ATLANTA - The US is facing a critical nurse shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We've never experienced anything like this, in my memory of this many nurses leaving at one time," said Linda McCauley, the Dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University.
She said the pandemic has taken a physical and mental toll on all healthcare workers.
"600,000 almost 700,000 deaths. They've escorted that many people to death," she said.
According to a survey published earlier this year by a nursing job service called, Vivian, 43 percent of healthcare professionals who responded said they were considering leaving the profession this year.
"They're like military troops. They're exhausted," McCauley said.
She said the pandemic brought about never-before-seen challenges for the nursing profession.
McCauley said many nurses close to retirement chose to leave during the pandemic., while some younger nurses left because they had no choice.
"The pandemic for them introduced new challenges of having to homeschool kids, and they could not possibly work," McCauley said.
McCauley says Long hours, not enough pay, and a toll on mental health are also responsible for nurses leaving.
She said many have reached a new level of frustration, as vaccines and boosters were made available, new variants arose, and the deaths and illnesses continued.
"It's like, you could have prevented some of this. Not all of it, but some of it. Seeing that over and over again chips away at the spirit of not just nurses but the entire healthcare team," McCauley said.
But McCauley said there is good news.
There is a tremendous amount of interest in the profession.
She likens it to the period of time right after September 11.
"There were huge numbers of people who signed up to be firefighters, policemen or military. It's the same thing we're seeing in nursing. The problem is, it takes them so long to get through the pipeline," McCauley said.
Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing produces about 500 nurses a year, which is the most in the state.
An additional 500 who are pursuing advanced practice.
She said those going through the pipeline will fill the vacancies, but unfortunately, it'll take time.
"People might say the easy solution is to enroll more students and graduate more nurses to help replenish the workforce. The problem is, there's not enough nursing faculty to increase our enrollment," McCauley said.