COVID-19 fatigue causing many nurses to change career path

Nurses are leaving Woman’s Hospital at a high rate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Cheri Johnson, chief nursing officer at Woman’s, choosing other options including travel nursing, non-traditional nursing roles at insurance companies and outpatient centers and even early retirement.

The exodus of nurses from traditional hospitals and long-term care facilities is part of a national trend as the intensity of the pandemic eases. A recent Trusted Health survey found that nurses under 40 were 22% more likely to say their commitment to nursing had decreased, Business Insider reports.

At Woman’s, Johnson has noticed fatigue among nurse leaders, something that worries her.

“I think the pandemic strained everyone,” she says, “but it acutely affected nurses. It’s been very taxing. They stepped up in caring for patients with COVID while also dealing with everything else. It’s taken a toll.”

Baton Rouge General is also seeing nurses retiring, taking a year off, or simply looking for careers in other industries, says Monica Nijoka, chief nursing officer. However, she says many of the nurses that have left are younger and have less commitment.

Dr. Ecoee Rooney, president of the Louisiana State Nursing Association, says an increase in departures from the profession may be related to mental health. 

The pandemic exacerbated many of the hard parts of nursing, she says, and there’s a need for hospitals to provide mental health help and healthy work environments for their employees. 

Jobs are plentiful, Rooney says, but there are not enough nurses to fill them. Whatever hospitals can do to make work environments better is the best strategy for keeping nurses, but there are so many financial incentives to move, and many nurses earn more by traveling. The requirements to become a travel nurse have also become a bit looser, she says.

The American Hospital Association has predicted there will be a shortage of 500,000 nurses by 2030, Johnson says, an issue partly caused by lower numbers of nursing school students, but it’s too soon to know what to expect in the local market. For now, she’s anticipating fewer nurses while at the same time the population ages and its health care needs grow.