15 Top Reasons Why Nurses are Leaving the Profession

Written By: Brittney Bertagna, BSN, RN

Many go into the nursing profession because they are looking for a rewarding career that can at the same time provide financial security for themselves and their family. We were told repeatedly what a rewarding profession we were entering and how secure our future job prospects would be. So, as we sit here in 2023, why are nurses leaving the profession? Many things can be contributing to this, but here are the 15 top reasons why nurses are leaving the profession. Maybe you’re feeling the same way or seeking reassurance for your decision, continue reading to learn more.

Typically, What Percentage of Nurses Leave the Profession Every Year?

The exact number of nurses leaving the profession each year is almost impossible to pinpoint, but staffing shortages have been shown to negatively impact patient care. With the added stressors for the pandemic, one study found that 11% of nurses intended to leave their current position, and another 20% were undecided as to whether or not they were going to leave.

What Types of Nurses are Mostly Leaving the Profession?

Many different types of nurses are leaving the profession in the current climate. The reasons for their departure are different. Some have been in the profession for many years and are near retirement. Some are still in the new grad phase. Those who have worked in the career for some time might feel burnt out by all of the changes that have occurred in the last few years. Others might find it very difficult to handle an increasingly demanding role right out of school.

In terms of staff losses, hospitals have been particularly hard hit. For example, most travel nursing assignments are for hospital staffing. Increased pay for short-term assignments has also competed with hospital pay and has resulted in many staff members opting for hiring paying travel positions.

Why are Nurses Leaving the Profession?

(Following are the 15 top reasons why nurses are leaving the profession.)

1. Retirement

The nursing workforce gets one year closer to retirement with each passing year. This is why our first reason for nurses leaving the profession is retirement. Additional pandemic stress has prompted some to retire early, while others are nearing retirement age which just so happens to be during a pandemic.

2. Burn out

Nursing can be a very physically and emotionally demanding job. Often there is not enough staff for the number of patients, and the demand placed on nurses has only increased in recent years. The patient volume and acuity have increased and there is not enough staff to meet that demand. Many healthcare staff are burnt out and are leaving the profession to regain their physical and mental health.

3. Vaccine mandates

Recent debate over COVID vaccine mandates has been one of the reasons nurses are leaving the profession at the moment. Parts of the population have been outraged by the recent mandates. And in many ways, the nursing community has also been affected. More so for some nurses, vaccine mandates are an ethical issue.

4. Family income

In some cases, the nurse in the family is not the sole moneymaker in the family. The schedule and required hours might increase the hours needed for childcare. Nursing couples with a higher-paid spouse often take this into account. Nursing is a great career, but compared to other professions it may not be worth time away from home.

5. Family member needs

With school systems closing down across the country childcare is a major concern for some nurses. Depending on family situations, it might make more sense for one parent to stay at home. Or, with the extra need for childcare at home, it might not be possible to work a full-time schedule. As older family members' health is deteriorating faster due to the pandemic, some nurses are taking caregiving roles at home. Leaving little to no time to clock in for work.

6. Higher education

Nurses are leaving the profession because they desire more from their current role. They might be fulfilled in their position or maybe their plan all along was to go back to school and use the registered nursing career as a stepping-stone into a better position. With the flexibility of their nursing background, many nurses are realizing the potential to provide income with their knowledge in a related field that is not nursing. This could be a temporary leave to gain your Master's degree or a certification that you have been wanting, or leaving to advance your education and transition into a new role. Either way, it requires time away from the nursing profession.

7. Mini-Retirement

At a certain point in anyone's career, reevaluation of your work-life balance is taken into account. Many nurses now find themselves contemplating why it is they continue to choose to clock into a job that does not fit within the lifestyle they have envisioned for themselves. Time away from work can give them the clarity they need to figure out exactly what they want their careers to look like.

8. Personal Illness

Like mentioned above, a personal illness could be the downtime needed to reflect on one's career choices. Just like their patients, nurses become ill and experience their health problems. It might be a temporary leave or they might be suffering from a personal illness that prevents them from returning to this career.

9. Mental health

Many nurses are leaving the profession due to the recognition of their own mental health. Nursing is a mentally exhausting career to be in. For many nurses, they are put into difficult situations and often have little time to process or cope. Over time it can take a huge toll on your mental wellbeing and result in nursing staff leaving their career paths to pursue something else. Mental health is something that is not as often talked about but can have a tremendous impact on our lives. Because of a nurse's role in the healthcare system, it is often difficult for them to seek guidance or help when they may be struggling.

