PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A new survey indicates many nurses are dissatisfied, burnt out post-pandemic and leaving the profession for good, but that does not seem to be the case in Central Illinois.

The 2023 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses examined the pandemic’s impact on 18,000 nurses’ career plans, job satisfaction, and mental health. Thirty percent of nurses said they are likely to leave their nursing careers post-pandemic and just 15 percent said they will stay in their hospital roles. And 95 percent reported a moderate or severe nursing shortage at hospitals.

“Nurses are the biggest workforce in healthcare. They are the backbone of the healthcare profession…The pandemic was very challenging for all of healthcare, nurses in particular. More turnover during the pandemic, a lot of it was related to the opportunity that nurses had to make a very inflated wage for being a travel nurse,” said Dr. Jennifer Croland, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at OSF Healthcare.

At the height of the pandemic, travel nurses could make 10 times their base salary.

“We’ve seen those traveler rates really come back down to pre-pandemic levels, and with that, we’ve seen more nurses returning to take permanent positions within hospitals,” she said.

Offering incentives to stay increases retention

Croland said offering a balanced schedule and paid professional development has helped draw nurses to OSF, rather than pushing them away.

“Because of some of the strategies and tactics we have employed, we’re not seeing the 30 percent decline from the nursing profession…Really giving them flexibility in their weekend shifts, offering lesser weekends for those who have more experience in the nursing profession, and then a more limited weekend requirement for all nurses by offering weekend programs to those individuals who want to work weekends,” she said.

OSF also offers paid professional development to its mission partners.

“Creating a career development program that compensates them based on the experience and knowledge and expertise that they have within their work unit, upwards of 20% above and beyond their base pay,” Croland explained.

From Croland’s experience, the nurses are not leaving the field, but rather “using their nursing degrees in different ways.”

“The bulk of the people that we’re seeing that are turning from roles in the hospital, are taking roles within the organization. So they’re staying in the healthcare field, but they’re using their knowledge and expertise as a nurse to serve their healthcare organization in a different capacity,” she said.

Nursing student outlooks

Nursing student Madison Byers, who graduates from Methodist College in Peoria on May 20, said taking care of mental health is crucial to avoiding burnout.

“I think a lot of burnout is happening and that’s ok, but they just need to take care of themselves…Self-care is very important. I think sometimes that gets put on the back burner and that’s why people get burnt out and want to leave the profession,” she said.

Croland said the need for self-care was made evident by the pandemic.

“I think there’s a lot more awareness by healthcare leadership about how hard it is to be a nurse, and how quickly we ask them to turn their emotions on a dime, we are really trying to focus on the well being of our mission partners as a focus,” she said.

Nursing student Brooke Gloeckner, who graduates from Methodist in December, said the new generation of nurses has “seen what they like and what they don’t.”

“I think that a lot of people have valid concerns since COVID with the nursing profession in general. I think it might make people more aware of how important it is to set good boundaries and know your limits,” she said.

Gloeckner and Byers said they are excited to bring their passions for helping others into the field.

” I think that nursing is hard and sometimes patients can feel like clients in a business model, and I want people to feel like they are human. I think that by encouraging nursing students today and bringing back that spark, I think we’d have a good outlook,” said Gloeckner.

“My overall outlook I would say is very rewarding to be able to be in this profession and help those individuals, especially during those vulnerable times, and make an impact on their lives,” said Byers.

Nursing recruiting outlooks

Croland said recruitment is going strong at OSF.

“Our staffing situation is improving. It’s not where we want it to be at. But I think we’ve had a strong hiring season. We’ve seen more new grads being hired by OSF than we have in the past 10 years. The most recent projections that we have done at OSF St. Francis Medical Center actually show our staffing improving significantly over the next 12 months, if our hiring patterns persist and if our turnover remains the same.,” she said.

She added she has a positive outlook on the nursing field.

“I’m optimistic because we’ve done a lot of very hard work not only on recruitment and what’s going to be desirable to individuals to select OSF as their employer, but our focus has also been on retention as well, and really valuing the knowledge, the expertise and the contribution that each one of our mission partners is making,” Croland said.