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Researching the impact of COVID-19 on the nursing shortage

Picture of a nurse with mask and face shield

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened many nurses’ commitment to their profession, but a growing minority are considering leaving nursing, according to a study conducted by two Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston faculty members.

Barbara Hekel, PhD, MPH, RN, and Sandra Branson, PhD, MSN, RN, explored how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Texas nurses through a survey of Texas Nurses Association members. They asked questions about nurses’ intentions to continue working in the field, and about factors associated with considerations to leave nursing.  Findings from this research have been published in the Texas Public Health Association Journal in a paper titled, “Factors Associated with Texas Nurses Consideration to Leave the Nursing Workforce: Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic” (2021).

Most of the 311 nurses who completed the survey expressed no indication they were interested in leaving the job. However, 19% indicated they were considering leaving the nursing workforce. By comparison, a national survey conducted in 2018 found that nearly 10% of nurses across the nation indicated they were looking to leave the nursing profession.

“We know many nurses will be leaving the workforce due to retirement, but the impact of the pandemic on the workforce is a concern,” said Hekel. “If we are able to identify the reasons why nurses were considering leaving the workforce, then health care institutions could implement measures to assist with retention." 

Before the pandemic, reasons cited for plans to leave included stressful work environments and inadequate staffing. COVID-19 added safety concerns and family/caregiver strains to the list, and 40% of respondents reported increased workloads.

Hekel and Branson’s study concluded that the emergence of COVID has placed an additional burden on an already overwhelmed and burned-out segment of the nursing workforce. The research suggested that caregiving responsibilities, including school and childcare closures due to COVID-19, have caused some nurses to reconsider their career choices. 

“Our findings suggest that a significant nursing shortage could be exacerbated across Texas if interventions to retain nurses are not developed,” said Hekel. “Employers must address these issues with innovative solutions for nurses to help them more effectively balance family and work obligations,” said Hekel.  

The study suggested looking at ways to enhance positive environments in clinical settings, including nurse participation in hospital affairs, improving nurse autonomy, increasing support from management, and addressing resource and staffing issues. 

“Nurses serve as an important backbone of our health care system, and we, as a current generation of nursing leaders, must create work environments that allow nurses not only to survive but thrive," said Hekel. 

In this story

Barbara E Hekel, PhD, MS, MPH, RN

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