Jan 29, 2024 - Health

Health care workers kept leaving the industry after pandemic: study

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

There's been a "substantial and persistent" increase in health care workers leaving the industry since the pandemic, as staff who stayed on during the worst of COVID-19 leave for new opportunities in a robust jobs market, according to a new study in JAMA Health Forum.

Why it matters: While exit rates have been matched by an uptick in hiring, the constant churn can disrupt the continuity of care and result in poorer patient outcomes, researchers wrote.

Details: The Johns Hopkins-led study, based on Census data from the beginning of 2018 through the end of 2021, found a disproportionate number of women and Black workers exiting the health industry.

  • Employers appeared to have a harder time recruiting Black workers after the pandemic, a trend that could exacerbate diversity issues within the workforce.
  • Even though overall employment levels appeared to stabilize by the end of 2020, the exit rate rose, starting in the Northeast and gradually spreading to more states in the South and West.
  • Exit rates remained higher than pre-pandemic baseline levels through the end of 2021. While the increase in health care hiring masked some of the churn, providers were left operating with less-experienced staff.

Between the lines: At the start of the pandemic, most exiting workers didn't have other employment lined up. By the end of 2021, they were mostly leaving for jobs outside of health care, the study found.

  • The flow to other lines of work could be a sign of health care's declining competitiveness in the broader labor market.

The bottom line: This study offers more evidence of the pandemic's long-term effects on the health care workforce and another reason for policymakers to address burnout, as well as workforce pipelines, researchers said.

Go deeper