Research from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) indicates that after losing 100,000 registered nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional 900,000 nurses are projected to exit the workforce by 2027. Burnout, retirement, and stress are the primary reasons cited for the projected exodus, with almost one-fifth of the nation’s 4.5 million registered nurses expected to leave the healthcare workforce in the next four years. Policymakers, regulators, and academic leaders must act urgently to develop and implement solutions to address the impending nursing shortage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the healthcare workforce, and registered nurses (RNs) have been particularly affected. According to research from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), around 100,000 RNs left the healthcare workforce in the past two years due to stress, burnout, and retirement. Additionally, more than 610,000 RNs said they intend to leave the workforce by 2027 due to these reasons, along with 188,962 nurses younger than 40 years old. These figures indicate that almost 900,000, or one-fifth of the nation’s 4.5 million registered nurses, are projected to leave the healthcare workforce in the next four years.
This paper will examine the findings of the NCSBN study, discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nursing workforce, and explore potential solutions to address the projected nursing shortage.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Nursing Workforce
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the nursing workforce. Nurses have been on the front lines of the pandemic, caring for patients and working long hours under stressful conditions. The physical and emotional stressors of the pandemic have heightened staffing challenges in all healthcare sectors, exacerbating the pre-existing nursing shortage.
According to the NCSBN study, over six in ten nurses reported increased workloads during the pandemic. Additionally, nurses reported feeling used up (56.4 percent), emotionally drained (50.8 percent), fatigued (49.7 percent), burned out (45.1 percent), or at the end of the rope (29.4 percent) a few times a week or every day. Nurses with ten or fewer years of experience faced these issues the most and accounted for a 3.3 percent decline in the nursing workforce during the past two years.
The pandemic has also led to an increased number of RN retirements. The NCSBN study found that retirement was the primary reason for RNs leaving the workforce, accounting for 50.3 percent of departures. The COVID-19 pandemic likely accelerated these retirements, as many nurses chose to leave the workforce due to the added stress and strain of the pandemic.
The pandemic has impacted licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPN/LVN) as well. Almost 34,000 LPN/LVNs have left the workforce since the pandemic hit, and experts predict that the shortage will continue. These nurses typically work in long-term care settings providing care for vulnerable populations.
The projected nursing shortage is not limited to the United States. The pandemic has exacerbated the global nursing shortage, with many countries struggling to meet the demand for healthcare workers.
Potential Solutions to Address the Projected Nursing Shortage
The projected nursing shortage poses a significant challenge to the healthcare industry. To address the shortage, policymakers, regulators, and academic leaders must work together to develop and implement solutions.
One potential solution is to increase funding for nursing education programs. Prelicensure nursing programs have emphasized their concerns regarding the availability and clinical preparedness of nursing graduates. According to the NCSBN, data on newly hired nurses reveal a decline in practice and evaluation proficiency. These issues could be addressed and the workforce readiness of nursing graduates ensured by increased funding for nursing education programs.
Another potential solution is to improve working conditions for nurses. The NCSBN study found that stress, burnout, and retirement were the primary reasons for RNs leaving the workforce. Improving working conditions could help reduce stress and burnout among nurses and encourage them to remain in the workforce.