The Great Healthcare Resignation

Healthcare workers are quitting in record numbers to pursue less stressful jobs, causing a loss in on-site medical expertise. Here’s how to stop the bleed.

The Great Resignation – A Shift in Healthcare Jobs

COVID-19 has killed more than 807,000 people in the United States. In the process, thousands of healthcare workers have experienced such tremendous mental, emotional and sometimes physical trauma that they are quitting in droves. Others, especially hospital staff, have lost their jobs during this time due to a significant decrease in hospital revenue.

According to a survey conducted by the technology company Morning Consult, 18 percent of healthcare workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic. Another 12 percent were laid off. What does that mean in terms of actual people? In December 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the healthcare sector had lost nearly half a million workers from February 2020 through November 2021. And though some are pursuing healthcare-adjacent careers, they are no longer on the front lines caring for patients.

While more obvious concerns about this mass resignation exist, several less obvious issues will also impact the next generation of healthcare workers. Here, we discuss the impact and what hospitals and medical offices can do to retain healthcare workers and improve their morale in an already understaffed industry.

Resignations cause a decrease in staff expertise

As healthcare workers leave their jobs due to low pay, burnout, long COVID symptoms that interfere with their job or lack of support from their employer, they take their expertise with them. Unfortunately, there’s no class or manual that can prepare staff for everything they’ll experience in a hospital setting. And often experience and the wisdom that comes with it are the best teachers. But when the nurses and doctors with years of experience throw in the towel, their knowledge goes with them.

This attrition isn’t just concerning for patients who come in with new strains of COVID-19. It’s a concern for all patients, hospitals and medical offices. Less experience with heart attacks, strokes and other emergency situations can increase the risk of errors and casualties that could have been avoided.

What they’re doing now

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, some healthcare workers are using their medical experience and expertise to address problems they experienced in their work. For example, one woman who was so concerned about the increase of patients with breathing issues began an environmental nonprofit that plants trees in Chicago. A former physician now struggling with long COVID started a political action committee to help get more doctors elected to political office. Others have left the healthcare field entirely, too disillusioned to remain in what they believe is a broken system.

How to retain your current staff

Better mental health support and increased personal safety are at the top of most healthcare worker wish lists. That said, there are other things that hospitals and medical offices can do to help retain staff and improve morale.

  • Improve employee benefits: As on-staff nurses resign to take higher-paying jobs as travel nurses, employers need to consider the value of their staff and compensate accordingly.
  • Better communication: When employees can regularly talk with their supervisors and executives about what is and isn’t going well and what they’d like to see going forward, they’ll feel more invested in their job. Plus, they’re likely to see the changes they’ve asked for, which makes them less likely to seek employment elsewhere.
  • Assist with the work/life balance: While work/life balance doesn’t mean equal time for each, it does mean that people should have time to live their lives. Talk with your staff to learn what work/life balance means to them and do your best to help them get there.

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