10. Staffing shortages

People are more aware of the need to appropriately staff medical facilities in the climate of today's pandemic. Staffing shortages are not just a result of COVID. When there are not enough nurses that could just mean that fewer nurses are going to each have to take care of more patients. Short staffing can leave nurses more prone to burnout and personal illness.

When there are not enough nurses that means, sometimes mandatory, overtime for the nurses who are working. Working extra hours can affect sleep quality and work performance which can lead many nurses to different types of employment.

11. Undervalued

Nurses play such an important role in the healthcare system, yet their work tends to be undervalued by hospital coworkers and supervisors. As well as by many of their patients in some cases. Many nurses feel their employers are not looking out for their best interest at heart and only care about profiting in the current healthcare system. Nurses do not expect to be thanked for every task that they perform, but nurses do want to be seen as valuable members of the healthcare team.

12. Work-related injuries

As mentioned previously, unsafe working conditions and understaffing can contribute to work-related injuries. The career of nursing is physically demanding day after day and should not be taken lightly. A requirement before getting any nursing job is to be able to lift objects, stand for long periods, and not know exactly what each day will bring you. It's the nature of the job and can be a huge factor in why nurses aren't choosing to leave, but are forced to leave the profession because of an injury. This is another reason that might be temporary, but could also be permanent and impact their lives outside of work as well.

13. Pay

A career in nursing is very rewarding but that doesn't necessarily translate into more money on your paycheck. Nurses can earn a lot of money and increase their payments over time, but it's not always the case. In some areas of the country, nurses have to work more than one job just to make ends meet. Many other professions require a lot less emotional commitment and education than the nursing profession. Because of this, many people who initially wish to be nurses have their ambitions find themselves overshadowed by the low pay. Some are making career moves that could allow for a more sustainable career that can even pay more than their nursing salaries.

14. Unsafe working conditions

Many nurses are leaving the profession because they feel that they are unsafe in some way or another. Whether it is the patient population they feel unsafe from or the working conditions they have to endure, it is hard to get someone to stay at their job if they feel unsafe.

15. Not rewarding

A career in nursing can be exhausting over the long term. It can be exhausting and easy to lose sight of why you went into this profession in the first place. When it feels like all you are doing is clocking in, taking care of others, and then clocking out it can feel like there is no time to take care of yourself. When you can’t take care of yourself you might find it harder to take care of others.

5 Negative Effects of Nurses Leaving the Profession on the Healthcare Industry

1-Increase in nurse-to-patient ratios

One reason many nurses are leaving the workforce is because of poor staffing conditions which has the potential to worsen the nurse-to-patient ratio as it is. Many studies have shown that the more patients a nurse is responsible for at a single time, the poorer patient outcomes become. By staffing for appropriate ratios, the underlying cause of why so many nurses are leaving the bedside could be resolved.

2-Unsafe working conditions

With more staff leaving, especially in the inpatient setting, it can be incredibly difficult to staff appropriately when there is no staff available to work. This can easily contribute to unsafe working conditions because of the increased demand on the nurses who are working. This increased demand can turn once a safe working condition into an unsafe one very quickly.

3-Decreasing quality of care for patients

Without synergy between staff on the floor, it can be very hard to work together towards an end goal. It can be even harder when staff members do not work in synergy with leadership to address the underlying problems facing patient care. An even bigger problem happens when everyone does work in synergy to work towards bigger solutions but organizations are the ones that stop real change from happening within our healthcare system.

Quality of patient care should be at the root of everything healthcare does. With less staff and the same amount of patients, the workload on each staff member is much higher.

4- Increasing tensions among staff members

Because of the many reasons listed above why nurses are leaving the profession there can be increasing tensions among staff. When tensions are high and there are more tasks to complete in a shorter amount of time, the communication and cohesion of a department is more important than ever.

5- More staff turnover

Because of the vicious cycle described above, and more turnover than ever before, many facilities find themselves with a less experienced workforce. Staff turnover can not only lead to more staffing needs that need to be filled, but also with the majority of staff being new grads who are looking for experience and then move on to different opportunities.

