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UH study: 23% of Hawai’i nurses are considering leaving workforce due to pandemic

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Hawaiʻi nurses site safety as one of the biggest factors they are considering leaving the workforce. Photo Courtesy: UH

In a recent University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa study, 23% of Hawaiʻi nurses surveyed said they are considered leaving the workforce because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public impact research was conducted in late 2020 and published in the May issue of the The Hawaiʻi Journal of Health & Social Welfare. The survey was taken nearly one year after the pandemic first took its toll on healthcare providers in Hawaiʻi and around the world. 

The study by UH Mānoa’s School of Nursing surveyed 421 Hawaiʻi nurses at all levels of licensure (APRN, RN, LPN) who were currently employed or actively seeking employment.

Of the 23% of nurses in the survey who say they are considering leaving the workforce, safety was the biggest factor (39%), followed by job fatigue (24.7%), retiring (21.6%), no longer wanting to be a healthcare provider (21.6%) and economic strain (9.3%). 

While the data was collected in late 2020, as cases throughout the United States 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.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a significant strain on the healthcare system and healthcare workers,” said study co-author Holly B. Fontenot, UH nursing school research director, Frances A. Matsuda Chair in Women’s Health and associate professor. “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.”

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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 study co-author Deborah Mattheus, a UH nursing school 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.”

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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 also are implementing their own wellness and resiliency initiatives.

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