Almost a quarter of Hawaiʻi nurses surveyed in a recent study considered leaving the workforce because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing (NAWSON). The public impact research published in the May issue of the The Hawaiʻi Journal of Health & Social Welfare was conducted in late 2020, nearly one year after the pandemic first took its toll on healthcare providers in Hawaiʻi and around the world.
The study sample included 421 Hawaiʻi nurses at all levels of licensure (APRN, RN, LPN) who were currently employed or actively seeking employment. In the sample, 23% or one in five nurses indicated they were considering leaving the nursing workforce. Reasons cited included safety (39%), job fatigue (24.7%), retiring (21.6%), no longer wanting to be a healthcare provider (21.6%) and economic strain (9.3%).
Supportive interventions needed
While the data was collected in late 2020, as cases throughout the U.S. surged and before the first two COVID-19 vaccines received national emergency use authorization and recommendations from the FDA, researchers said the study findings are concerning, and are aligned with other local and national studies.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a significant strain on the healthcare system and healthcare workers,” said Holly B. Fontenot, NAWSON research director, Frances A. Matsuda Chair in Women’s Health, associate professor and co-author of the study. “The outcomes of this study suggest that a significant nursing shortage could occur in the future if stressors of the pandemic do not abate and interventions to support nurses in their current roles are not developed.”
The findings of the study mirrored recent national surveys of nurses, including the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation which highlighted that 28% of nurses expressed a desire to quit their current roles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Locally, the Hawaiʻi State Center for Nursing’s 2021 Nursing Workforce Supply Survey also found that 1 in 4 nurses felt so stressed at work they felt like leaving the profession. More than half of the surveyed nurses have taken care of COVID-19 patients. Additionally, 31% of nurses experienced verbal or physical violence from a patient or visitor.
“This is an especially important topic since nearly a quarter of nurses nationally have sought professional mental health support during the pandemic despite reported barriers of being too busy or being too afraid or embarrassed to seek care,” said co-author Deborah Mattheus, Nancy Atmospera-Walch Professor in School of Nursing associate professor. “Ultimately, more research into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on burnout, work hours, work conditions, consideration to leave the workforce, and the effects of these stressors on mental health is needed.”
- Read more UH News stories from the Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing.
Local efforts to address nursing workforce issues
Nurse leaders across the state are committed to addressing these specific issues related to this study and other similar findings. A workgroup that is dedicated to addressing wellness and burnout as a priority issue in nursing recruitment and retention has been formed and will convene over the summer.
“This locally produced research highlights the urgent needs our nurses are facing and validates what we have been hearing from the nurses,” said Laura Reichhardt, director of the Hawaiʻi State Center for Nursing. “Important research like this study enables evidence-based policy and creates momentum for moving initiatives forward in our state.”
Two large local health systems have established new nurse leadership roles focused specifically on improving well-being for nurses and addressing burnout in the workplace. Individual healthcare organizations and agencies are implementing their own wellness and resiliency initiatives.