Even as the COVID Crisis Recedes, Healthcare Workers Intend to Leave the Workforce

The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the mental health of healthcare workers across the world. Most reported increased levels of stress and anxiety early in the pandemic from constant exposure to patient deaths and later from increased healthcare demands due to worsening of chronic conditions like diabetes. Healthcare workers also shared that their mental health and that of family members had worsened since the start of the pandemic.

A recent Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine study quantified the results of those impacts finding that healthcare workers in Massachusetts experienced high levels of burnout with nearly 40% planning to leave healthcare within five years, while nearly one-third of those under age 35 intending to do so within two years. Nearly 80% felt that lack of workplace support contributed to burnout and also cited staffing shortages leaving them unable to provide the best care for patients.

“These findings highlight the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said corresponding author Rebecca Perkins, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the School. “Staffing shortages prevent healthcare workers from taking the best care of their patients, leading to moral injury. Bringing healthcare leadership and frontline workers together is essential if we are to solve this problem.”

The researchers conducted interviews with Massachusetts healthcare workers focused on their experience with COVID-19 vaccines and the impact that the pandemic had on their work in healthcare. They also asked healthcare workers to complete a survey on their mental health including any issues that continued to worsen even as the pandemic eased. Surveys also addressed the issue of burnout at work what could be done to improve those feelings including support that would reduce the desire to leave healthcare.

According to the researchers, for healthcare workers to provide the best care to patients they need to feel invested, valued and supported. “The mental health of your doctor, nurse etc. impacts the quality of care they can provide. Reductions in healthcare staff will negatively impact the patient experience and the quality of care that patients receive,” adds Perkins, who also is an obstetrician & gynecologist at Boston Medical Center.

Healthcare professionals need the tools and support necessary to provide the best care for patients. This includes basic materials like personal protective equipment, sufficient supplies of clean, sterilized surgical instruments, updated equipment, adequate infrastructure and, perhaps most importantly in light of the exodus of health-care workers, appropriate levels of staffing and clinical support to provide high-quality, compassionate care.

These findings appear online in the Journal of Interprofessional Education & Practice.