After a year of heavy workforce turnover, more care is provided by less experienced nurses

The spate of nurses either leaving the profession or seeking higher paying positions at new organizations has dropped the median tenure of a healthcare organization’s nurses by nearly 20% over the course of a year, according to new data from Epic Research.

From March 2021 to March 2022, the median length of time nurses working a 12-hour shift had been with their current organization dropped from approximately 3.6 years to 2.8 years, wrote researchers from the electronic health record (EHR) giant.

The drop varied between regions with the Western U.S. seeing the largest one-year tenure drop of 32.2%. This was followed by a 16.4% drop in tenure in the Northeast, a 16.4% drop in the Midwest and an 11.3% drop in the South, according to the report.

“These findings show that nurses are changing organizations or leaving the profession more frequently, highlighting the need for organizations to invest in retention and onboarding programs for nurses,” Epic’s researchers wrote.

All four U.S. regions saw an increase in the percentage of 12-hour shifts being covered by nurses who had only joined their healthcare organization within the previous 30 days, researchers wrote.

While each region began the study period with less than 2% of shifts covered by new nurses, the South peaked at nearly 5% in September 2021 and landed at 3.4% as of March 2022, the highest of the four regions.

The West, meanwhile, ended the study at 2.6% but saw the study’s highest peak when its percentage of new nurse shifts climbed to 5.5% in early February.

Nurses with less than a single year of experience at their organization were already responsible for more 12-hour shifts in March 2021 than those with any other number of years under their belt.

By the end of the study period, the number of shifts covered by this group nationwide grew by 55.5% as other levels of tenure collectively decreased, with the greatest increase in shifts covered by first-year nurses seen in the West and the South.

Epic Research’s analysis drew on data from the Nursing Efficiency Assessment Tool, a body of data collected by the organization as nurses use its EHR system. The data set includes more than 26 million 12-hour shifts logged by 539,765 nurses across 189 U.S. organizations using Epic's EHR system.

Labor shortages, rising expenses and other workforce issues became the primary concern for healthcare organizations over the past year, in large part due to pandemic departures and employees jumping to new organizations for increased rates.

With a nursing shortage expected to intensify through the next 18 months, numerous big-name systems have turned to stronger benefits packages or other retention efforts tied to diversity, well-being and engagement.