COVID-19 pandemic triggers surge in medical staff intention to leave 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the number of nurses and doctors considering leaving their hospital jobs increased substantially, a recent article by the EU-funded METEOR Project shows. The publication stresses the need to create strategies to counteract this tendency, as it endangers the quality of medical care.  

In the article, “Determinants of intention to leave among nurses and physicians in a hospital setting during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis”, Neeltje de Vries, Laura Maniscalco, Domenica Matranga, José Bouman and Peter de Winter analysed articles in four scientific literature databases: PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, and Web of Science, discussing the impact of COVID-19 on nurses’ and doctors’ job retention and turnover.

The study found that 38% of nurses declared their intention to leave their current hospital job and 28% to exit the profession. Similarly, 29% of physicians intended to leave their current positions, and 24% wanted to quit the medical field.

“Our study revealed that COVID-19 exacerbated the existing problem of medical staff retention,” said Neeltje de Vries, an expert in nursing science from Spaarne Gasthuis. “The lesson learnt is that future pandemics or sudden surges in healthcare demand can lead to an outflow of nurses and doctors, putting even more strain on our healthcare system.” 

The study found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, thoughts about quitting were triggered by a complex mix of causes, such as the fear of the virus and limited availability of protective equipment, as well as individual factors like age, experience, and burnout. 

“This systematic review revealed burnout symptoms as a primary cause that correlated with the intention to leave during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Laura Maniscalco, a researcher at Università degli Studi di Palermo. “Stress, heavy workloads and working night shifts have all contributed to the exhaustion of workers. As previous research shows, epidemics negatively impact the mental health of nurses and physicians, in some cases leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” 

While previous literature showed that in normal times more experienced medical workers were less likely to quit their hospital jobs, the pandemic significantly increased seasoned workers’ willingness to leave.

“Experienced nurses and physicians felt overwhelmed by the pandemic, possibly never having seen a crisis like this before despite their years of practice,” said Neeltje de Vries. “Many of them were also in fear for their own lives, which could have contributed to them wanting to quit.”

The paper underscored the urgent need for hospital managers to address the crisis that is still impacting medical personnel. Research shows that by targeting key determinants such as fear, burnout, and lack of support, hospitals could foster a supportive environment that retains experienced personnel and attracts new talent, enhancing the quality of services.

de Vries N, Maniscalco L, Matranga D, Bouman J, de Winter JP. Determinants of intention to leave among nurses and physicians in a hospital setting during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2024 Mar 14;19(3):e0300377. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0300377. PMID: 38484008; PMCID: PMC10939201.

You can read the paper here.