More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, some nurses who have worked tirelessly on the frontlines to help sick patients through uncertainty are considering a step away from the profession.
Some are struggling to cope mentally and many feel underappreciated and undervalued.
For Nikki Motta, a travel nurse who spent the past year working at hospitals along the east coast, the toll of caring for COVID-19 patients left her with stress that has led to hair loss.
Motta told Insider that the hospitals she worked at were badly understaffed and in many cases she would have a higher than normal patient load despite the demand for 1:1 care for some critically ill patients. Motta also had limited help, so tasks like turning patients over or generally taking care of them fell on her alone, which put a physical strain on her body.
"You're physically turning and lifting people who are incapable of helping you because whether they're in a medically induced coma or if they are just completely exhausted and de-conditioned so much so that they can't help you. You are turning them on their sides to assess their skin, to make sure that they don't get bedsores and you don't always have another person to help you do that," Motta said. "You don't always have a machine to help you do that. So nurses are doing things that are putting wear and tear on their shoulders and their backs and their knees for multiple hours throughout the day for various different people of all body types and physical conditions."
At least a quarter of travel nurses are looking for other jobs
A Trusted Health report released on Wednesday found that in a survey of over 1,000 travel nurses, 67% of respondents said the healthcare system did not prioritize their mental health and well-being. Additionally, almost half of the respondents said they were considering leaving the profession and 25% of them said they are actively looking for a job outside of nursing or planning to retire.
The percentage of young nurses, those under 40, were 22% more likely than average to report that their commitment to nursing had decreased.
"That's a big deal because the pipeline of nurses is already small. We've had a shortage forever. There's some statistics saying that there's going to be 175,000 open roles every single year until 2029 and if we have nurses leaving the profession that early into their career and we can't train enough then that can create a whole other healthcare crisis for our system," Dan Weberg, Head of Clinical Innovation at Trusted Health, told Insider.
Liz Evans left her staff position as a cardiothoracic ICU nurse to work as a travel ICU nurse in COVID-19 hotspots.
Evans told Insider that hospitals in California were short-staffed on nurses during the pandemic and that meant she had to take care of five or six patients during a shift, which she described as "unheard of."
"Usually, in an ICU, you have one patient, max two, and that's because they're so critical. You have to be there at all times because they literally could tank in five minutes and if nobody is watching, they could die," Evans explained.
Limited resources means nurses are doing a lot more
Motta was also frustrated with various demands placed on her that fell outside of taking care of patients. She said she'd spend hours after her shift was technically over just charting patient information and also spent lots of time during her shift running around to get supplies.
After six years as a nurse, Motta said she's looking to leave bedside care and go into advanced practice.
"I really started looking away from bedside over the last year because the weight was really heavy of what I was doing and I didn't feel like I was doing the job that I initially signed up for, which is to help people and make people feel better," she said. "I feel like there are even more and more expectations for nurses and nurses are the type of people who want to help and who want to do what is asked of them but I think that is being taken advantage of in a lot of ways."
Evans also said that conditions forced her to learn other critical roles and do jobs she normally wouldn't do as a nurse just to keep patients alive. But the role taxed her emotionally, mentally, and physically.
After only three years as a nurse, a traumatizing moment made Evans consider leaving the profession. She said there was a day where a patient coded, meaning they need life-saving treatment, and no one else responded to her calls for help because two other people on that same floor also coded.
"There were not enough resources and so I was in there doing chest compressions, trying to keep my patient alive while everyone was in a different code and as soon as that code was over they came over to mine, but it was already too late," she said. "So I might be yelling at the door like: 'Hey, like I need help. Like, I need someone in here and get a manager, get somebody, somebody should be here,' and there was nobody there."
She said that same night, another patient coded and again there weren't enough people to help until eventually, a nurse manager came over to help her.
"But it was just the two of us. There was no doctor to be seen. There was no other person there," she said.