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Study: Nearly a Quarter of Hawaiʻi Nurses Surveyed Considered Quitting Because of Pandemic

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Photo courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi

Researchers say findings from a recent study which surveyed nurses throughout the state are concerning and align with other local and national research.

Almost a quarter of Hawaiʻi nurses surveyed as part of the study considered leaving the workforce because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing. The public impact research was published in the May issue of the The Hawaiʻi Journal of Health and Social Welfare and conducted in late 2020, nearly one year after the pandemic began.

The study conducted by UH researched included a sample of 421 Hawaiʻi nurses at all levels of licensure who were employed or actively seeking employment. One in 5 nurses, 23%, indicated they were considering leaving the nursing workforce. Reasons cited included safety, job fatigue, retiring, no longer wanting to be a health care provider and economic strain.


“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a significant strain on the health care system and health care workers,” Holly B. Fontenot, Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing research director, Frances A. Matsuda Chair in Women’s Health, associate professor and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “The outcomes of this study suggest that a significant nursing shortage could occur in the future if stressors of the pandemic do not abate and interventions to support nurses in their current roles are not developed.”

While the data was collected in late 2020, as cases throughout the United States surged and before the first two COVID vaccines received national emergency use authorization and recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the study’s findings mirrored recent national surveys of nurses, including the Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation, which highlighted that 28% of nurses expressed a desire to quit as a result of the pandemic.

The Hawaiʻi State Center for Nursing’s 2021 Nursing Workforce Supply Survey also found that 1 in 4 nurses felt so stressed that they felt like leaving the profession. More than half of the surveyed nurses have taken care of COVID-19 patients. Additionally, 31% of nurses experienced verbal or physical violence from a patient or visitor.


“This is an especially important topic since nearly a quarter of nurses nationally have sought professional mental health support during the pandemic despite reported barriers of being too busy or being too afraid or embarrassed to seek care,” Deborah Mattheus, Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing associate professor and study co-author. “Ultimately, more research into the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on burnout, work hours, work conditions, consideration to leave the workforce and the effects of these stressors on mental health is needed.”

Nurse leaders throughout the state are committed to addressing the issues related to this study and other similar findings. A workgroup dedicated to addressing wellness and burnout as a priority issue in nursing recruitment and retention was formed and will convene during the summer.

Two large local health systems also established new nurse leadership roles focused on improving well-being for nurses and addressing burnout in the workplace. Individual health care organizations and agencies are implementing their own wellness and resiliency initiatives as well.


“This locally produced research highlights the urgent needs our nurses are facing and validates what we have been hearing from the nurses,” Laura Reichhardt, director of the Hawaiʻi State Center for Nursing, said in the press release. “Important research like this study enables evidence-based policy and creates momentum for moving initiatives forward in our state.”

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