As Pandemic Lingers, More Nurses Consider Leaving Their Jobs


By Hailey Mensik

About 32% of registered nurses are considering leaving their current role, according to a new survey from McKinsey. That's an increase of 10 percentage points since McKinsey conducted its previous survey, in February of last year.

About 35% of RNs who said they are likely to leave their jobs are looking to switch to non-direct-patient care roles. An additional 20% plan to exit the workforce completely for reasons like retirement or to focus on their families, according to the survey conducted in November and published on Feb. 17.

Insufficient staffing levels are the top reason driving nurses to leave their jobs, followed by them seeking higher pay elsewhere, not feeling listened to or supported at work and the emotional toll of the job.

Healthcare workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic for nearly two full years, and many have reached their breaking points. Some are considering leaving the field entirely, even as hospitals deal with nationwide staffing shortages that are unlikely to abate anytime soon.

For McKinsey’s research, researchers surveyed 710 frontline nurses and 156 other healthcare professionals currently in direct-patient care roles in November 2021.

The consultancy found flagging enthusiasm for providing patient care among frontline nurses. Of the nurses likely to leave their current roles, fewer than one-third intend to stay in direct patient care. Nurses working in inpatient and home care settings were more likely to say they considered leaving their jobs than those in an outpatient setting.

The more recent survey paints a more dismal portrait of the nursing profession than a similar survey conducted by McKinsey in February 2021, which found only about a fifth of nurses were considering departing direct patient care.

In the most recent findings, nurses planning to leave their roles placed outsized importance on manageable workloads while citing factors driving them to quit, the survey found. Those who plan to stay in the profession placed outsized importance on doing meaningful work, having caring and trusting teammates, having a sense of belonging and feeling engaged by their work.

Researchers also found discrepancies in nurses' intentions to leave based on how far along they are in their careers. In 2020, the average age of an RN in the U.S. was 51 years old.

Younger nurses in the first 10 years of their career were more likely to say they intended to leave than nurses with 11 or more years of experience.

Early and mid-career nurses also cited pay as a bigger factor driving them to leave their jobs, while more experienced nurses cited retirement and the physical toll of the job.

McKinsey researchers said these findings have key implications for healthcare providers in the longer term.

First, they’ll need to employ workforce retention strategies more directly tailored to employee needs, the report found. That could mean focusing on environmental factors like changing team dynamics and making sure staff feel valued by their organizations, along with offering more flexibility and professional development opportunities.

They also need to find ways to minimize workload strains — a top factor cited by nurses planning to quit.

That may include redesigning roles and processes (with automation where appropriate) to reduce friction, increase flexibility and ensure workers are practicing at the top of their licenses.

Healthcare employers also will have to find new ways to grow the talent pipeline, which may include forming partnerships and career pathway designs with academic institutions focused on roles or skills with the highest demand.

Skill development may be particularly important in the future, as a notable percentage of RNs think they may lack the skills required to provide care in today's landscape. For example, fewer than 40% of RNs surveyed said they believe they have the behavioral health skills required to be a successful nurse in the future.


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