SPS Blog: Are Nurses Leaving the Bedside?

By Carrie Mortrud, RN


Carrie Mortrud, RN

Nurses are critical. Not just to how a hospital functions but to our economy as a whole. Let’s just say it. Nurses are necessary. We can’t get along without them. If nurses leave the bedside, someone would have to take over.


A recent survey by the Center for the Advancement of Healthcare Professionals and AMN Healthcare got results from more than 8,800 nurses (link here). Here’s what they asked…


“Now that the economy has improved, are you thinking more about retirement?”


More than 27 percent of nurses said “yes,” they’re looking to retire in the next three years. Another 12 percent said “maybe.” That’s 4 out of every 10 who are at least thinking of leaving the bedside. I think they’re asking the wrong question though. Nurses aren’t thinking of leaving because they can now afford to do it. They want to leave because staffing has become so critical to nurse satisfaction and patient safety.   Nurses are deciding “if I can’t deliver safe quality care, I’m not going to deliver care anymore.”


Nurses are committed to patient safety and patient advocacy, but too many feel they fail to deliver that when the system won’t allow it. This defeats a nurse to the point they would rather resign than give a report every day listing off ALL the cares they couldn’t give completely or at all. It mentally pushes nurses away from the bedside.


The survey even broke down which nurses are the most likely to go. The nurses who most want to retire currently work in the NICU/Neonatal, Critical Care, and OR/PACU. Other nurses who say they want to retire include Management and Women’s Health/L&D. A portion of these, we can assume that they may be older nurses who are nearing retirement age, but these are high intensity, fast paced areas that many new, young nurses want to pursue. They tend to be the workers with 5-10 years of experience. They should just be hitting their groove. Instead, they want to hit the door and find something else. This is troublesome, yet not surprising.


In the high intensity, fast paced areas there is often less flexibility. In a patient care area where patients have longer lengths of stay, there is more time to do patient teaching, assessing, and treating. If you don’t get it done one day you likely have tomorrow. Nurses love helping a new mom learn how to bathe her premature baby, decreasing dad’s fears of “breaking the baby,” or educating the elderly patients. We also light up when we see that light bulb go off because a senior realizes they need to sit on the bed for a minute before standing to ensure stability. Helping patients heal and survive in their most vulnerable time is what gives nurses satisfaction. When there isn’t enough staff- healing isn’t what happens.


The same survey says this is troubling because, “A resulting increase in nurse-patient ratios could, in turn, reduce patient outcomes, quality of care and satisfaction, as many studies have pointed out.” This group also points out that replacing nurses causes healthcare costs for hospitals to go up.


That doesn’t even address the issue of nurses who are the most experienced, have the most “floor cred,” and who can assess patients the best, may be leaving. “Senior nurses” are critical to teaching and mentoring the new ones. Watching a seasoned nurse in action is the best education a new nurse can get. We can replace a body on the floor, but we’ll never be able to replace someone’s wisdom for their own experiences..


If hospitals would follow staffing guidelines, establish a safe patient standard, to guarantee patients get the care they deserve, nurses would stay. The same survey says that 85 percent of nurses are glad they chose to be a nurse. They are proud of our profession. They don’t want to give it up, and I hope staffing improves so they retire when they want to, not when they feel they have to.

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