Why Nearly 8,000 Nurses Left Their Jobs


                                               By Karen Lasseter & K. Jane Muir, RN

A new Penn Nursing study highlights the fact that health care employers could retain more nurses through solutions that enhance nurses’ work-life balance.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing’s Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research (CHOPR) shows that, aside from retirements, poor working conditions are the leading reasons nurses leave health care employment. These study findings come at a time when hospital executives cite staffing problems as their most pressing concern.

“Prior studies evaluate nurses’ intentions to leave their job. Our study is one of the few evaluating why nurses actually left health care employment entirely,” says lead author K. Jane Muir, a CHOPR postdoctoral research fellow, associate fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics, and a national clinician scholar at Penn. The study surveyed 7,887 registered nurses in New York and Illinois who left health care employment between 2018 and 2021.

Across a variety of health care settings including hospitals, long-term care facilities, and ambulatory care, planned retirement was the most cited reason nurses are leaving health care employment. Closely behind retirements, insufficient staffing, burnout, and poor work-life balance topped the list. Among retired nurses in the study, only 59% stated their retirement was planned, suggesting nearly half of nurse retirements are premature exits due to poor working conditions.

“Nurses are not principally leaving for personal reasons, like going back to school or because they lack resilience. They are working in chronically poorly staffed conditions which is an ongoing problem that predates the pandemic,” says senior author Karen Lasater, associate professor, the Jessie M. Scott Term Chair in Nursing and Health Policy, and senior fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics.

Study authors say that healthcare employers could also retain more nurses through solutions that enhance nurses’ work-life balance. This includes greater flexibility in work hours such as shorter shift-length options, higher pay-differentials for weekend/holiday shifts, and on-site dependent care.

“Nurses are retiring early and leaving employment in the healthcare sector because of longstanding failures of their employers to improve working conditions that are bad for nurses and unsafe for patients. Until hospitals meaningfully improve the issues driving nurses to leave, everyone loses,” said Muir.

The study was led by researchers at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research, in partnership with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Funding for the study was from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the National Institute of Nursing Research/NIH (T32NR007104; R01NR014855), and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (R01HS028978).


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