Healthcare professionals were warning about a significant nurse shortage for years before COVID came to our shores. But in the last two years, that shortage has reached critical mass in many places. COVID has led to unprecedented levels of stress and burnout among nurses to the extent that too many are leaving and not enough are coming in behind them.
We have all reacted to COVID in different ways. Nurses, being on the front lines of the pandemic, are likely to be impacted in ways that the rest of us cannot imagine. However, we can still sympathize with their reactions to the pandemic and how it has affected their professional and personal lives.
According to the AAMC, plenty of nurses were considering retirement in the years leading up to the pandemic. But once the pandemic hit, retirement plans were accelerated. Nurses planning to retire in five or six years decided to retire right away. Large numbers of retirements among nurses have hit hospitals hard.
The AAMC says that some nurses who need a break but are not ready to retire are deciding to temporarily quit instead. In other words, they are leaving their jobs with the intent of staying home until they figure out what they want to do moving forward. Staying home is giving nurses more time with their families, time they didn’t have at the height of the pandemic.
iMedical Data, a company that provides email, data, and other solutions to healthcare recruiters, suggests that some of these nurses will go back into their chosen careers while others will take another direction. The data will let us know a few years from now. Until then, healthcare facilities will have to find a way to manage when their nurses decide to quit.
Transition Away from Clinical Care
Working on the front lines of the COVID pandemic has made many nurses reconsider if they want to remain in a medical setting. Many nurses working in frontline acute hospital settings are looking to transfer to other departments where the work is easier and less stressful. Some are leaving hospitals altogether. They are electing to go into nursing education or practice clinically in outpatient settings.
Transitioning to Travel Nursing
Travel nursing seems to be another popular option among nurses. As a travel nurse, a clinician works as an independent contractor with the freedom to decide on work assignments, locations, and so forth. Travel nurses are able to make choices about when, where, and how they work. As an added bonus, they can make considerably more than they would remaining in a permanent placement position.
The stress of acute care is not necessarily less for travel nurse. But a travel nurse can take an assignment for three months, then take a month or two off before accepting another assignment. The flexibility is quite appealing.
Leaving the Field Altogether
Unfortunately, there are those nurses who decide to leave the field entirely. They have decided that neither nursing nor healthcare itself is where they want to spend the rest of their working careers. They are deciding to start over in completely separate careers that offer normal working hours, better work environments, and pay more in line with the work they do.
The COVID pandemic has certainly exacerbated the nursing shortage. But it has done something more important: it has shined the light on what America’s nurses have been going through for years. Hopefully the worsening shortage will motivate healthcare groups, administrators, and nursing professionals to find solutions to long-standing problems nurses have been talking about all along.
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