AFT survey offers clues to nursing shortage

The Washington, DC-based American Federation of Teachers survey, which was conducted by Peter Hart Research, interviewed 700 current direct-care nurses and 207 former direct-care nurses. Here are some highlights of the survey:

Who wants to leave?

Half think about leaving. 50% of current nurses say they have thought about leaving nursing. This number excludes those expected to retire. Current nurses under age 40 are nearly as likely to have thought about leaving nursing as their colleagues over 50.

One-fifth expect to quit soon. About one in five current nurses, or 21%, say they expect to leave nursing within the next five years. These nurses, ages 18-59, plan to leave, not because they want to retire but because they are fed up with working conditions.

Three-fourths could be persuaded to stay. Three-fourths of the 21% who expect to quit say they would consider staying if improvements were made. Increasing staffing, better hours, and higher salaries were the top reasons for staying.

Why are nurses leaving?

Stress. More than half, or 53%, of current nurses say the job has become too stressful and physically demanding.

Irregular hours. 20% of current nurses say they would rather have a job with more regular hours.

Worsening working conditions. Among former nurses, the results vividly show declining working conditions. Of the nurses who left nursing at least five years ago, 11% say it was because of stress and the physically demanding nature of the job. Of the nurses who left less than four years ago, the percentage for that reason jumped to 35%.

Low morale. Among current nurses, 68% say morale is fair or poor. The situation is most severe among hospital nurses, with 74% reporting fair or poor morale. Among those nurses who are "potential leavers," 81% report fair or poor morale.

If I knew what I know now. Nearly half, or 49%, say they would have pursued a different career if they were just starting out. The situation is worse among the "potential leavers," with 75% saying they would have chosen a different career.

Not enough nurses. Of all the problems facing nurses, the biggest issue is staffing, with 66% saying that large patient loads are a fairly or very serious problem, and 65% reporting that understaffing is especially problematic since patients are sicker. Another 64% say they don’t have enough time to spend with patients, and 60% note the paperwork burden.

Changes that are needed

How can retention and recruitment be improved? (Responses were given by the "potential leavers.")

  • Better staffing ratios (87%)
  • More patient time (81%)
  • More input in decisions (79%)
  • Raise salaries (76%)
  • Provide performance bonuses (71%)
  • More flexible schedules (69%)
  • More part-time options (63%)
  • Continuing education funds (61%)
  • Better health coverage (60%)

What would make nurses stay or return to nursing? (Responses were given in their own words, not from a list.)

Of the nurses seriously considering leaving:

  • 42% said better pay would persuade them to stay.
  • 36% said better staffing levels would help.
  • 21% mentioned better schedules.
  • 12% said they needed more respect.

Of the former nurses:

  • 23% said higher salaries would get them back into the profession.
  • 21% listed better staffing levels.
  • 21% said better schedules.