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Journal Article

Leaving nursing: an event-history analysis of nurses' careers


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OBJECTIVES: The current shortage of nurses is a major problem for health care systems around the world and has revitalized interest in the dynamics of nurses' careers. This paper investigates the factors associated with qualified nurses in Britain moving to different employment statuses, including jobs outside nursing, unemployment, maternity leave and family care over time.METHODS: British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) data collected between 1991 and 2001 were used to estimate the effects of covariates on transition rates between different employment statuses.RESULTS: Individual characteristics associated with shorter tenure in the profession include being male, being younger, having a degree, and having been born in the UK. Many nurses leave to care for their families, which suggests the possibility of returning to the profession at a later date. A number of job characteristics are also related to leaving, including low pay, managerial responsibility, full-time work and lack of opportunities to use initiative. Nurses seem to be particularly vulnerable to leaving early in their careers, but those who survive the first few years are likely to remain in the profession for the rest of their working lives.CONCLUSIONS: It is particularly important in policy terms that ability to use initiative is related to leaving nursing for another form of full-time employment and, in particular, to leaving for a better job. This finding is consistent with results from studies of the Magnet hospitals in the US. Taken together, these results suggest that strategies to improve nurse retention must attend to nurses' status, authority and position in the hierarchy if they are to be successful. The results also provide strong support for those who argue that better rates of pay are necessary in order to improve nurse retention.

Published in

Journal of Health Services Research and Policy


10 (3):150-157


Human Capital, Labour Market, and Health



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