Why nearly 8,000 nurses left their jobs

The U.S. has an all-time record number of actively licensed nurses — 5.6 million — but hospitals are struggling to recruit and retain enough. To discover missed opportunities, researchers surveyed 7,887 nurses who recently exited the healthcare industry. 

Each nurse was asked to list the contributing factors for their decision. Planned retirement was the leading factor, with nearly 2 in 5 nurses selecting that factor, but burnout, exhaustion, staffing shortages and family obligations were also top reasons. 

The nurses left their jobs between April 2018 and June 2021, and the researchers focused on RNs in New York and Illinois. On average, the respondents were 60 years old and had 30.8 years of experience. 

Among the listed reasons, 39% of the former nurses selected planned retirement, 26% chose burnout or emotional exhaustion and 21% said insufficient staffing contributed to their exit. 

About 60% of retired nurses indicated a planned retirement, suggesting that about 40% of retirements were unplanned, the researchers said. Among those employed by a hospital, other top contributing factors were family obligations, COVID-19 concerns and unsafe working conditions. 

"They are struggling to recruit and keep staff because of the conditions versus compensation issue," a former hospital nurse, aged between 40 to 50 years old, said. "Patients are sicker and more complex than ever … I was constantly voicing concerns for patient safety because of frontline working conditions … Can I get another nursing job? Absolutely … Do I want to? Not really."

Based on the results, the researchers advised employers to address burnout, insufficient staffing and family obligations. 

Findings were published April 9 in JAMA Network Open.

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