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Where Have All the Nurses Actually Gone?

Updated: Jun 20

Long hospital hallway

The fact that there are fewer nurses over the past three years is obvious. One only needs to watch or read the news or visit a healthcare provider to know the workforce has changed dramatically. According to one of the latest surveys from Incredible Health, “more than one-third (34%) of nurses say it's very likely that they would leave their roles by the end of 2022 and 44% cited burnout and a high-stress environment as the reason for their desire to leave.

Nurses cited benefits and pay as the second leading reason (27%) for quitting their jobs.

But where are nurses actually going?

Many have simply chosen a well-deserved retirement and are doing the kinds of things any retiree would do: spending time with grandchildren, traveling, and learning a new hobby… pickleball!

But most of these nurses were nowhere near retirement age and could arguably not sustain their lifestyle without another economically and personally fulfilling job.

So what are the alternate career paths that nurses (and other clinicians for that matter) have taken for income and, most importantly, happiness?

Big Box/Home Healthcare

I repeatedly torture my friends and family with a story from a VP of virtual care at a major big box company entering the hospital-at-home market. As they built their workforce they wondered where they could find enough staff that had enough healthcare knowledge to work in retail and communicate with customers who needed remote care devices in their homes much like the Geek Squad does for A/V products.

After mining their human resources database they found they had a disproportionate number of former healthcare workers who took jobs at the retailer to escape the pressures and dangers of delivering care in a hospital. Essentially they wanted to move into the slower land and liked the thought of just selling printers or large-screen tvs in a store with regular work hours.

More interesting is that in interviewing these former healthcare workers they found that most loved the idea of getting back into healthcare on their own terms. They embraced the thought of the intersection of consumer electronics and home health care as their lateral career move.

But retail is not the only option for healthcare workers wishing to get away from the stressors of bricks and mortar-based providers.


In a number of interviews with physicians who have experienced burnout and PTSD symptoms, their somewhat obvious next move was away from practice and into the academic and research world. In fact, they felt that their skills were even better served in teaching wellness and burnout from a patient-practitioner perspective as opposed to treating the traditional patient.

Healthcare Vendors

There is no surplus of practical knowledge on nursing among the ranks of healthcare product vendors. Experience tells me that the major victims of many healthcare products are the nurses who are in the crosshairs of many of the workflow challenges during deployment. In fact, it is shocking that so few nurses are on the departmental buying committees in provider settings.

Because of this, many of these vendors are hiring nursing consultants who are there as thought leaders in client settings as opposed to being a salesperson. One of the tech-related titles where this is especially important is the nurse informaticists who have double-deep skills in nursing and data. While nurses are important during the sales process, they are even more important in establishing ongoing trust after the sale.

Healthcare Trade Associations

I’ve had the honor of being on the Board of Directors of two healthcare-related trade organizations where many of our most valuable employees came from the nursing profession. Needless to say, the major nursing organizations would be obvious choices, but most other non-nursing specific organizations are always in need of the lateral thinking that their typical talent pool does not always have.

Traveling Nurse

Finally, In some circles, the thought of shifting from a staff nurse to a traveling nurse would be selling one's soul to the devil given the tension between the two factions. But there is no arguing that many of the things that make staff nurses envious of traveling nurses are the exact things that would drive them to “defect” to that more flexible and well-compensated profession.

One could write a book on other alternate careers for nurses, whether bedside or in other industries. If you would like a list of 50 other possibilities click here.

For more insights on Leadership, Patient Experience, Hospital@Home, Burnout, and Equity log into ICD Healthcare Network.

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