New Survey Offers Snapshot of Nurses’ Job Satisfaction and Career Plans

By Marcia Faller, RN, MSN, EVP and chief clinical officer, AMN Healthcare

February 10, 2010 -- Many feel that a career in nursing is a calling. Others see it as a great employment opportunity. However you define it, most would agree that a nurse’s job isn’t easy. Despite managers’ best efforts, these caregivers deal with large patient loads, physical demands, emotional stress, technical learning curves and bureaucratic challenges.

But would you be surprised to learn that:

  • One out of every three nurses is dissatisfied with their current job;
  • Nearly 30 percent plan to change positions within a year;
  • Nearly half worry that their job is affecting their health;
  • More than half think the quality of care has declined since they became a nurse;
  • Only six out of 10 would definitely choose a nursing career if they had to do it over.

These are just a few of the results from a new survey of nearly 1,400 registered nurses across the country. Approximately 60 percent of the respondents work as hospital permanent staff, which is similar to the national average. Others work in physicians’ offices/primary care, nursing homes, home health, nursing education, as temporary nurses or in other capacities.

AMN Healthcare’s 2010 Survey of Registered Nurses: Job Satisfaction and Career Plans, which is now available for download, provides a snapshot of how these nurses feel about the nursing industry, their current work and their plans for the future. It also contains a message for health care leaders and nursing administrators about the importance of nurse retention and job satisfaction even during an economic downturn.

As you read through the full results of the survey, note these observations in relation to your own nursing staff and future health care staffing plans:

1. Nurses continue to have a high rate of dissatisfaction. This 2010 survey reinforces earlier studies about the relatively high level of dissatisfaction among nurses. Despite their dedication, many nurses believe that delivering good quality patient care amid competing demands is more difficult than they expected. Even if yours is a Magnet facility and your vacancy rates have dropped in recent months, don’t take anything for granted. Nurses continue to face a number of pressures that need active intervention from management.

2. A frightening number of nurses have “exit plans” in the near future. The survey showed that many RNs plan on leaving their jobs, cutting back hours, or taking another position in the next one to three years. Many had responded to the recent economic recession by taking on more hours or even returning to nursing, but they expect to cut back again or leave altogether when the economy rebounds. Do you know how you will replace these workers?

3. Age does matter when it comes to your workforce. Older nurses who responded to the survey tended to be less satisfied with their jobs and more likely to leave in the near future; some of that is due to nearing retirement age. If you have a large contingent of nurses over 55, you might consider offering options like shorter days, different roles that are less stressful or other accommodations that would be more attractive to an older workforce. This could keep your most experienced nurses working longer than they otherwise would.

Although younger nurses were somewhat more satisfied with their jobs and less likely to leave, your investment in their training and their future potential to your organization is obviously worth preserving. Mentoring, coaching and career development opportunities are important for your younger and mid-career nurses.

4. Nursing is seen as a health hazard. Yes, half of the nurses worried that their job was impacting their health; a disturbing statistic. Nurses obviously face a lot of pressure in real life-and-death situations, work physically-demanding shifts, are at risk for catching infections or encountering violence at work, and may not have enough hands to get everything done. Besides the toll this can take on individual nurses, these hazards can impact performance and patient outcomes, call-off rates, disability claims and employee morale. Managers are encouraged to take this problem seriously and find solutions, such as wellness programs, RN task forces and changes in overtime policies.

5. Many RNs see declines in the quality of care. The majority of nurses surveyed thought that the quality of nursing care had declined since they became a nurse. These sentiments may be related to other responses that showed they don’t get to spend enough time with patients, and they believe the nursing shortage has grown worse in recent years. Very few believe that health care reform legislation—if it happens at all now—will supply an adequate number of nurses to meet future demand. Instead of relying on government help, managers will have to address these issues by improving operational efficiencies and finding the right mix of permanent and supplemental staff to provide quality care despite fluctuating needs.

As a snapshot of nurses’ satisfaction rates and career plans, this survey can be used to help healthcare leaders see the bigger picture and change nursing for the better—listening and attending to our nursing workforce in order to minimize turnover and dissatisfaction rates in the months and years ahead.

For more information, download AMN’s 2010 Survey of Registered Nurses.