When you consider the 22 million workers currently in the healthcare sector, which continues to be one of the largest and fastest-growing fields in America, it’s easy to assume that the healthcare industry is thriving. Yet, you only need to tune into the news for a second to hear this "mass exodus" of employees that’s impossible for those on the cusp of their careers to ignore.
Of course, on the one hand, record highs of as many as 9.3 million job openings across the industry in the last year alone could be considered a good thing for job hunters. Yet, when such high levels of turnover are making themselves painfully evident, it’s natural for anyone to pause before making a commitment they might regret.
Understanding why this is happening, and what it means for the industry overall, is especially essential for healthcare workers at any stage in their careers. This way, it’s far easier to take an objective view of where problem areas lie, what that means for career prospects, and what you can expect from your future in this field.
In this article, we’ll be addressing those concerns and more to answer the most pressing question of the moment – why are healthcare workers leaving the industry at such an astounding rate?
Seeing the headlines about the healthcare industry right now is a far cry from actually understanding what’s happening, which is why it’s first crucial for any potential healthcare worker to consider the facts of the problem. Specifically, it’s important to understand how extreme this exodus is, and who stands to be most affected by it.
Broadly speaking, headlines state that 1 in 5 healthcare workers have either quit their jobs or left medicine since the pandemic began. Overall, rough estimates suggest that this amounts to more than 500,000 workers across the industry in total. Of that number, it’s believed that around 18% of workers have chosen to leave their positions, while a further 12% have left due to lay-offs.
These are worrying figures for everybody, let alone individuals considering healthcare careers. That said, what’s less clear when we look at these blanket numbers is just how widespread the problem is, and which careers have been most affected. These are perhaps the most pressing questions when it comes to both understanding the problem at its core and choosing a career for sustainability regardless of what’s happening in the industry elsewhere. Luckily, this information is also available for anyone who takes the time to find it.
While studies have yet to emerge into each specific job role within healthcare sectors, what we do know so far is that nursing and residential facilities, rather than hospitals themselves, account for nearly four-fifths of these job losses. What’s more, nurses seem to be leaving their roles at a far faster rate than other healthcare workers, with 66% reporting they’ve considered quitting, and with many having done so to leave 62% of hospitals with nurse vacancies rates higher than 7.5%.
As well as specific roles within healthcare being at a higher risk, studies are emerging to highlight location-based figures that pinpoint differences across a range of states.
While healthcare shortages are a national problem, it’s especially interesting to consider that studies generally only highlight this being the case across 25 states. Of these, shortages are by far at their worst in states including –
By comparison, states that remain relatively unaffected, or that have faced minimal staff shortages in hospital settings, include –
While these figures do limit their findings to hospitals without considering shortages in other areas, they do still highlight the fact that location is a major aspect of this problem and should therefore be an important consideration when seeking viable roles within the industry. Supply shortages are especially thought to impact these states-based problems, while facilities and a lack of talent, are also contributing to the issue.
Ultimately, regardless of facts, figures, and your understanding of the issue, it’s impossible to realistically pursue a career in healthcare right now without first considering why these shortages are happening in the first place. Of course, understanding the numbers can help towards this, but most specifically, it’s worth turning to resources that provide more practical information about why job openings are happening at such a fast rate, and how you can avoid high turnover in a role that ultimately might not suit your purpose.
Obviously, there is a wide range of often personal factors behind this issue that we can’t cover or even begin to understand in their entirety. That said, there are now studies highlighting the primary reasons why healthcare workers report leaving their roles, the most prevalent of which we’re going to consider here.
While healthcare shortages were on the horizon for many years before the pandemic, significant increases since Covid 19 emerged are impossible to ignore. The 1 in 5 figures listed above has certainly only developed since the pandemic, making it unsurprising that Covid 19 was listed as the reason for leaving in over 50% of cases. Even outside of employees who actually left their roles, 31% of healthcare workers report considering leaving employment at some stage since the pandemic began.
