A new study reveals that, of more than 400,000 nurses who quit their jobs in 2018, nearly one-third cited burnout as their reason for leaving, according to a study published this month in JAMA Open Network.
Our take: Building a flexible nursing workforce
For the study, researchers at Emory University conducted a secondary analysis of survey data to measure rates of nurse burnout in the United States and identify risk factors associated with nurse burnout. The researchers analyzed cross-sectional survey data collected by HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration from April 30, 2018, to Oct. 12, 2018, for the agency's National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses.
The data included 3,957,661 respondents, with a mean age of 48.7 years old. Majorities of the respondents worked in hospitals (63.7%), were women (90.4%), were white (80.7%), and were full-time nurses (82%). Most of the respondents lived in the South (40.3%) or Midwest (24.8%).
Why 418,769 nurses left their jobs
According to the study, 10.6%—or 418,769—of the respondents reported that, as of the date they responded to the survey in 2018, they had left the job they had held on December 31, 2017.
Of those nurses, 31.5% reported burnout as a reason for leaving their position, making it the third most commonly cited factor. Other top reasons for leaving included a stressful work environment, lack of good management or leadership, inadequate staffing, and finding better pay/benefits elsewhere.
The share of nurses who cited burnout as a reason for leaving their jobs varied widely between states, from a low of about 17% to a high of about 48%. (The study reported state-by-state results only in ranges, rather than citing a specific burnout percentage for each state.)
"The lower reported rates of nurse burnout in California and Massachusetts could be attributed to legislation in these states regulating nurse staffing ratios," the researchers explained. "The high rates of reported burnout in the Southeast and the overlap of burnout and inadequate staffing in our findings could be driven by shortages of nurses in the states in this area, particularly South Carolina and Georgia."
The researchers also found that, out of the broader pool of nearly 4 million nurses surveyed, nearly 17%—or 676,122—reported having considered leaving their position. Among those, 43.4% identified burnout as a reason they would leave their job.
The share of nurses who reported considering leaving their jobs due to burnout varied between states, with relatively low percentages doing so in California, Washington, and New York and relatively high percentages doing so in Utah and New Mexico.
What does this data mean for nurses today?
Although the researchers examined data collected before America's coronavirus epidemic took hold, they acknowledged the "ever-growing stress associated with the … [epidemic] … could leave the [United States] with an unstable nurse workforce for years to come."
The researchers argued, however, that there are ways to address the factors associated with burnout.
"Legislation that supports adequate staffing ratios is a key part of a multitiered solution," the researchers wrote. "Solutions must come through system-level efforts in which we reimagine and innovate workflow, human resources, and workplace wellness to reduce or eliminate burnout among frontline nurses and work toward healthier clinicians, better health, better care, and lower costs" (Kunzmann, HCPLive, 2/4).