By Carol Davis
About 100,000 RNs left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years due to stress, burnout, and retirement, and about one-fifth of RNs nationally are projected to do the same by 2027.
Those sobering numbers were unveiled Thursday by The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) in research titled “Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Burnout & Stress Among U.S. Nurses,” in a panel at the National Press Club.
The study is considered to be the most comprehensive and only research in existence uncovering the alarming data reflecting the pandemic’s far-reaching and distressing implications for the healthcare system. The research was gathered as part of a biennial nursing workforce study conducted by NCSBN and the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers.
Research findings reveal for the first time how the nursing workforce was affected by the pandemic, how many left the workforce during this period, and forecast how many U.S. nurses intend to leave the workforce. The research also examined how nurses experienced pandemic-related heightened workplace burnout and stress.
Other key findings include:
- In addition to the 100,000 RNs who already have left, another 610,388 RNs reported an “intent to leave” the workforce by 2027 due to stress, burnout, and retirement.
- 188,962 additional RNs younger than 40 years old reported similar intentions.
- 62% of those surveyed reported an increase in their workload during the pandemic.
- A quarter to half of nurses reported feeling emotionally drained (50.8%), used up (56.4%), fatigued (49.7%), burned out (45.1%), or at the end of their rope (29.4%) “a few times a week” or “every day.”
- These issues were most pronounced with nurses with 10 or fewer years of experience, driving an overall 3.3% decline in the U.S. nursing workforce in the past two years.
- Licensed practical/vocational nurses, who generally work in long-term care settings caring for the most vulnerable populations, have seen their ranks decline by 33,811 since the beginning of the pandemic. This trend continues.
Research also suggested that nurses’ workloads and unprecedented levels of burnout during pandemic were key in accelerating nurses’ exits from the workforce, particularly for younger, less-experienced RNs.
Such high turnover further affects the post-pandemic nursing workplace by disrupting the clinical preparedness of new nurse graduates, the research says. Early career data for new entrants into the profession suggest decreased practice and assessment proficiency.
In the face of such troubling data, the NCSBN is calling for significant action to foster a more resilient and safe U.S. nursing workforce moving forward.
“The data is clear: the future of nursing and of the U.S. healthcare ecosystem is at an urgent crossroads,” said Maryann Alexander, PhD, RN, FAAN, the NCSBN’s chief officer of nursing regulation. “The pandemic has stressed nurses to leave the workforce and has expedited an intent to leave in the near future, which will become a greater crisis and threaten patient populations if solutions are not enacted immediately.”
“There is an urgent opportunity today for healthcare systems, policymakers, regulators, and academic leaders to coalesce and enact solutions that will spur positive systemic evolution to address these challenges and maximize patient protection in care into the future,” she said.
Panelists who presented and analyzed the research were:
- Robyn Begley, CEO of the American Organization of Nurse Executives and chief nursing officer at AtlantiCare
- U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, (D-Del.)
- Gay Landstrom, senior vice president and chief nursing officer, Trinity Health System
- Rayna M. Letourneau, board of directors, National Forum for State Workforce Centers
- Antonia Villarruel, dean of nursing, University of Pennsylvania
Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.