Bedside nurses are leaving in high numbers, according to recent media reports and surveys. In this article, I’ll give you my take on why I think many bedside nurses are calling it quits.
What is a Bedside Nurse?
First, let’s define bedside nursing. What is bedside nursing? As the name implies, bedside nursing is nursing that involves direct patient care, usually at the patient’s bedside. The bedside can be in a variety of settings, but it is most commonly referring to the hospital setting, as that makes up the bulk of most bedside nurses.
Most (not all) bedside nurses tend to work 12-hour shifts, so you have day shift nurses and night shift nurses. When working 12-hour shifts full time, most nurses will work around 3-4 days per week at the bedside.
Are Nurses Leaving the Bedside in Record Numbers?
There has always been talk of a nursing shortage, and some areas of nursing have always struggled to fill certain positions. However, there has been more and more talk of nurses leaving the bedside in record numbers over the past year or two, and things seem to be getting progressively worse.
For example, according to morningconsult.com,”18% of health care workers have quit their jobs…” since February 2020. 
In addition, a recent McKinsey survey found that 22% of bedside nurses may leave within the next year. 
These statistics are rather alarming, and if this trend continues, the nursing shortage could get serious.
Reasons Why Some Nurses are Leaving the Bedside
There are many reasons why a nurse might choose to leave the bedside, but here’s my take on why this is happening.
1. Bedside Nursing Can be Grueling (Physically, Mentally, and Emotionally)
Some areas of bedside can be challenging. You can have good days and bad days with any profession. However, the bad days can get quite intense with bedside nursing. You may leave some shifts feeling good, but on other days, you might leave your shift wondering if you’ll ever work as a nurse again.
The Physical Difficulties of Bedside Nursing
Bedside nursing can be physically challenging. First, you are typically going to be on your feet for 12 hours straight, which can wreak havoc on your feet and legs. Yes, you might get a lunch or a couple of breaks in that time, but that depends on your facility. In many cases, nurses are hesitant to take a break, especially if they have patients with severe medical issues. Taking a break can lead to feeling of guilt.
I’d compare some nursing shifts to running a marathon. You have to have a certain level of stamina and strength. You might be running up and down the halls responding to codes or answering call lights. You may have to lift and turn patients, and so on.
The Mental Exhaustion of Bedside Nursing
Bedside nursing can also be mentally exhausting. When you clock into your shift, your brain has to be on and ready to go. You have to be on constant alert for your patients because you might have several of them (depending on the type of floor you’re working), and those patients can all have different issues going on.
You have to know what’s going on with each patient, and you have to use critical thinking skills to remember what medications you have to avoid with certain patients, when to administer meds, and so on. You’re constantly juggling so much information in your mind, so by the end of your shift you just want to go home, eat, and sleep. You don’t want to have a conversation or use your brain in any significant way.
Some bedside nurses feel like a zombie when they get home, and some even complain that they spend their off days recovering from work.
The Emotional Exhaustion of Bedside Nursing
Bedside nursing can also be emotionally exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have your high days and low days. You’ll have moments when you know you are doing what you are called to do in life, but you’ll also have moments where you will question everything. You’ll see patients recover, but you’ll also see patients die.
You can see traumatic things, too. You can have difficult coworkers or family members during your shift. You might have combative patients. Sometimes, it may feel as though you are in a war zone, but instead of grenades and guns going off, you have call lights going off, patients coding, patients throwing lethal rhythms, and so on. As the nurse, you’re thinking, “Wow, what am I supposed to deal with first?”
It can be really hard for many nurses emotionally, and you have to work to protect yourself from these emotions. You can’t always take those emotions home with you. If you do, you might start struggling with depression. You might have nightmares about call lights going off or patients dying or forgetting to administer a medication on time. It can get intense if you don’t learn to protect yourself emotionally.
2. Nurses Are Leaving the Bedside Due to COVID-19
Another reason some nurses are leaving the bedside is due to COVID-19. Like every other profession, nursing has always had its problems. However, when the coronavirus pandemic took the world by storm, it took those nursing problems and made them much more well known. The pandemic placed a lot of stress on nurses and amplified a lot of issues that have always existed.
Some nurses have left due to fear of contracting COVID and/or spreading it to their loved ones. Perhaps they were already on the fence about the nursing profession, and when they learned of the COVID threat, they said, “That’s it. I’m done.”
The pandemic has also changed how many families operate. Because so many children moved to online learning or home schooling, some nurses who worked part time have decided to leave bedside and stay at home with their children.
COVID has also caused a lot of red tape and regulations, which has led to nurse burnout and exhaustion. In addition, some healthcare facilities have mandated vaccinations, and some nurses have been terminated or quit over that issue.
3. Nurses are Leaving Bedside Over Staffing Issues
Nurses are also leaving the bedside over staffing issues. Staffing has always been an issue in some hospitals, and this is a point of frustration for many nurses and healthcare workers.
As a bedside nurse, the amount of staff available is essential to you being able to do your job properly. When you are short-staffed, it’s not good. Not only do you suffer, but your patients also suffer. If you have many patients with health issues that keep popping up, it can be dangerous for them. Improper staffing can cause the nurse to do more and more with fewer resources.
When nurses are constantly faced with staffing issues shift after shift, the stress can begin to take a toll, and some decide to quit.
4. High Turnover Rates Can Lead to Job Dissatisfaction
Bedside nursing can have a high turnover rate in some facilities, and nurses can begin to feel as if they don’t really know their coworkers very well. There is no teamwork mentality, which weakens the entire unit.
Nurses don’t have time to form a bond with their coworkers because there are always new ones coming and going. Nurses can begin to feel as though they are the only one on the unit who knows what’s going on or staying long enough. They don’t know which nurses have the skills to help them with certain tasks, and so on, which can lead to frustration and stress.
It can also take time out of a nurse’s shift when they constantly have to train new nurses, show them where things are located, and so forth.
Some Nurses Love Bedside, and Others Hate It
Having said all of the above, I can tell you that even though some nurses are leaving the bedside, some nurses absolutely love bedside nursing. Granted, they have their complaints and bad days, but they feel it is their calling and passion in life. They love the adventure. They love the challenge. They love the adrenaline when 10 things go crazy at once. They love how the busy nature of bedside nursing makes the 12-hour shifts breeze by.
And that’s great. We always need bedside nurses. You and I will likely need a bedside nurse one day, so I pray that more nurses come into the profession and work bedside.
On the other hand, some nurses absolutely hate bedside nursing. From their perspective, it is too stressful and difficult. They don’t like the anxiety or fast pace of it. And that’s okay too, because we need all different types of nurses in the world.
However, the truth is that I would highly recommend that new nurses go into bedside nursing. Why? Bedside nursing will give you the best nursing experience you can get. You will learn how to be a nurse when working bedside. You’re going to connect the dots of all the theory you learned in school. You’ll be able to sharpen your nursing skills, learn the nursing process, and more.
Even if you decide bedside nursing is not for you, you can use that experience to further your nursing career.
- Galvin, G. (2021, October 4). Nearly 1 in 5 health care workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic. Morning Consult. Retrieved December 8, 2021 from https://www.morningconsult.com/2021/10/04/healtlh-care-workers-series-part-2-workforce/
- 2021 McKinsey Future of Work in Nursing Survey. Turnover rate for bedside registered nurses in 2019 was 15.9 percent (see 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report, Nursing Solutions Inc., March 2021, nsinursingsolutions.com)