Here’s Why Nurse Leaders are Leaving the Workforce

By G Hatfield

The staffing shortage affects not only the bedside nurse, but also the nurse leader.

A new report from AMN Healthcare found that 31% of nurse leaders said they plan to be in a different role a year from now.

AMN Healthcare’s 2024 Survey of Nurse Leaders also says that 17% of nurse leaders will look for a new place to work, 9% will leave nursing, 3% will stay in a non-administrative position in nursing, and 1% will retire.

The survey consisted of several different kinds of nurse leaders, at various levels of health systems. CNOs made up 36% of participants, 37% were nurse managers, 20% were directors of nursing, and 4% were CNEs. The remaining 3% were made up of associate CNEs, interim CNEs, senior VPs, and VPs of patient care services.

While this does mean that most nurse leaders will remain where they are, a 31% turnover rate is alarming. As seen with regular nurse turnover, this phenomenon at the CNO level has the potential to greatly impact the nursing workforce and overall efficiency.

The why

Nurse leaders are facing the same workforce challenges that they are responsible for handling.

The nurse leaders who participated in the survey reported that the top three challenges they are facing in the workforce: 43% said recruitment and retention, 32% said staff burnout, and 32% said labor shortages.

According to Allison Guste, Corporate Vice President of Quality and Nursing for LCMC Health and the Chief Nursing Officer at University Medical Center New Orleans, workforce shortages and burnout are two of the biggest issues following the COVID-19 pandemic that CNOs have to face, along with rapid technological changes.

“We know that healthcare is always changing,” Guste said, “and if you’re not changing, you’re probably going to fall behind.”

The fix

So, what should CNOs do?

There are many strategies for addressing workforce shortages, including staying competitive with compensation, building academic partnerships, and offering professional development, according to Guste.

“Recruitment and retention is the name of the game these days,” Guste said.

As for burnout, CNOs need to take care of themselves as well as their nurses, and make sure they are still engaging with their nursing as a practice.

“What fills my cup every day is not when I’m in a lot of meetings,” Guste said, “it’s really going out there and just rounding on the floors and seeing the nurses do what they do best.”

Guste believes it is a big mistake for nurse leaders not to go be with patients, as well as with nurses. She said hearing patient stories helps her remember her goals as a nurse and a leader.

Her advice to CNOs is to be authentic and listen to staff, and to lead with empathy.

“Don’t ever forget why we became nurses,” Guste said, “so inspire collaboration and push towards transformation and everyday excellence.”

G Hatfield is the nursing editor for HealthLeaders.