Reasons for this are tenfold and include longer working hours, pandemic-based supply shortages, a lack of support, and in a more nuanced sense, increased requirements for healthcare workers to prove their vaccination status. Nurses have especially been affected by this latter point, with 11.2% showing hesitation during the first vaccine rollouts. However, there is hope that as hospital admissions continue to slow, the impact of Covid 19 on healthcare overall will also begin to wane.
In 50% of cases, insufficient pay or bonus packages were reported as the prime reason for leaving, especially as many hospitals have increasingly reduced employee benefits due to already-stretched funds. While steps were being made to ensure a minimum of $15 an hour for all healthcare workers before the pandemic, pay raises have especially been put aside in the worst-hit states, with nurses and healthcare aides especially feeling the full sting of these cutbacks.
Luckily, salary trends in other areas of healthcare do paint a more positive picture, with professionals like family medicine providers continuing to enjoy competitive average salaries of around $187,678 in thriving areas.
Stated as a reason for leaving in as many as 49% of cases, overwork in some ways ties into pandemic-specific problems, but it’s also worth noting that this is a long-standing healthcare issue. This has especially become a self-fulfilling prophecy in recent years, with generally understaffed teams only expected to take on more patient care and workloads as their colleagues continue to leave.
Nurses have especially been impacted by increased responsibilities due to both nurse and doctor shortages leaving patient care open. This has led to shifts that well exceed 12-hour standards, as well as career expectations within those hours that take significantly more of a toll than they might have even a few years ago. It’s therefore only by seeking roles in supportive, functional teams that job candidates can avoid this problem.
A lack of opportunities in hospitals that are no longer prioritizing training programs is also a driving reason for high turnover, with the desire for more career growth especially cited as a reason for leaving in 44% of cases. Opportunities of this nature are especially lacking in states facing the most significant shortages, with around 20% of hospitals in Vermont not even able to supply the equipment necessary for healthcare workers to safely complete their responsibilities, let alone pursue promotion.
Luckily, lacking opportunities don’t affect every element of healthcare, with jobs that are actually on the rise in terms of the opportunities they offer including –
As mentioned, as many as 20% of hospitals in Vermont have been unable to supply enough respirator masks or even exam gloves to keep employees safe, but the fact that 38% of recent leavers stated a lack of safety measures as their reason for changing careers highlights that this is quickly becoming a widespread problem. Shortages of personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic especially worked to highlight this issue, making clear inequalities both based on location and job roles in general, with nurses on the frontline of Covid response, in particular, having to make way for safety equipment kept aside for surgeons and so on.
Studies do reveal that certain healthcare settings have proven to be safer than others since the pandemic began, with overwhelmed hospitals perhaps at the bottom of this list, while private practices and even home care services have made it far easier to gain the distance necessary to avoid infection. Luckily, extreme lows in this sense have led to some pretty fast turnovers for improvement, including increased funds spent on safety equipment, and moves towards video appointments where possible.
As important as understanding the reasons for healthcare’s ‘mass exodus’ might be, it’s also crucial to remember that this is by no means reason to avoid a career in healthcare altogether. Undeniably, the pandemic and shortages that were in place even before then have led to some significant problems, but they’ve also highlighted solutions that are changing the face of medicine and have made this an even more appealing career prospect overall in the process.
Perhaps the main thing to note in this sense is that, in many cases, healthcare workers are not leaving the industry altogether, but are instead leaving roles in locations or specific fields that have undergone the most extreme challenges. This, in itself, can be a huge help in highlighting the most viable careers and locations in healthcare right now, especially when taken alongside some rather telling future-forward focuses that are keeping this as the fastest-growing career field even now, including –
As mentioned, while significant job turnover in a field you’re about to enter is a worrying sign, it also highlights the fact that there are far more positions currently available for a professional looking to make their mark. Outside of that, ensuring that high healthcare turnovers don’t have a detrimental effect on your position simply means making sure that you’re finding the right healthcare roles regardless of anything else by considering:
With these considerations in mind, it’s more possible than ever to pave the right healthcare career path for your needs and capabilities, you simply need to make sure that you’re aware of the challenges, and know how to make the most of them rather than finding yourself stuck in the wrong healthcare statistics.