AAIHR in USA Today: US faces 'perfect storm' nurse staffing crisis: About a third plan to leave

This excerpted article was first published in USA Today.

By Ken Alltucker
USA Today
May 3, 2023

The nation’s long-running nursing shortage worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic with a growing number of bedside nurses feeling tired, burned out and planning to leave the profession, according to two reports.

About 3 in 10 registered nurses say they are likely to leave their career due to the pandemic, according to a survey released this week from AMN Healthcare, a staffing company.

Another recent report by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found about 100,000 registered nurses left the profession since 2020. More than 600,000 intend to leave by 2027 due to stress, burnout and retirements.

“We’re in a perfect storm situation,” said Lesley Hamilton-Powers, vice chair of the American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment. “We have huge numbers of Baby Boomers, a huge number of nurse retirements and we’re continuing to see major physical and emotional burnout due to COVID.”

“You’re hearing this from the mouths and the viewpoint of the nurses at the patient bedside who say, ‘It’s a problem, and I feel like that problem is going to get worse,'” said Christin Stanford, AMN’s vice president of clinical solutions.

The AMN survey reported 80% or nurses had a “great deal or a lot of stress,” an increase of 16 percentage points from 2021. Nurses were also more likely to believe the job affects their health or feel emotionally drained compared to two years ago.

“These are the nurses that are replacing some of those older nurses,” Stanford said.

About 36% of nurses who work in hospitals plan to stick with the profession but are looking for a new employer. Only 15% of hospital nurses planned to “continue working as I am,” AMN reported. Nurses in other settings such as medical offices were more likely to stay with their current position.

Nursing homes and long-term care centers saw dramatic declines in the number of working licensed practical nurses or vocational nurses. Such homes employed nearly 34,000 fewer licensed practical nurses or vocational nurses than they did as of March 2020, according to NCSBN.

Hamilton-Powers’ organization is urging the federal government to lift a cap on visas for international nurses that will limit their ranks at hospitals, nursing homes and other health facilities.

Some nursing homes and hospitals that rely on nurses from other nations helping fill shifts might need to look elsewhere. The State Department in May reported there were no available slots for these nurses seeking green card visas to work in the United States.

The nursing shortage nationwide is so severe that hospitals are choosing which units need to close, Hamilton-Powers said.

In normal years, hospitals or nursing homes that rely on international nurses can fill shifts and open units with these nurses in mind. These facilities now will have to look elsewhere because these nurses can’t get green cards to work in the U.S.

The AMN survey found 9 in 10 nurses say staffing shortages are worse now than they were five years ago. About 4 in 5 nurses expect the shortage will get “much worse or somewhat worse” in the next 5 years.

From the beginning of the pandemic through 2027, NCSBN survey projects about nearly 900,000 nurses will exit the industry. In other words, nearly 1 in 5 of the nation’s 4.5 million registered nurses plan to leave.