What makes hospital employees quit their jobs? Answers from 6 workers

Healthcare workers have left their roles — or professions altogether — in droves amid the pandemic, a trend often attributed to burnout. But is the answer more complicated than that? Becker's reached out to healthcare workers across the country to gain insight into why they left healthcare or full-time hospital jobs and what would have made them stay.

Why workers left

Patti Barnett was a radiologic tech at Petaluma (Calif.) Valley Hospital, part of Renton, Wash.-based Providence. She decided to take early retirement rather than continue working during the pandemic.

She said she would consider going back into the job market, but she would not return to her former position. 

When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Ms. Barnett took a year away from work because she was considered to be at high risk with the virus because of a heart condition. She returned to work at Petaluma Valley Hospital in July 2021.

"I was an X-ray tech and a mammography tech, splitting my shifts half and half," she explained. "I asked my supervisors to put me just in mammography, where the likelihood of COVID-19 was greatly reduced. They did not want to give up somebody who was assigned to do the COVID work, even though they needed more help in mammography."

Ms. Barnett said she felt that the hospital was not doing enough to address staffing strain and was prioritizing profits over the employees. 

"It was at the expense of the workers, and I came to the conclusion that my health and my life are not worth another couple years of working there. I tried to work out a deal with them, but it didn't work out," she said. 

Her last day was in August 2021, after she had been at the hospital for 15 years. She said she would have considered staying if she had been able to keep a mammography position, even part time.

Carmen Amavisca worked as a housekeeper at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Memorial Hospital, also part of Providence. She chose to leave healthcare and now works in a supermarket. 

Ms. Amavisca said she caught COVID-19 twice while working at Santa Rosa and ended up giving the virus to her daughter.  

"I felt extremely guilty because I had caught it and brought it home and gave it to her," she said.

She described the overall work environment at the hospital as toxic. More specifically, she said staffing wasn't adequate, and she was not always warned a patient had COVID-19 before going into ar room to clean. 

Everything "built up, and I got tired of it, so that's what made me leave. I was going through so much emotional stress, and it was starting to wear on my body," said Ms. Amavisca.

Ms. Amavisca officially left the housekeeper role in August and took a pay cut to work at Safeway. She works the night shift, which most easily works with her schedule. 

Kelli Tamburro worked as a nurse at Beaumont Dearborn (Mich.) Hospital for 28 years. She retired early in August 2020, as a result of burnout and changes to the standard of care.

"When Beaumont bought us out, it took them like maybe two years before you started to see some changes," Ms. Tamburro said. "And then they started outsourcing everything from the kitchen to the ambulances, and it just wasn't the same standard of care." 

Ms. Tamburro said the quality of care "really saw changes" when COVID-19 hit. 

"I didn't think that management had supportive people," she said. "And [they] were asking us to do things that were really outside the realm of what we had done in the past, and I wasn't comfortable with it. And fortunately enough, I was able to retire." 

She said shortly before her departure, the hospital didn't have staff housekeeping to come and clean the rooms. 

"So then sometimes they would sit empty, and during COVID-19, housekeeping didn't want to go in those rooms," Ms. Tamburro said. "And those rooms would be filthy.For a month I'd go in there with a towel and sweep the floor and bleach wipes to clean up any spots I could find on the floor."  

Emily Todd has been a nurse for 11 years and spent the first six years of her career working at a hospital. She left beside nursing in 2017 after becoming pregnant with her third daughter and began her own business. 

"It was only when I finally left the bedside that I realized how much anxiety my job was giving me. It was like a tremendous weight was lifted off my shoulders," Ms. Todd said in an email to Becker's. "As I grew my business on Instagram I found Instagram accounts and I realized I was suffering from a pretty severe case of caregiver burnout due to my roles as a nurse, a wife and a mom to three girls." 

Ms. Todd said she experienced a number of issues while working at the bedside, ranging from being underpaid to dealing with a "customer is always right" managerial approach to managing conflict with patients. 

