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Two nurses are wearing isolation gowns, goggles, and facemasks, and are standing at either side of a patient’s bed. An elderly male patient is in the bed. He is also wearing a mask, and he is looking at a tablet screen the nurse is holding so he can talk with his family over the internet.

Why Nurses Quit and Leave the Profession

4 min readMay, 19 2023

Due to increasingly unsustainable working conditions, nurses are quitting in droves. Although these resignation rates aren't new, they've been exacerbated by the pressure and moral distress brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. A nurse's decision to leave the profession isn't something they take lightly. Many consider it their calling, and they've gone through years of schooling, training, and rigorous national exams. So, what's causing nurses to quit, and how can they be motivated to stay?

Reasons Why Nurses Are Quitting Their Jobs

Some nurses shift to better-paying positions in the health care profession. Others leave the field altogether. Although every situation is unique, there are tangible and preventable reasons why many health care professionals are quitting nursing.

Nurses Experience Burnout

Nurses have been on the front lines battling the Covid-19 pandemic since it began. The resulting stress has taken a significant toll on many in the field. A nationwide study found that 55% of health care workers feel burned out. For nurses specifically, the long shifts, constant pressure, and lack of support from leadership are just a few factors contributing to their chronic stress and compassion fatigue.

Learn more about nurse burnout and ways to combat it.

They Can Get Better Pay and Benefits

The intensifying nursing shortage puts these health care professionals at a career advantage. Nurses can be more selective about where they work. Many now seek positions that offer higher pay, like travel nursing or ones that provide flexibility, such as the public health arena.

As an employer, to retain your most valued workers, you must better accommodate them and listen to their concerns. Consider offering competitive salaries, clear paths for upward mobility, additional paid days off, and flexible schedules.

The First Year Is Difficult

Nearly 18% of newly licensed registered nurses quit the profession within the first year. Like with more advanced nurses, common causes for leaving include stressful working conditions, lack of leadership and supervision, and understaffed facilities. Those factors get amplified for nurses still familiarizing themselves with the demands of the job. You can address their concerns by offering higher pay, increasing staff, and implementing a solid preceptorship program to help new nurses during the transition phase.

There's a Shortage of Experienced Leadership

Subpar, stressful working conditions are driving experienced nurses to seek positions elsewhere. Health care administrators are left to promote newly licensed nurses who may not be qualified to fill the void. That affects others who would have benefited from the expertise and leadership of a more seasoned nurse.

To retain your experienced veteran nurses, you must show you value them. That may include salary raises, increased benefits, vocal appreciation — or all three.

Bullying and Incivility Are on the Rise

Bullying is often personal, so it can be difficult to detect immediately. But it's critical to identify and eliminate it if you want to keep your staff healthy, happy, and intact. Make it a priority to establish a culture of positive, respectful relationships and professionalism.

Learn more about bullying and nursing, including ways ANA is taking action.

Nurses Feel Undervalued at Their Workplace

Younger nurses, in particular, feel undervalued and overwhelmed at work. In a recent survey we conducted about the pandemic's impact on nurses, we found only 19% of nurses under 35 feel their organization cares about their well-being. Recognizing your nursing team, whether by soliciting their input or paving the way for professional growth, can help them feel seen and respected.

Patient-to-Nurse Ratios Are High

Many nurses are now forced to take on more patients than is safe and manageable. A Hospital IQ survey found that 84% of emergency room nurses and 96% of ICU nurses reported a 4:1 ratio. That's twice the recommended 2:1 ratio. These suboptimal staffing ratios can have detrimental effects on patient outcomes, including hospital mortality. In a research study we conducted, only 6% of nurses surveyed indicated no shortage, while a staggering 89% said their organization was short-staffed.

There's no immediate solution to this issue, but temporary fixes include travel and float pool nurses and increasing the nursing team's support staff. Consider creating a more flexible environment to accommodate valued nurses on your staff who can only work several days a week or fewer hours each day.

Retain Your Valued Nursing Team

A female nurse is working in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit. She is at the foot of an incubator documenting information from a monitoring device while a co-worker is checking on the baby.

As a health care administrator or nurse leader, you must find ways to provide your staff with the resources and opportunities they need to feel valued and satisfied in their jobs. Come up with strategies to create a healthy work environment. Your ongoing commitment to understanding, appreciating, and accommodating your nursing staff's needs will motivate them to stay and thrive.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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