Which healthcare workers are most likely to quit their jobs?

By Hailey Mensik for Healthcare Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Turnover rates for healthcare workers are returning to pre-pandemic levels after massive disruptions during initial coronavirus waves, though rates among physicians and those working in long-term care have worsened, according to research published Friday in Health Affairs.
  • Out of all healthcare occupations, health aides and assistants had the highest turnover rates that continued increasing throughout the pandemic, followed by licensed practical and vocational nurses, the study found.
  • Women with children younger than 5 years old had the highest probability of leaving their healthcare jobs, and those from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups had higher turnover rates than White workers, according to the study.

Dive Insight:

During the first wave of the pandemic, 1.5 million healthcare workers lost their jobs when medical offices closed and hospitals postponed non-emergency care to free up resources and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Many of those jobs have since bounced back, though certain roles are facing rockier recoveries. Healthcare employers are still grappling with ongoing shortages and issues recruiting and retaining staff in all positions two years after the pandemic’s start.

In the new study, Health Affairs researchers analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to discern which healthcare workers lost or left their jobs, and who was at highest risk for exiting the workforce.

The study compares turnover rates before the pandemic — from January 2019 to March 2020 — with turnover rates in the first nine months of the pandemic — from April 2020 to December 2020. It also includes rates in the following eight months — from January 2021 to October 2021.

Turnover rates peaked during the first part of the pandemic, researchers found. Throughout the following year, turnover mostly recovered, though not for long-term care workers and physicians. Turnover rates among both occupations actually increased throughout the pandemic.

“This study does not suggest mass exits by any particular profession,” the study’s authors wrote, though heightened turnover among physicians supports growing concerns about occupational burnout.

A December report from Doximity found a spike in physician retirements during the first few months of the pandemic that never fully recovered, with an extra 1% of physicians leaving their practice than were expected.

Continual declines in employment for long-term care workers are also noteworthy “given their persistently high and increasing exit rates,” coupled with high demand for employees in those roles, according to the Health Affairs study.

Women, particularly those with young children, had the highest likelihood of leaving their healthcare job, reaching a turnover rate of 6% for those with a child 5 years old or younger.

The healthcare workforce is dominated by women. The largest occupation in the healthcare sector by far is registered nurses, followed by health aides, with women accounting for more than 85% of those jobs, according to 2019 data from the Census Bureau.

“Women, particularly those with young children, have experienced the largest share of the COVID-19−related job losses,” the study’s authors wrote.

“Healthcare, a field that is predominantly composed of women, many of whom are of historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, is no different,” they wrote.

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