8 Common Reasons Nurses Quit Their Jobs

There are numerous reasons nurses quit their jobs.

Some nurses experience burnout from consistently stressful routines, patients, and long hours.

Other nurses encounter a lack of leadership or find better career opportunities elsewhere.

This article explores several common reasons nurses quit their jobs.

It also explores the options that exist in other nursing occupations.

Just because a nurse quit their previous job doesn’t mean they can no longer work as a nurse.

The nursing profession is dynamic and expansive, allowing hard-working healthcare professionals to shift fields while remaining nurses.

Yes, some leave the healthcare industry entirely.

However, others make lateral shifts within the nursing profession.

1. Stressful Work Environment

Workplace stress often results from poor organization, a lack of management support, and work pressure.

However, a stressful work environment resulting from unresolved coworker-leadership issues, frequent patient conflicts, long work hours, and job instability also causes work stress.

Everyone manages stress differently, and some individuals have a lower tolerance.

Nurses work diligently to ensure patients receive adequate care.

However, managing numerous tasks, coworkers, and patients can be challenging, especially when working in a stressful environment.

Some nurses overcome these challenges with enough rest, recovery, and support.

Other nurses pursue less stressful nursing positions or leave healthcare for other occupations.

Burnout is more severe because it compounds multiple stressful workplace factors and occurs over time.

Workplace stress can lead to job dissatisfaction, increased risk for medical errors, and a higher risk of employee conflict/turnover.

Burnout can lead to depression, career resentment, and an inability to cope with daily work responsibilities.

2. Burnout

Burnout is a leading cause of healthcare workers leaving the medical profession.

According to the American Journal of Nursing, approximately 15% of nurses conveyed regret in their career choice to become nurses.

Moreover, 16% to 43% of nurses report symptoms of burnout in their careers.

Burnout results from insufficient rest, recovery, and support to manage the job’s physical, emotional, and psychological demands.

Notably, it occurs over time, accumulates from negative experiences, and involves numerous unresolved workplace issues.

Common Causes of Burnout:

  • Long work shifts
  • Inflexible schedules
  • Inadequate staffing
  • High patient-to-nurse ratios
  • Poor management/leadership
  • Workplace violence
  • Stressful physical labor
  • Time pressure
  • Frequent work hazards

These factors overwhelm nurses, and there isn’t enough rest, recovery, and support to recuperate appropriately.

Burnout can lead to occupational resentment, patient safety issues, decreased performance, and compel nurses to seek employment elsewhere.

Nevertheless, burnout appears most common in stressful bedside care jobs and fatiguing work settings.

Nurses in less stressful positions don’t experience nearly as much burnout and work fatigue.

For instance, working as a nurse educator, school nurse, nurse administrator, nurse researcher, clinic nurse, and public health nurse is significantly less stressful.

3. Lack of Management/Leadership

Good management and leadership are essential for any well-functioning organization.

Managers/leaders provide support, feedback, direction, education, and exemplary decision-making/critical thinking when necessary.

It’s particularly vital in healthcare, where employees often face burnout and the lives of their patients are on the line.

Poor management/leadership increases workplace confusion, creates disproportionate medical errors, decreases employee morale, amplifies conflict, and generates other issues.

As a result, some nurses have difficulty executing their job responsibilities effectively and quit their job to work for another healthcare facility.

Other nurses lose interest in healthcare and change careers due to poor management/leadership.

There aren’t many positives for employees, patients, the facility, or the healthcare system when a lack of oversight negatively affects the work environment.

4. Office Politics

Office politics cause dissatisfaction, separation, and inequality in work settings.

Depending on the situation, some employees will feel alienated, unheard, and unappreciated for their work.

Moreover, some experience favoritism in career opportunities, work schedules, and pay raises.

Office politics causes discontent among workers leading to decreased performance, increased tension, and a lack of career interest.

It also opens up opportunities for medical errors due to poor communication and resentment.

Office politics isn’t just an issue in healthcare.

However, it’s amplified in healthcare because it generates unexpected employee and patient risks.

Employees need to feel heard, accepted and appreciated for their work, and patients need to feel safe, cared for, and respected.

Therefore, healthcare facilities must manage office politics well to avoid uncontrolled employee/healthcare risks.

5. Loss of Passion

In any profession, some individuals lose passion for their careers over time.

Of course, it can result from work-related issues like work stress, burnout, poor management, or leadership issues.

However, a loss of passion isn’t necessary due to stress or work problems.

It can result from a desire to pursue a new domain, growing tired of specific job tasks, negative experiences, or a more satisfying career alternative.

Some individuals desire novel work experiences that their current employment no longer provides.

In this case, changing occupations can renew their passion and breathe new life into their careers.

Other nurses continue working in their discipline but change their domain/specialization to acquire new experiences and expertise.

For instance, numerous nurses have moved from bedside care to legal nurse consulting, forensics, research, and entrepreneurship.

It allows them to continue developing their healthcare knowledge while escaping their previous profession.

6. Staff Issues

Staffing issues are a common cause of employee and patient displeasure.

Healthcare facilities that have trouble appropriately staffing their departments increase stress on existing nurses.

Over time this leads to workplace stress, burnout, medical errors, and job dissatisfaction.

Nurses without proper support have more difficulty managing work responsibilities and have less time to rest and recover.

