A report on the experiences of nurses in British Columbia during the pandemic shows more than a third of respondents are re-evaluating their future in nursing after the last 19 months.

The report, The Future of Nursing: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Nursing Shortage in British Columbia, gathered responses in May 2021 from nearly 3,500 BCNU members on questions ranging from staffing and workload, access to personal protective equipment, workplace violence and the pandemic.

According to the data, many nurses had been at their breaking point long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the added stress has greatly impacted their mental and physical health.

“Thirty-five per cent of nurses surveyed said the experience of the pandemic has led them to consider leaving nursing altogether. Fifty-one per cent of those working in the ER and ICU said the same, which is especially worrisome given the lack of specialty-trained nurses in the system right now. This is heartbreaking,” said BCNU Interim vice president Danette Thomsen.

“These nurses have been dedicated to their patients since before the pandemic, but the fragility of the health-care system and the lack of investments in their profession is bringing them to the point where they don’t know how much longer they can continue.”

According to the report, 82 per cent of respondents reported worsening mental health during the pandemic, and 65 per cent reported worsening physical health.

More than 75 per cent said their workload increased compared to before the pandemic, and 68 per cent felt staffing was inadequate over the last three months.

On the topic of nurse retention, the results indicate a troubling trend with more young nurses looking for a different occupation after the pandemic.

In the 20-29 age range, 42 per cent of nurses responded that they were extremely or somewhat likely to leave nursing after the pandemic. In the 30-39 age range, 36 per cent said they were likely to leave.

“We are seeing these statistics play out in our health-care settings as staffing levels reach lows that are forcing some nurses, including those who have only just started their careers, to question how much longer they can commit to this fight,” said Thomsen.

“Without immediate investments and swift action by the government, we are truly concerned that access to quality, safe health care will continue to deteriorate at the cost of patient care and our nurses.”