Weighing In

Nurses Leaving the Profession

Nursing can be a great career, & in my eyes still has the potential to be much better. Those of us who become nurses know the blood sweat & tears that go into achieving those letters behind our names, so why is it that nurses are leaving the profession? A survey done by RN network (view the survey here) showed that nearly half of nurses were considering leaving the profession. The top 3 reasons noted for wanting to leave included feeling overworked, no longer enjoying the job, & too much paperwork. The review of the report also noted that 62% of nurses reported feeling burned out in 2018.

I think many of the factors that nurses mentioned for wanting to leave the profession in the study are what lead to nurse burnout. Nurse burnout is defined by Rasmussen College as physical, mental and emotional exhaustion defined by disengagement that can lead to dulled emotions and detachment. Nursing is a very demanding profession & is by no means an easy career. The work we do is mentally, physically & emotionally exhausting.

I’ve only been in the profession for a year, but I can see why some nurses are considering exiting the profession. At about 7 months in, I decided that bedside isn’t a healthy nursing position to hold long term. Planning for the future, all I could see was how the demands of the job would negatively impact the goals I had set for myself as a mother & other goals in my personal life pertaining to my health. Below are a few reasons why I believe nurses are leaving the profession & why I myself am looking to leave bedside within the next 5 years.

  • Long Hours that Get Longer. 12 hour shifts are long enough on their own. Coupled with having to frequently stay after to complete charting if you’ve had a busy day can lead to inadequate sleep between shifts. This can lead to chronic exhaustion & fatigue, which can lead to mental, physical & emotional health problems & have negative impacts on home life. Getting off late on occasion wouldn’t bother most people, but if that is something that becomes regular, it can significantly affect work-life balance. I don’t know how frequently this occurs for other nurses & couldn’t locate much data on it besides people discussing it personally on forums & nurse social media pages, but it doesn’t seem too uncommon.
  • Increase in Workload. Having to take on additional jobs when you’re lacking ancillary staff can be frustrating when you’re already working with heavy workloads due to under-staffing & high acuities. 54% of nurses reported their workload negatively impacted mental health & 80% reported believing that there was a nurse shortage in their facility in the RN network survey. An increased workload also affects the quality of care you are able to provide. This can be frustrating when you want to give a certain quality & level of care. You do the best you can within the time constraints, but our patients deserve more.
  • Inadequate Rest/Lunch Breaks. Excessively busy shifts that are not adequately staffed can contribute to not being able to take an uninterrupted lunch break or allow the time to even grab a sip of water or pee. I don’t, or better yet I shouldn’t, have to tell you how working 12+ hours without time to rest, hydrate & nourish adequately is unhealthy.
  • Bullying. I personally have been lucky to not have experienced this as I work on a great unit with amazing staff, but it’s still an issue in nursing. In the survey completed by RN network, 40% of nurses reported bullying & harassment coming from administration, patients, other nurses & physicians.

Nurses leaving the profession, amidst a nursing shortage & the soon to be retiring generation of baby boomers is a dangerous thing for patients & the caregivers left behind. A number of new nurses are also leaving the profession just 1-2 years into their career.

So what needs to change?

I’ve read a number of articles & think pieces that discuss nurses leaving the profession, but the solutions most offer seem inadequate. Multiple solutions will be required to keep nurses in the profession, but I think an important step involves hospital administration & management actually listening to the nurses at the front line. In the survey, approximately 50% of nurses who were considering leaving did not feel respected by administration. Additionally, administration & higher ups need to make the changes that will promote a safer, better work environment & stop trying to cut costs in ways that are damaging & dangerous. For example, addressing nurses heavy workload could mean ensuring adequate staffing, including staffing ancillary & other professional teams adequately, so that nurses can focus on their critical thinking & tasks only nurses can do. Also, implementing minimum nursing ratios, hiring admissions &/or break relief nurses & providing flexible scheduling may be helpful. Healthy, well rested nurses provided with the necessary resources to do their job safely & effectively means better patient outcomes & a decrease in nurse turnover, both of which are costly for healthcare systems.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Right now, it seems to me that nursing is a profession that promotes the care & health of others, but isn’t a healthy career or profession itself. I love the profession, I love my patients & I love what I do. I also believe nurses deserve more & that our health matters too. We deserve to be able to take care of ourselves & families the same way we care for our patients & shouldn’t have to choose between the two. We deserve adequate sick time, vacation time, emergency & mental health days when we need it without being penalized, shamed or having our jobs threatened. While there are some changes that can be made on an individual level to combat burnout, the work environment of nurses is in dire need of change & nurses need to collectively raise our voices to advocate for the necessary changes. Not only will it benefit us & our families, but our patients & community as well.


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