"They tried to pacify burnout with pizza parties and crappy branded merchandise," she said. "The worst was the watch I received on my five-year anniversary working at my hospital, when better pay is a better solution to the problem."

Ms. Todd did not provide the name of the hospital she worked at. 

"It’s been a long time since I’ve worked there, and I’ll give the new management the benefit of the doubt that they’ve fixed these issues," she said in an email to Becker's.

Hospitals respond

Providence defended the health system's safety protocols during the pandemic.

"As is the case across the country, COVID-19 has hit healthcare organizations and caregivers hard," the health system said in a statement shared with Becker's. "Two years of the pandemic and industrywide staffing shortages have put caregivers under incredible stress. Providence hospitals have done everything possible to ensure safe environments and maintain the staffing levels needed to care for an ever-changing mix of medical conditions." 

"As we have throughout the pandemic, all Providence caregivers are following appropriate safety measures to prevent the spread of infection within clinical settings," the health system added. "The safety of our patients and our caregivers is our highest priority. We continue to require personal protective equipment, including universal masking, eye protection for all patient encounters, full PPE for highest-risk patient care areas and social distancing." 

Beaumont also defended its care.

"Beaumont is known for providing high-quality, compassionate, extraordinary care every day," the health system said in a statement shared with Becker's. "We are proud of the numerous steps we have taken to support our tremendous team members throughout the pandemic. Their resilience inspires us, and we recognize this has been a challenging time."

"There are many factors contributing to staffing challenges, including the incredible demands of the pandemic," the system added. "Changing workforce demographics, more retirements occurring, and fewer work-ready applicants for job openings have impacted all of us in healthcare. Right now, our focus is on supporting our teams and continuing to make progress with our retention and recruitment efforts." 

Why some workers stayed but abandon hospital employers

Some healthcare workers are opting not to exit the industry entirely, but rather leave their hospital employers, often taking a travel or agency nurse role. Rates paid for these roles have traditionally been higher than those of a hospital staff nurse, but the current demand has pushed travel rates to record highs. 

National travel nurse job volume exploded during the latter half of 2021, increasing by 273 percent in September 2021 compared to September 2020, according to data from travel nurse agency Aya Healthcare. 

Travel roles usually give workers more pay and allow them to learn different types of nursing. These contractual roles also give workers the assurance that if they don't approve of the way a hospital is treating its staff, they don't have to endure it for long.

Britton Kimmet, RN, a travel nurse employed by Aya Healthcare, told Becker's there is an abundance of opportunities awaiting healthcare workers who may want to pivot to contractual roles.

Mr. Kimmet, who used to be employed by health systems in South Carolina and Ohio, has worked in a variety of hospitals and long-term care facilities over the last decade. He said when working for employers with high burnout and staff turnover rates, the root of the issue is usually the organization's lack of transparency with its employees.

Having worked for nearly a dozen different healthcare employers, Mr. Kimmet said one of the aspects of workplace culture he appreciates most from a healthcare organization is the assurance that he can talk to helpful staff members whenever he runs into a problem.

Dismantling levels of bureaucracy so that healthcare staff have accessible, reliable confidants makes exhausted staff members feel that getting support from leadership is more realistic.

Morsey Beck worked as a nurse for 10 years at various facilities, including an assisted-living facility and behavioral health hospital. She left full time in 2020 after struggling to balance her work and home life. Since doing so, Ms. Beck has begun picking up agency work through Clipboard Health. 

"I have kids, and I also do other things outside of nursing, which is time-consuming," Ms. Beck said. "So I just feel like it would just work better for me and my situation to be able to be in control of my own time. So I can make my own schedule, which is a huge plus. That's one of the main reasons why I choose to do agency work. Also, the pay is so much more than if you work at a staff position full time, for my experience."

Ms. Beck said while she was working in full-time settings she often felt unappreciated. 

"And that can lead to high stress levels on top of the workload, and then you feel you don't feel valued, you don't feel important," she said.

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