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Matthew Mawby, co-founder of StaffHealth.com

The shortage of nurses has reached the level of a national crisis, according to report authors reflecting on the 2022 Nurse Salary Research Report by nurse.com.

Many studies have documented high rates of nurse burnout, job dissatisfaction and attrition during the pandemic. The Nurse survey supports these findings, showing an 18% increase in those considering leaving the profession since 2020. In 2021, 29% of nurses — across all licensures — said they are contemplating doing so.

Nurse queried more than 2,500 nurses about their pay and job satisfaction in late 2021. RNs made up 87% of the survey respondents, including advanced practice registered nurses (5%), and licensed practical nurses or licensed vocational nurses (8%). Nurse is a continuing education provider.

New nurses in the 18-to-24 age group and experienced nurses aged 65 years and older were most likely to be eyeing an exit from the profession. What’s more, fully 28% of those surveyed reported that they had changed work settings in 2020 and 2021, and 47% said they are “open to new opportunities.”

“Although nursing salaries are up overall in the survey, I truly believe that a substantial amount of workers are still underpaid, I guess we could say, in the long-term care space,” Matthew Mawby, co-founder of StaffHealth.com, told the McKnight’s Business Daily. 

He said the results were probably skewed toward large hospital systems and traveling nurses.

“Long-term care facilities are the ones that are struggling. The majority of them — and I deal with this on a daily basis — do not have the budget like big, large healthcare systems, regional healthcare systems, big hospitals. They depend a lot on Medicare / Medicaid and some other factors,” Mawby said.

Despite an overall increase in salaries, registered nurses reported glaring differences in pay. They also had concerns about equity and overwork that could affect already troubled pandemic-era staffing levels, but Mawby said that has not been his experience in working to provide short-term staffing to long-term care providers.

Travel nursing, an assignment that has drawn many nurses away from their original settings during the pandemic, was an option for some respondents. Among the 4% who said they were travel nurses, fully 62% said that they had joined the ranks of that group recently, in 2020 and 2021. According to Mawby, in previous years, 2% of the nursing profession was made up of traveling nurses.

“That’s a huge increase,” he observed. 

The rise is most likely due to hospitals paying large premiums during the pandemic to attract short-term workers, Mawby said. 

“Travel [nursing] has increased a lot. I don’t know how sustainable that will be,” he added. “It takes a certain individual that can travel; probably younger, doesn’t have a family, not strapped down.”

Mawby said the average travel assignment lasts around 13 weeks. He said some nurses choose to take an assignment and be done with it, whereas others choose to work as traveling nurses full-time.

“They’re just bouncing around in different states, basically,” he said. 

Although the nursing shortage began before the pandemic, it has reached the level of crisis since 2020 as many nurses look to leave the profession, report authors said. 

“The nurses were heroes one year and not the next year. They’re overworked, underpaid. They’re burning out,” Mawby said. “There’s the crisis level of the pandemic, but now these levels have exceeded the previous level. We’re at a point where there’s so many nurses who are retiring, they’re switching careers, they’re switching companies … a large percentage just left their career altogether.”