Three years ago, nursing was a difficult profession: workers faced long hours, short-staffing driven by efforts to increase profits, sometimes combative and abusive patients and their families, low pay, and poor working conditions. The COVID pandemic made things even worse, leading to a record number of nurses quitting to take higher-paying travel jobs, striking for better working conditions, or even leaving the healthcare industry entirely. Consultancy firms focused on the healthcare industry have taken note, with a new report by McKinsey predicting that the U.S. healthcare system could see a “dire” shortage of nurses as soon as 2025.
The report, titled “Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the nursing workforce,” has found that nurses are consistently and increasingly reporting plans to leave the workforce at higher rates relative to the past ten years. A McKinsey survey showed that 29% of responding RNs indicated they were likely to leave their role in direct patient care, with many noting their intent to leave the industry altogether. As the U.S. population continues to grow older and sicker, patient demand is expected to rise, leading to a significant gap between the number of patients and the number of qualified workers to care for them.
The report’s authors are clear about the consequences: “If no actions are taken, there will likely be more patients in the United States who will need care than nurses available to deliver it. By 2025, we estimate the United States may have a gap of between 200,000 to 450,000 nurses available for direct patient care, equating to a 10 to 20 percent gap.”
Such a gap will have a serious impact on patient outcomes, as already overworked staff are pushed beyond the breaking point, potentially leading to a collapse of the healthcare system. While there is no “magic bullet” solution, the report suggests four broad considerations that will help deal with the problem: making the nursing profession a more attractive career, increasing the accessibility of quality nursing education programs, academic institutions and healthcare providers partnering to connect potential candidates with employers, and innovating care models to focus the efforts of nurses where they are most needed and reduce or automate non-care administrative tasks.
Respondents to the McKinsey Frontline Workforce Survey in March 2022 made their needs clear: a more manageable workload, increased total compensation, ability to take time off, and being more valued by an organization would be the most important factors they would consider when evaluating whether to return to the profession. Healthcare providers would do well to listen and take action now, before even more nurses leave the healthcare industry.