Why Women Are Leaving Healthcare Jobs — And What To Do About It

Stressed out nurse looking forlorn

Healthcare has a predominately female workforce, with 64% of the 5.5 million practitioners in the U.S. being women — and they're leaving in droves. In communities across the country, what's leading them to leave is the very thing that initially attracted them to the field — what we refer to as the "heart for care."

Patient outcomes and organizational health benefit when the mission of healthcare providers aligns with the personal mission and purpose of its caregivers. Yet, in challenging times, it’s precisely this mission and purpose that can prompt people to leave. This happens most often when people are forced to choose between the patients who need care and their loved ones, who also need care.

To keep practitioners in healthcare jobs, healthcare leaders must view their employees as individuals who want and need to care for those in their personal lives as well as their patients, and employ a benefits strategy that can align the two. 

Turnover Isn’t About What You Think It Is

As you know, turnover is expensive, costing time and treasure to make a new hire. The war on talent has been cause for alarm as employees are changing jobs for higher pay and greater flexibility. But there are other reasons people are changing careers or leaving the workforce altogether – one of which is following their heart for care.

When viewing healthcare turnover through the lens of the heart for care, turnover can be more easily understood — and prevented. In recent years, healthcare workers have been asked to take on more work and have been asked to work in more hazardous environments than ever before. Additionally, the growing pay gap between full-time and traveling nurses — who are being used increasingly by hospitals to fill personnel gaps — contributes to discontent for some. The result has been unprecedented levels of stress, depression, and anxiety among this population.

Women Often Leave Healthcare to Provide Care In their Communities

Numerous research studies prove that women are far more likely than men to sacrifice their careers to provide care outside of work. Many women have quit their jobs to care for ailing family members or children due to a lack of affordable childcare and lack of space in childcare facilities. Mothers with children under 12 are particularly hard-hit: Mothers are 3 times more likely than fathers to leave jobs.

When faced with forced choices, women in healthcare often need to choose family and community over career. But when hospitals provide the right kind of supports, they are able to nurture their employees through their lifecyle, develop new leaders from within, and achieve organizational success. 

3 Ways To Remove Forced Choices That Cause Turnover

To succeed amid unprecedented challenges, leaders need to understand the forced choices facing many women across the different stages of their career and life. 

Remove caregiver dilemmas

Perhaps the most common forced choice women face is whether to care for family (or community members), or to continue working as a professional healthcare provider. 

Hospitals can anticipate this forced choice by providing flexible benefits that free up time for healthcare workers to provide care to family or community members. They can also take innovative approaches to support women and keep them in the workforce, with high-quality on-site or off-site child care options.

Ease tension between work pressures and self-care 

Due to the pressures facing nurses and other healthcare workers — long hours, sometimes-belligerent patients, and hazardous conditions — burnout has become common and self-care difficult to maintain. But with robust well-being programs, organizations can ensure that nurses take have the supports they need to stay healthy – mentally and physically.

There are also cultural benefits, when an organization makes an authentic effort to facilitate self-care. When organizations demonstrate a commitment to the holistic well-being of their employees, people notice. They also notice when a peer receives the support they need and displays a noticeable change in their emotional well-being. These types of initiatives bolster a positive organizational culture and normalize a commitment to the holistic wellbeing of everyone in the organization. For nurses who have a heart for care, these types of initiatives align with their personal purpose, motivating them to deepen their relationship with the employer. Ultimately, this means those with a caring heart champion the organization and its care for peers and colleagues, leading to increased retention and engagement.

Make career growth part of your organizational culture

Supporting women in healthcare also means ensuring that they are thriving professionally. 

Hospitals have opportunities to reimagine and reengineer work to keep nurses and technicians practicing at the top of their license. Education benefits, for example, support internal career progression. Meanwhile, by supporting career development, hospitals can also rely on their existing workforce as a source for future skilled and credentialed talent.

Providing training and education assistance also offers women the assurance that they will have the opportunity to grow and advance in their careers. With these assurances, hospitals can remove barriers for those who wonder whether it’s worthwhile to continue working instead of concentrating on responsibilities outside the workplace.

Supporting Women In Healthcare Means Removing Barriers

To stem the tide of women leaving healthcare, remove the barriers facing many practitioners today by addressing caregiver dilemmas, easing tension between work pressure and self-care, and dedicating resources to helping your people grow their careers. These targeted and relatively low-cost solutions directly address what are, for many women in healthcare, sources of workplace discontent and barriers to retention.

Stressed out nurse looking forlorn