Nurse’s Leaving Direct Patient Care – Where Will They Go?

A recent study from McKinsey & Company offers few surprises about the state of the nursing profession. The study highlights what many in healthcare have known for a long time: registered nurse jobs are plentiful because nurses are leaving direct patient care and there are not enough new nurses coming in to take their spots. However, the study does raise an interesting question.

If as many as one-third of all currently employed nurses plan to leave direct patient care, where will they go? There are non-clinical opportunities out there, but there may not be enough to keep all of them employed in nursing. More non-clinical jobs could be created, which could possibly help boost the number of new nurses being trained in the years to come.

Planning to Leave Soon

The McKinsey & Company survey questioned both registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) about their plans for the future. Researchers noted that prior to the start of the COVID pandemic, new nursing licenses were up roughly 4% year-on-year. That probably would not have helped ease the nursing shortage even if the pandemic hadn’t reared its ugly head. But now, with the pandemic largely over, so few new nurses seeking licensing will barely make a dent in the problem.

That is because the pandemic has left some 30% of currently employed nurses reconsidering the commitment to remain in clinical care. By 2025, they expect to be in non-clinical positions or out of nursing altogether. That is a significant number by any measure. Any other industry losing 30% of its workforce would find itself in big trouble in short order. Healthcare already has its problems. Losing one-third of its nursing staff cannot be good.

Non-Clinical Job Options

So, what does the job market look like for nurses hoping to leave clinical work? LPNs are probably going to find it tougher to remain in nursing after a decision to leave direct patient care. RNs should have an easier time. Creating more registered nurse jobs in education would be a start.

According to McKinsey & Company, one of the reasons nursing schools are not producing enough new nurses is that there aren’t enough spots for all the students looking for an education. Expanding nursing programs is the obvious solution here. To do that, schools need to create more educator spots. The study also suggests creating more mentor programs whereby experienced RNs mentor smaller numbers of students as they work through the later stages of education.

Another suggestion in the McKinsey & Company report is that both government and the private sector find ways to make more use of registered nurses. What that would look like, in terms of job creation, is unclear. But if keeping RNs employed in nursing after leaving clinical work is the goal, jobs need to be created somewhere.

Rethinking Healthcare Profits

There is no arguing that RN and LPN jobs or readily available. Employers cannot fill them fast enough. But with more nurses planning to leave clinical work within the next few years, something must be done to keep hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices operating. Perhaps it is time to rethink profit. Maybe it is time for the industry to accept lower profits in exchange for more nurses who really just want lighter workloads, more flexible schedules, and a bump in pay.

We have been talking about the nurse shortage for some time now. Continuing to talk about it will not change anything. If we really want to prevent one-third of our nurses from leaving clinical work, we need to get serious about addressing their motivations for doing so.

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