After the pandemic: What’s next for nurses?

Survey reveals lower pay, increased hours and declining morale among nurses

One year into the pandemic, about 43% of nurses are considering leaving the health care profession within the next year, according to a recent survey by Vivian Health. This is a concerning trend, especially when added to the nearly 20% who planned to leave clinical health care the year prior to the pandemic.

Other than COVID-19 patients and their families, perhaps no one was affected by the pandemic more than health care workers, including millions of nurses across the country. It’s impossible to know for certain what the long-term effects of coronavirus will be on nurses, their lives and their careers.

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Vivian Health, a health care jobs marketplace, recently conducted a survey to try to uncover some of the most significant ways the pandemic affected nurses nationwide. The survey included questions about mental health, career plans and overall outlook about the future of health care in the United States. Across all 50 states, 1,273 health care workers responded to the survey, including nurses among all disciplines and levels of experience.

Key findings

» 87% of respondents said their hospitals or facilities are still short-staffed.

» 72% of respondents reported that morale has declined at their hospital over the past year.

» 64% of nurses surveyed reported feeling more stressed at work since this time last year.

» When asked if their employer is providing adequate support for their mental health and well-being, 44% of nurses said their employer is not doing enough to support mental health.

» 32% of respondents reported a decrease in pay over the past year.

» 48% reported an increase in work hours in 2021.

» 66% of nurses ranked compensation as the most important factor to consider when looking for a new job or career.

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Beyond the survey stats

“An already weary, overworked health care labor force is now at their breaking point,” said Parth Bhakta, founder and CEO of Vivian Health. “Health care workers feel less and less optimistic about the future of health care in the U.S. and nearly half are beginning to consider entirely new career paths.”

What can health care employers do, if anything, to reverse some of the concerning workforce trends and sentiments revealed in the survey?

“As the pandemic continues to die down, it continues to be just as important as ever for employers to understand exactly what health care workers are looking for in a workplace,” Bhakta emphasized. “While pay is a driving factor, many health care workers felt they weren’t fairly compensated during the pandemic. In addition to being paid for their valuable patient care, they want more opportunities for professional development and to be further supported through benefits and mental health services.”

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Strategies for employers

What health care professionals want most is simply “clear information — they can handle the good with the bad,” Bhakta said, adding that the survey confirms nurses also highly value “pay commensurate with the value they bring” to the organization. Additionally, they want “benefits and mental health services to offer support to them emotionally” and help them to manage the intensity of working as a clinician. They also need “reasonable hours, with breaks that allow them to come back to work refreshed,” Bhakta added.

He advised health care employers to focus on providing these professional needs to nurses and health care workers, and to “transform internal operations to support that” throughout the organization. “It’s time to rethink health care hiring and recruiting on a larger scale,” he emphasized, adding that each hospital and health care organization needs to reevaluate and reinvent their recruiting and retention practices to be more efficient, effective and conducive to their employees’ career and wellness needs.

While it’s not altogether surprising that some nurses would want to leave clinical nursing after a traumatic year, Bhakta said, “We were saddened to see that 43% are considering leaving health care. … That indicates to us that it’s time for health care employers to dramatically reevaluate the services, support, compensation and experience that they give workers, in order to keep them motivated.”

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Advice for health care professionals

The psychological impact of the pandemic likely runs much deeper than many will ever realize, Bhakta said. “My advice to health care workers is to consider themselves the drivers of their careers — advocate for better benefits and pay, use your voice to speak up to make a difference in your workplaces and communities, and continue sharing your experiences with the public. Know that you are entitled to clearer information about future opportunities as you evaluate your future career moves.

“There are people and companies out there that are very much still interested in the well-being and happiness” of nurses and health care workers, Bhakta concluded.

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