Nurses Leaving the Profession: Challenges and Opportunities for Nursing Students

Charmaine Robinson, MSN-Ed, RN
Updated June 13, 2023
    As a nursing student, you may be concerned about nurses leaving the profession may affect you. Explore how this trend may impact your nursing journey moving forward.
    Nurses in a serious meeting around a conference tableCredit: Getty Images
    • According to a 2023 research report, approximately 900,000 nurses intend to leave the profession by 2027.
    • Nurses have been voicing their concerns about stressful work environments for a while and are choosing to leave for reasons like burnout and lack of support.
    • Fewer nurses in the workforce may affect nursing students’ educational training, job outlook, and workplace satisfaction and performance.

    A mass nurse departure from the workforce is expected over the next few years. Nurses are choosing to leave the profession for reasons like stressful working environments, lack of support from supervisors, and in more recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Simply put, nurses are burned out, and as a result they want out.

    Nursing students today may have reason to be concerned about the landscape ahead, but there also are potential opportunities in this environment. Explore how these predictions may impact students’ educational and professional journeys moving forward.

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    Nurse Departures: The Numbers Are Grim

    The pandemic may have been the final straw for many nurses who left the profession in the last few years and a driving force for subsequent departures. Two reports released earlier this year have revealed alarming statistics about this trend.

    The NCSBN released a report in April 2023 revealing that approximately 100,000 nurses left the profession during the pandemic, and 900,0000 more plan to leave within the next few years. Around the same time, AMN Healthcare released a 2023 report revealing that 55% of surveyed nurses reported that they often feel like resigning, and 30% would leave the profession because of the pandemic.

    Further, a 2017 report in Nursing Outlook revealed that one-third of nursing faculty is projected to retire by 2025.

    How do these nurse departure trends affect nursing students who will graduate within the next few years?

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    Challenges and Opportunities for Nursing Students

    The nurse departure will likely have a significant impact on graduating nursing students. Students may even begin to see changes while still in school. Here are three ways that this trend may affect your journey from student to nurse.

    Clinical Training in School

    Fewer nurses in the workforce means fewer opportunities for students to be placed in facilities for clinical training, preceptorships, and/or residencies. Nursing schools are already having difficulty admitting students due to insufficient clinical sites and nursing preceptors. This may pose a problem for current nursing students who have yet to start a preceptorship.

    As nurses leave the workforce, the number of available and competent preceptors may decrease. This is particularly true for students who have to find their own preceptors.

    If you have to find your own preceptor, start searching now. Join an online nursing community on platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook to connect with nurses who could either agree to train you or refer you to someone who could once the time comes.

    If your nursing school finds preceptors for you, you may have to consider the possibility that your future preceptorship may be shortened or limited in some way. Prepare now by learning as much as you can from your clinical instructors during your rotations.

    Job Hunting

    It may be assumed that an increased nursing shortage would instantly create more opportunities for new graduate nurses. This may not be the case directly; landing your first nursing job may still be difficult. The fact remains, hospitals want nurses with prior nursing experience.

    According to a 2023 NSI survey of more than 3,000 hospitals nationwide, the average turnover cost for a nurse is $52,350 — and that number is increasing. New nurse orientation training is more costly as the training is typically lengthier than an experienced nurse.

    Landing your first nursing job within the next few years may require you to be much more open than if you were job hunting now. You may have to “take what you can get” until you gain enough experience to be selective. Be open to various specialties, facilities, and locations.

    Choose a high-demand specialty. Hospitals have a harder time hiring medical-surgical nurses. According to the NSI report, it takes hospitals an average of 105 days to fill an experienced medical-surgical registered nurse position. Although these statistics focus on experienced nurses, the increased demand for nurses may lead to an expansion of new graduate nurse orientation programs.

    Work at rural hospitals. Rural hospitals are struggling to stay open for reasons including financial burdens and staffing shortages. According to the American Hospital Association, over 100 rural hospitals closed over the last ten years and over 600 more are at risk of closing. The top states with the most rural hospitals at risk are Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and New York.

    After graduation, consider relocating to states with increasing nursing shortages. The United States Department of Health and Human Services projects that these states will have the largest registered nurse shortage by 2030: California, Texas, New Jersey, and South Carolina.

    To further improve the chances of landing your first nursing job in the next few years, consider a short-term volunteer nurse externship or internship on a medical surgical floor at a rural hospital during the summer or whenever you have a school break.

    Orientation Training on the Job

    Nursing students may start to feel the most challenging effects of the mass departure after landing a job. The mass departure may affect your job training experiences and require you to be more flexible. You may have to anticipate a challenging orientation training experience.

    Over the next few years, nurse preceptors may have increasingly heavy workloads, making it difficult for them to provide optimal training. They may be stressed and frustrated in their preceptor role. You may even be required to train with nurses who have not been in the field very long, which may lead to suboptimal training and potential for medical errors.

    This study shows that when nurse preceptors are qualified, experienced, and carefully selected, errors are reduced. Preceptors should be chosen based on high interest in the role or desire to educate new nurses. Yet, in a massive nursing shortage, you may be assigned to a nurse who is simply working that particular day. In addition, due to difficulty with staffing at facilities, scheduling may change often, which may place you in a rotation of preceptors.

    Overall, you may be expected to train rather quickly. Although you may feel “thrown out there,” so to speak, your charge nurses and nurse coworkers can be a great support once you are on your own. Take charge of your experience by knowing your strengths and weaknesses and communicating them to your preceptor or manager.

    Nursing students can start to prepare today for the changes that may occur as they move toward graduation and employment in the next few years. While there are many reasons for concern, there are equally great opportunities for students during this climate that may place them at an advantage.