Study finds nearly 100,000 nurses quit during COVID pandemic

The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was exceptionally tough for nurses, as they had to deal with stress and challenges they never could have anticipated.

As frontline workers fought against the virus, nurses worked tirelessly to care for patients, often under incredibly difficult circumstances.

According to new research from a biennial nursing workforce study carried out by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, a nonprofit group that advocates for nurses across the country, about 100,000 registered nurses left the workforce over the past two years, largely due to stress and burnout.

The study also showed that 610,388 registered nurses “intend to leave” the workforce by 2027.

“We were shocked,” said Maryann Alexander, NCSBN’s chief officer of nursing regulation. “We knew we were going to see a decrease in the workforce due to COVID, but what we didn’t anticipate was how many nurses have an intent to leave.”

One of the biggest challenges nurses faced is an increased workload.

The pandemic led to more patients to care for, often with more complex medical needs, and nurses had to work longer hours to keep up with the demand, especially in hospitals with staffing shortages and a lack of open beds.

According to the study, 62% of nurses reported an increase in their workload during COVID. Many were left exhausted and emotionally drained.

“The pandemic put an extraordinary amount of stress on nurses,” said Alexander.

Typically, nurses who say they want to leave the profession are near retirement age, but the over 600,000 nurses that currently plan to end their nursing careers fall “across all age categories.”

“This was quite disconcerting for us, and we feel it’s a call to action,” Alexander said.

According to Alexander, this “action” includes telling health care leadership, employers and policymakers that they should improve working conditions for nurses, especially when it comes to addressing staffing shortages.

“We’re trying to create an awareness of what is happening and asking everybody to have a coordinated effort to prevent this massive departure from the profession,” she said.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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