm that organizations were putting profits before patients," Hopkins said. Employers "had cut staffing so bad, that there was no room for flexibility."

She said she hears from members that they rarely have time to eat lunch or use the bathroom during their shifts.

Low staffing has a dangerous trickle-down effect, Burger said. It leads to a heavier workload, more stress and burnout for the remaining staff, as well as a negative impact to patient care.

The AMN Healthcare survey findings indicated younger generations of nurses were also less satisfied with their jobs compared to their older counterparts.

But even before the pandemic, the younger generation had signaled they were done with nursing, Hopkins said. "First and second year nurses were leaving the profession at a higher rate because it's not what they expected. This escalated during the pandemic," she said.

Across generations, a higher percentage of nurses also reported dealing with a greater deal of stress at their job than in previous years, the survey said. Four in five nurses experience high levels of stress at work — an increase of 16 points from 2021.

Similarly, a higher level of nurses reported feeling emotionally drained from the 2021 survey — up at least 15% in two years (62% to 77%).

One source of that stress? Nurses are also experiencing an increasing level workplace violence in the hospitals, Burger said.

"Nurses don't feel safe in many of the hospitals around the country. And we've heard horrendous stories. That also gets tied back into short staffing," she said.

Nurses have been fighting for better working conditions

This discontent among staff has deeper implications for hospitals and other organizations across the country.

In January, around 7,000 nurses in New York went on strike over a contract dispute with hospitals in the city. The nurses were looking for higher wages and better working conditions. This strike forced several hospitals to divert patients elsewhere.

Vox reported in January that nurses and other healthcare workers have frequently gone on strike in recent years. In 2022, eight of the 25 work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers in the U.S. were done by nurses.

National Nurses United has issued a number of its own reports and surveys about the current state of the profession, which have come to similar conclusions to the AMN survey. The union has lobbied Congress hard to pass legislation that address staffing ratios and improve workplace safety provisions.

The AMN Healthcare survey similarly recommended that health care providers create safer working environments and broader regulatory changes to make meaningful differences.

Burger was more direct.

"Stop studying it and start actually legislating. Congress knows that they need to do something," Burger said.

"It's concerning that there's a lot of hand wringing," she said, but nothing is being done.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.