6 Things Hospitals Can Do to Stop Nurses From Leaving the Profession

1- Increase staffing across all positions

One way hospitals can keep nurses from leaving the profession is to increase the amount of staff that they hire. By setting staff up for the unexpected, which isn't unexpected if you plan for it, hospitals can set staff up for success instead of failure. This can be done in many ways. Increase the budget for staffing to hire more people. Increasing the number of auxiliary staff nurses who can delegate appropriate tasks, could help alleviate some of the tasks nurses need to perform. Hospitals would then be able to increase the overall number of staff available to help on each shift for when unexpected things happen.

2- Bring more attention to the need for nursing staff to come out of school better prepared for the real world

Bringing attention to the problem of how expensive it is for hospitals to train staff, and how a nursing school can teach you the basics of becoming a nurse. This does not mean that you come out of nursing school knowing how to be a completely independent, competent nurse on day one. Real-world training and application of information and knowledge is the only way for nurses to learn how to actually do the job.

3- Bridge the gap between “textbook nursing” and “real-life nursing”

As mentioned above, the only way to fix the problem is to know that the problem even exists in the first place. There is a huge gap between the textbook version of nursing school and becoming a real-life working nurse. With that being said, that creates a huge opportunity for businesses to come in and help bridge that gap.

As you are learning about nursing in school and finally landing your first job you would be amazed at how many feel they were not properly prepared for “real-life nursing”. Coaching platforms, mentorship platforms, are some ways hospitals can bridge the gap between textbook and real-world nursing.

4- Compensate nurses fairly for the value they bring to the organization

One of the biggest as to why nurses are leaving the profession is that nurses want to be paid what they are worth to the organizations they work for. It doesn’t mean that they want a million dollars a paycheck, they just want the workload that they take on to be reflected in their paycheck as well.

5- Compensation for employee loyalty

It has been common practice in the healthcare field to offer employee sign-on bonuses. In the current climate, where many nurses are leaving lower-paying jobs for a chance to travel and make more money than they are used to. Many loyal employees feel like they should be included in the bonus money. They have been the ones who have been sticking around helping to hold the unit together. Let's compensate and reward employees for their loyalty and dedication to one particular organization.

6-Fight against federal vaccine mandates

Touchy subject, I know but many nurses feel strongly. Many nurses feel that it is not right for the federal government to come in and say that they have to be vaccinated. Many nurses have decided to leave either the profession or their employers over it.

My Final Thoughts

An exit from a profession isn't usually an easy decision and many find themselves asking why are nurses leaving the profession? In this article, I have presented the 15 top reasons why nurses are leaving the profession and also provided some useful tips on what healthcare organizations can do to do to stop nurses from leaving the profession.

Ask any nurse, leaving nursing is not something that most take lightly. As an RN there are a variety of different career opportunities and it's one of my favorite things about being a nurse. The value that nurses see in how they believe healthcare should be run to save more lives and increase the quality of life for many is invaluable to most of the general public.

There is so much change that is happening within healthcare and that just means more opportunity for nurses. Many resources exist out there for nurses who want to make a change or are transitioning within the healthcare field. Nurses are in control of their careers. There is endless opportunity to help patients and change the current climate of healthcare.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

1. What Percentage Of Nurses Leave The Profession Within The First Year?

This is a very hard number to pinpoint because the reason why nurses leave the profession so early on is so complex. There are many reasons that nurses leave the profession and there are many overlapping systems within healthcare. But, one study found that a staggering 17% - 30% of new nurses leave their job within the first year and up to 56% leaving within the second year.

2. How Many Nurses Are Estimated To Have Left Due To The Covid-19 Pandemic?

This number is also very hard to pinpoint because of the complexities within the system. People choose to leave for many reasons as we have discussed above. Maybe by choice, and maybe it’s because it is now necessary for their family. Either way, one study found that almost 20% of healthcare workers have quit their jobs since the pandemic started.

3. How Many Nurses Are Estimated To Have Left Due To The Vaccine Mandate?

There are numerous reports about the impact the vaccine mandate has had across the nation. Once again, in the current climate of healthcare, it can be very hard to find an accurate number across the entire healthcare system but there have been thousands of staff who have been let go from many individualized hospital systems.

Brittney Bertagna, BSN, RN
Brittney Bertagna is currently a nurse and writer in Las Vegas, NV. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration she completed nursing school and became a registered nurse. While working a night shift in the neonatal ICU she went back to school to get her second bachelor’s degree in nursing from Western Governors University. Now she enjoys working with children in the surgical setting as well as with her adult patients as an infusion nurse.