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You can mark the toll of the COVID pandemic on nursing in multiple ways, from the tragic loss of nursing lives to the impact on nurses’ mental health. You can also count the impact in the number of nurses leaving the profession, a trend that may have long-lasting effects on nursing.

In a new study, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) says that 20% of its National Nurses Associations (NNAs) reported an increased rate of nurses leaving the profession in 2020. Some 90% of the NNAs are somewhat or extremely concerned that heavy workloads, insufficient resourcing, burnout, and stress related to the pandemic response are among the drivers, according to a policy brief.

The ICN warns that "Covid Effect" could drive over 10 million of the world's nurses to leave the profession.
Nurses and other HCPs–some wearing only gauze masks–treat Covid patients in Brazil.

ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton said in a press release that the new data shows that difficulty in retaining experienced senior nursing staff, an effect of the pandemic that was expected to occur in the long term, is happening right now.

“The COVID Effect on the global nursing workforce, coupled with the current shortage of six million nurses and a further four million heading for retirement by 2030, could see the global nursing workforce of 27 million nurses being depleted by ten million, or even halved,” Catton is quoted as saying. ICN refers to the COVID-19 Effect as a form of mass trauma affecting the world’s nurses.

The ICN says it has recorded nearly 3,000 COVID-related deaths among nurses in 60 countries.  In all likelihood, says ICN, that figure underestimates the death toll due to incomplete monitoring.

On a positive note, in the ICN survey 74% of NNAs reported their countries have committed to increasing the number of nurses, and 54% of countries have committed to improving the retention of currently employed nurses.

See also
Nurses Are in Dire Need of Better Mental Health Care

Identifying Burnout

At the same time, a new study published in JAMA Network Open finds that burnout represents a significant problem among U.S. nurses who leave or are considering leaving their job.  The research used data from the 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, well before the pandemic.

The study (“Prevalence of and Factors Associated with Nurse Burnout in the U.S.”) discovered that among the roughly 420,000 nurses who reported leaving their job in 2017, 31.5% reported burnout as a reason. Working in a hospital, as opposed to other settings, was associated with higher odds of identifying burnout in a decision to leave or consider leaving.

“Health systems should focus on implementing known strategies to alleviate burnout, including adequate nurse staffing and limiting the number of hours worked per shift,” the article notes. Further, with the increasing demands placed on frontline nurses during the pandemic, “these findings suggest an urgent need for solutions to address burnout among nurses,” the report warns.

Louis Pilla
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