Taking time off becomes increasingly challenging, and some facilities mandate overtime, causing further burnout.

Staffing issues also increase patient wait times, lead to employee/patient conflicts, and decrease patient care levels.

Ongoing staffing issues can cause some nurses to leave a particular facility, further perpetuating the staffing problem.

Even in highly motivated departments with excellent management/leadership, poor staffing can overwhelm medical workers and cause them to seek employment elsewhere.  

7. Unsafe Working Conditions

Unsafe working conditions increase the chances of injury from various physical, biological, and emotional dangers.

Healthcare facilities must provide adequate training, safety equipment, clean/sanitary environments, and safety protocols.

Otherwise, they risk their medical workers and patients for preventable things.

Even facilities with excellent equipment and safety protocols experience unexpected events like unruly patients.

Facilities that don’t offer adequate protection from these dangers risk nurses leaving for employment elsewhere.

Workplace Safety Issues Include:

  • Defective equipment
  • Poor equipment maintenance
  • Cluttered facility rooms/floors
  • Slippery floors/falling hazards
  • Inadequate training
  • Insufficient safety warning systems/procedures
  • Exposure to chemical hazards
  • Fire/electrical hazards
  • Poor lighting
  • Inadequate safety equipment
  • Problematic exposure to bacteria/viruses
  • Violent patients

Every healthcare facility has risks due to the nature of the job.

However, they can take steps to mitigate/minimize these risks and keep nurses and patients happy.

8. Better Career Opportunities

In some cases, nurses leave their profession, not because of work issues but because better career opportunities emerge.

Some nurses move to non-bedside care nursing jobs or take promotions offering better pay, benefits, and job satisfaction.

Other nurses find better prospects outside of healthcare and decide to change careers.

It’s unavoidable that some workers in any profession will pivot their careers because of unexplored opportunities.

Expectedly, some nurses have determined their talents and needs will be better satisfied in other occupational domains.

What Percentage of Nurses Leave the Profession?

Depending on the data, there are varying estimates regarding the portion of nurses who quit in the first five years of their careers.

According to Zippia, roughly 50% of nurses leave their jobs in the first five years of employment.

Of that portion, approximately 17% of nurses depart within one year, and 56% leave roughly two years into their careers.

There are numerous reasons so many nurses quit their jobs within the first five years.

It includes operating in stressful settings, burnout, management issues, office politics, a loss of passion, and other causes.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened these problems, increasing the rate at which nurses retire or quit their jobs.

According to data published by Nurse.com,  29% of nurses across all license types considered leaving in 2022.

Comparatively, only 11% considered departing from their jobs the previous year (2021).

Another article by Forbes on healthcare’s great resignation estimated 20% of the healthcare workforce left the field.

A deeper look into the numbers suggests that 30% of the healthcare workers who left were nurses.

Of the numerous causes for leaving their job, 29% of healthcare workers stated “burnout” as their primary motivator.

A primary concern of employers looking to maintain long-term employment is employee morale and confidence.

Notable Health’s new report finds that 48% of healthcare workers are concerned about whether the healthcare system can adequately hire and retain staff without prioritizing automation.

The report also states that 57% of healthcare staff continually fear burnout.

Finally, a survey conducted by Incredible Health suggests 34% of nurses intend to leave their existing roles before 2023.

These surveys propose considerable challenges for the healthcare system, from nurse education to employment and retention.

Finding Passion Outside of Direct Patient Care

The majority of employed registered nurses work in hospitals and other direct patient care settings.

These specialists play a prominent role in ensuring patients receive adequate, timely, and professional medical care.

They also reduce the burden on physicians, nurse practitioners, and other professionals by managing multiple daily tasks.

Unfortunately, an ever-growing economy, staffing shortages, and poor management cause many nurses to leave their jobs.

So what do registered nurses do when they leave their existing roles?

Numerous registered nurses find careers in nondirect patient care settings.

It includes legal consulting, research, education, forensics, MedSpa services, health coaching, freelance services, and entrepreneurship, among other careers.

Non-bedside careers enable nurses to use their expertise in healthcare-related domains without the pressure of direct care.

In addition to working outside of direct care, these professionals don’t typically work 12-hour nursing shifts.

Instead, they have more stable day/evening schedules and may even avoid working weekends.

These careers operate slower because nurses don’t have to constantly attend to patients or respond to emergencies.

Accordingly, fewer reports of burnout, severe stress, and career dissatisfaction exist.

Not All Nurses Remain in Healthcare

A percentage of nurses who leave their existing roles decide to work in non-healthcare-related fields.

The exact estimates of nurses transitioning into other healthcare roles vs. leaving healthcare altogether are unknown.

Nevertheless, it’s not unreasonable to assume a percentage of nurses who leave healthcare realize it’s not their ideal career.

Nursing provides meaningful employment, great pay, benefits, and the ability to improve people’s lives dramatically.

However, it isn’t for the faint of heart or those who join nursing simply for the pay.

Nurses spend years in school developing their education.

They also spend numerous decades supporting patients, healthcare workers, businesses, and the healthcare system.

Therefore, anyone deciding to become a registered nurse must determine their reasons for joining this career.

Spending thousands of dollars in school to change careers a few years later can be expensive and time-consuming.