Yep! That question again. Once again, this question is popping up in articles and forums, and there’s a pretty obvious consensus developing about the reasons why nurses may be leaving the nursing profession.
The fact is this is not the first time we’ve seen a nursing shortage or seen a nursing exodus. As a longtime nurse and even longer time nurse practitioner, I’ve sure seen it before. Any experienced nurse witnessed them in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. But the shortage was always filled with a fresh supply of nursing school graduates. So, what makes things feel a little different this time around?
Nurses Are Burned Out:
It’s no real secret, nursing is a physically and emotionally demanding job, with long hours, staffing shortages, high workload and stress levels, and exposure to traumatic situations all just part of the daily ‘normal’. Many experience anxiety or depression because of the job-related stressors. Although 2021 was a peak year, and the numbers have improved slightly, the exhaustion, cynicism, and detachment of burnout can be a career ender, for even the most dedicated of nurses.
Nurses Feel Undervalued:
If nothing else, the Covid Pandemic served to prove something that many nurses had been suspecting for a long time: our government, our employers, and the communities we dedicate our lives to are often long on talk and short on action when it comes to supporting the needs and aspirations of the nursing workforce. Hospital needs to cut costs? Invariably, efficiency consultants or projects look to cutting nursing staff as the answer. (I think they need to be a patient and feel the outcome of THAT decision!) The chronic lack of support, recognition, and career advancement opportunities, as well as the crushing workload that’s become average across the profession, sends far too many good nurses out looking for greener pastures elsewhere.
Nurses’ Work Environments Are Often Toxic
Why is it that nursing is especially prone to bullying? Bullying and harassment from colleagues and supervisors, inadequate staffing leading to unsustainable hours and responsibility loads, and a culture that downplays a nurse’s mental health and encourages a “suck it up” mentality. All of these issues and more create a work environment that nurses are leaving in droves, in order to find a healthier work-life balance.
Nurses Are Getting Older And Ready To Retire
As the workforce ages, a perfectly normal part of any profession, nurses simply retire. The trouble arises as we begin to see enrollment in nursing programs trend downward while nurses from the Boomer generation begin to retire at higher and higher rates every year. This resulting loss of a skilled and knowledgeable nursing workforce may result in higher turnover rates, and a shrinking pool of experienced nurses to train and mentor the new generation.
The Nursing Profession Is Less Attractive
Because of all these issues, we are starting to see a shift in the trends of young people entering healthcare careers, as well as established nurses leaving the profession to pursue other opportunities. Nursing is a versatile profession with many specialties and options for career advancement, but without support and encouragement, nurses are choosing to transition to different roles within or outside of healthcare or pursue further education and training in a different field altogether.
It’s important to remember that simply identifying why nurses are quitting is just a small part of solving the problem. The real question we must answer as an industry is, what can we do to encourage nurses to STAY? Instead of wringing our hands over all the problems, let’s begin to address these issues through policy and cultural shifts. Let’s begin to promote a positive work environment by addressing nurses' mental health seriously. Let’s promote and prioritize a health work-life balance for nurses. Let’s court the younger workforce with career advancement opportunities and other benefits. In general, let’s focus the resources of the healthcare industry on making nursing a healthy, thriving profession that our best and brightest are attracted to.
Let’s stop thinking of nurses as commodities. Nurses are highly educated professionals who need to be valued and respected. A change in this philosophy will help fill nursing schools and nursing positions.
As a longtime NP with a desire to help and make positive changes to her beloved profession, Lynn often writes opinion pieces about the NP profession.
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