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Nurses Are Quitting in Droves, And Those Who Remain Are Overworked and Fed Up

Since the pandemic, mounting pressure has caused millions of nurses across the country to reevaluate their careers.

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Although healthcare workers and nurses have always been vital, the pandemic and its aftermath have brought a whole new meaning to the term "essential worker."

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Nurses from Montefiore Medical Center march during their strike in front of the medical center in the Bronx, New York, on January 10, 2023.

Hospitals across the country are understaffed, causing healthcare workers who remain to be overwhelmed, overworked and on the brink of burnout. Benny Matthew, a nurse at the Montefiore Medical Center emergency room in the Bronx, told The Washington Post that he's often responsible for 15-20 patients at a time.

"We go home feeling like failures," Matthew told the outlet. "There are times when you can't sleep because you're thinking: Did I do anything wrong today?"

Matthew is among the 7,000 union nurses who went on strike last week in New York City to protest staffing issues and their unintended consequences. Although the strike succeeded in getting two of the city's largest nonprofit hospital systems to agree to improve staffing ratios in certain hospitals, the issue extends far beyond Matthew and NYC.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses contributed to one-fourth of the top 20 major work stoppages in 2022.

The nurse shortage has been exacerbated by a series of compounding factors that have resulted in a work environment where simply surviving is the goal.

The pandemic created a unique situation wherein nurses were both overworked and also at risk of illness themselves — causing new pressures and staffing issues from the get-go. Between 2020 and 2021, around 100,000 nurses left the field entirely, according to estimates from Health Affairs. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. As many nurses left the field due to pandemic-related stress or workload, those who stayed were left with the same pressures and fewer hands on deck.

Related: Contactless and Digitized – The Future of Hospitals in the Times of COVID-19

A 2022 McKinsey & Co. report found that nurses have "increasingly" and "consistently" reported plans to leave the field more in the past two years when compared to the past decade. The report predicts a shortage of between 200,000 and 450,000 nurses in the U.S. by 2025.

Across the country, nurses are unionizing to voice the ongoing issues that result from being severely understaffed, with working conditions and workloads that are unsustainable.

Last September, 15,000 nurses in Minnesota went on strike over understaffing concerns and threatened to walk out a second time in December. However, the hospitals agreed to give nurses a voice in staffing ratios and stopped the second strike before it happened.

Related: 'This Is the Way It's Always Been': HarperCollins Workers Fight to End Historic Cycle of Unfair Wages

"I think the hospitals looked around and understood that they couldn't withstand, frankly, a 15,000-member three-week strike in Minnesota," Chris Rubesch, vice president of the Minnesota nurses union, told The Washington Post. "That would be crippling."

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