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Prioritizing Self Over Stress: Why Nurses are Quitting in Droves

Nurse putting on face mask

The COVID-19 pandemic was stressful for nearly every human on Earth, but some were affected more than others. Healthcare workers like doctors and nurses are particularly notable in this regard: As far as careers are concerned, the healthcare industry is stressful enough on its own, but the pandemic added increased workloads, higher patient mortality rates, and myriad other stressors. 

Further, nurses face daily exposure to COVID-19 and must take extra precautions to keep themselves safe. According to researchers, “nurses are at the greatest risk of COVID-19 exposure and mortality due to their workplace conditions.” The same healthcare study also noted a significant lack of organizational support and resources to help mitigate the damage caused by poor mental health among nursing professionals. 

Put simply, the world’s nurses are burned out, and they’re not always getting the help they need. Thus, nursing professionals are increasingly prioritizing self-care over work-related stress, sometimes even quitting their jobs altogether to seek better opportunities. Data indicates that 1 in 5 healthcare workers quit their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the healthcare industry has lost about 1.8% of workers since February 2020, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Yet those workers, including nurses, aren’t necessarily leaving the industry for good. Many are simply seeking greater pay and/or benefits, improved access to digital healthcare technology, or maybe a lighter workload. Let’s take a look at the lasting impact of poor mental health on nurses, and why so many nursing professionals are quitting their jobs in favor of self-care.

Stress and the Healthcare Industry

Depending on their medical niche, nurses must deal with a variety of potentially stressful situations every day. For trauma and emergency room nurses especially, stress is just part of the job, but it often takes a toll on one’s physical and mental health. Stressed-out nurses may experience a wide variety of symptoms and/or developmental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

According to a 2021 Nursing Times survey, the situation is concerning: A full 84% of respondents said that their job-related stress levels were much higher during the pandemic than the previous year. What’s more, 44% described their mental health and wellbeing as “bad” or “very bad.” In terms of contributing factors to poor mental health, survey respondents overwhelmingly cited poor eating habits and failure to self-care at work. 

Burnout and stressors notwithstanding, however, quitting your healthcare job isn’t necessarily an easy choice. For starters, there are financial ramifications to leaving a job, including reduced income and the potential loss of health coverage. As such, nurses who are ready to take the plunge and prioritize their own wellbeing should prepare personal finances for the transition, well in advance of the planned quitting date. 

Experts recommend that your emergency fund contain at least six months of saved income. This is especially important among nursing professionals who don’t have another job lined up. 

The Importance of Work Environment and Culture

When it comes to securing a new healthcare job, nurses should do plenty of research to make sure that it’s a good fit, at least where mental health is concerned. Some nursing professionals may desire a laid-back work environment with only a few patients to care for, while others thrive in a large and fast-paced facility. Nurses who quit a job due to burnout, stress, or poor mental health support should take the time to identify the type of workplace culture that can best support their needs. 

The concept of workplace culture spans well beyond the atmosphere and employee collaboration. Interestingly, numerous external factors can have lasting impacts on the culture of a particular workplace. Factors that can influence workplace culture, for better or worse, include local infrastructure, social equity, as well as safety, and health care. If an employer doesn’t prioritize worker safety and offer mental health support, nurses are likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Self-Care Tips for Working Professionals

In all types of healthcare settings, the reality is that patient care is compromised when staff members are stressed out, overworked, and underpaid. How can nurses take care of patients in times of poor mental health? To retain their staff, and attract new talent, healthcare facilities must be prepared to provide cost of living raises plenty of opportunities for time off, and comprehensive health coverage, including disability insurance. 

Yet the bulk of self-care rests on the shoulders of nurses themselves. For working professionals, simple breathing exercises, healthful snacks, and the support of friends and family can go a long way when it comes to taking care of yourself. 

Key Takeaways

In the face of an uncertain future, healthcare workers are increasingly asking tough questions regarding work-life balance. The mandatory overtime required of so many nurses during the pandemic has taken its toll, and nursing professionals are quitting in droves as a result. By taking charge of their own mental health and employment opportunities, nurses may be able to reduce stress and anxiety, and avoid burnout, while providing exceptional patient care.


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