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Top 5 Reasons Why U.S. Nurses Are Leaving Their Jobs

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The seismic departures in the nursing workforce threaten to impair access and quality of care across the country. And these trends concerned health care leaders and policymakers even before the major disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Today, hospitals continue struggling to fill openings even though the U.S. has never had more actively-licensed nurses (5.6 million), driven by record-breaking graduations from schools and a robust job forecast. 

To understand what is driving the exodus, Penn LDI researchers surveyed more than 7,800 nurses who left employment between 2018 and 2021, and published their findings in a recent study in JAMA Network Open

Here are the top five reasons why nurses left their jobs:

  1. Planned retirement. Of those surveyed, 30% left employment for a retirement they had planned.
  1. Burnout. About 1 in 4 respondents reported that they left because of burnout. 
  1. Insufficient staffing. Related to experiencing burnout, 21% of those surveyed identified a lack of sufficient staffing as the cause of their departure.
  1. Poor work-life balance. The inability to balance restrictive and often unpredictable work schedules with family life led about 18% of respondents to depart from their jobs.
  2. Concerns related to COVID-19. Of those surveyed, 17% said concerns about COVID-19, including concern about family member exposure, led to their departure. 

The researchers point out that all of these reasons (aside from planned retirement) are factors within the control of the institutions. They argue that substantive improvements to work conditions could ease the nursing retention crisis.


The study, “Top Factors in Nurses Ending Health Care Employment Between 2018 and 2021,” was published on April 9, 2024 in JAMA Network Open. Authors include K. Jane Muir, Joshua Porat-Dahlerbruch, Jacqueline Nikpour, Kathryn Leep-Lazar, and Karen B. Lasater.


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