This new study is part of the RN Work Project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a ten-year longitudinal study of newly licensed registered nurses (NLRNs) that began in 2006. The RN Work Project is designed to learn more about nurses’ career patterns, including turnover. The results of this study were drawn from two surveys of new RNs in 15 states, one conducted in 2006 prior to the recession and the second conducted in 2009 during the recession.
The two groups were demographically similar, but the second group of nurses reported significantly better health status (23 percent rated their health as excellent compared with 19 percent of the first group) and fewer needlestick injuries, sprains and strains. The 2009 group also reported working an average of 52 hours less during a year, reported better nurse-physician relationships and perceived the work environment as significantly better. While the RNs surveyed in 2009 reported a higher level of intent to stay in their current jobs, they were also more likely to be searching for a new job than the RNs surveyed in 2006. They also reported perceived fewer job opportunities than the earlier cohort.
Investigators for the study were Carol Brewer, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the School of Nursing, University at Buffalo; Christine Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor at the College of Nursing, New York University; Maja Djukic, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the College of Nursing, New York University; and Siritorn Yingrengreung, MS, RN. Kovner and Brewer direct the RN Work Project.
“While nurses’ working conditions may have improved slightly from 2006 to 2009, we think that the higher levels of intent to stay in their current jobs among the later cohort of RNs had more to do with the recession and their perception that there were fewer jobs to be had,” said Brewer.
The researchers note that the nursing shortage, which caused great concern for many years, has abated in part because the recession led many older RNs to delay retirement or to return to nursing. As the economy improves, many of those nurses will retire creating greater demand for new graduates.
“As the recession eases and the job market opens up again, it’s likely that nurses who have been delaying changing jobs will begin looking for new positions, which could dramatically increase staff turnover. Health care organizations should take this opportunity to continue to improve RNs’ working conditions and wages, and to implement programs that will increase retention,” said Kovner.
An earlier RN Work Project study found that nearly a quarter of newly-licensed RNs leave their first hospital jobs within two years and nearly one in five leave within one year. Nine in ten of those who leave stay in the nursing field.
The RN Work Project is the only multi-state, longitudinal study of new nurses’ turnover rates, intentions and attitudes – including intent, satisfaction, organizational commitment and preferences about work. To date, researchers have learned that more RNs work in hospitals than any other settings early in their careers – nearly nine in ten (88.3 percent) work in hospitals six to 18 months after being licensed and 78.8 percent work in hospitals 31 to 54 months after licensure.
Subsequent studies will determine why nurses stay in or leave their jobs, what influences their first job choice, how the job settings they work in vary over time, and whether they move in and out of nursing.