The Great Resignation, Part I: The Impact on the Health Care Industry

By Marion Karl, MS

February 11, 2022

Part I: The Impact of the Great Resignation on the Health Care Industry

The Great Resignation describes the trend of American workers leaving their jobs. Four million people – roughly 3% of the entire US workforce – have left their jobs over the past year.1

The coronavirus pandemic motived many people to retire and forced others to stay home with their children. But for the majority of people, they have left their jobs to seek out new roles with less risk, better pay, or that are more fulfilling.

For many industries, remote capabilities and technology have helped bridge better work-life balance. But for other industries that rely on a highly qualified front line workforce – like the health care sector – the Great Resignation has had a far graver impact.

What factors have contributed to the Great Resignation?

Factors like geography, growth opportunities, or jobs that better match a person’s skills and interests have contributed to workers looking for more rewarding positions.

In addition, greater access to health coverage and benefits for people not dependent on employment, have allowed more workers to comfortably leave their jobs in pursuit of other income sources. In 2020, the freelance workforce grew 11% to 59 million workers. In five more years, freelancers are projected to include over half the labor pool.1

The Great Resignation has laid bare the imbalance in people’s work-life needs prompting a reckoning for more gratifying – and productive – employee conditions with opportunity for growth. Ultimately, this will contribute to a healthier economy fueled by happier workforce.

How does the Great Resignation specifically impact the health care industry?

While COVID-19 might have unlocked an employee’s market, for some industries the labor crunch has left big holes. It is not hyperbolic to say that worker shortages in the health space are even a matter of life and death: the mass exodus of health care staff not only limit accessibility of health care but also erode the quality and safety of care. In rural areas, worker shortage problems border on critical.

These shortages affect all areas of staffing: nurses, doctors, home health workers, technicians, laboratory scientists, and more. Overwhelmed hospitals were especially hard hit in their emergency departments, critical care units, and the areas associated with the most intense utilization during the pandemic.2

Consider the statistics surrounding the health workforce:

Staff management software is the ultimate tool for attracting and retaining a quality workforce. Discover how StaffReady's suite of solutions can help you today: 

What are solutions for attracting and retaining quality workforce?

Even prior to the pandemic, burnout was a significant problem among health care workers. Burnout is the primary opponent of retention efforts, and rural health centers in particular are having trouble keeping quality clinical workers. The rural workforce deficit, in fact, makes up 60% of total health care work shortages.2

While short-term solutions include the use of agency labor to fill in for shortages of nurses and clinicians, this is expensive and ultimately unsustainable. Similarly, the deployment of military medical personnel by FEMA has helped with short-term staffing challenges but this is not seen as sustainable.

In order to be able to attract and retain a quality health workforce, health care systems need to adopt long-term, cost-effective strategies. These are to focus on retention efforts, prioritize people by focusing on flexibility, offer professional growth opportunities, and leverage technology – especially platforms that support staff management solutions and facilitate workforce training.

Focus on retention efforts

By focusing on retention strategies over recruitment, health organizations can start to nurture a work environment where staff are inspired to stay. Retention strategies should foster open communication with your employees and should not shy away from identifying pain points and reasons an employee may stay or go. So-called “stay interviews” are a way to proactively address workers needs and are proving a useful tool to retain workers.3


Create a deliberate strategy centered on retention that caters to employees needs. Flexibility is not just applied to scheduling challenges, but other employment requirements (appearance, conduct) and should focus on value and intent – not just a top-down, rules-based approach to employee management. Workforce management platforms like those developed by StaffReady can ease flexibility initiatives and help delegate tasks based on competencies while optimizing performance.

Professional growth incentives

To cure burnout, employers need to ensure that their employees are working up to their skill level and are provided a path toward career advancement. Studies show the importance of workforce development and identify professional growth incentives as a top consideration in accepting a job offer. In a survey of caregivers employed by CareAcademy, 94% responded that access to continuing education was a primary consideration for accepting the job.2

Leveraging automation and technology

While many industries fear automation as replacing the workforce, in the health care sector, technology and automation can be effectively used to address worker shortages. Automating front desk tasks, for example, scheduling patient appointments, can free up staff to focus on more fulfilling aspects of their job. Leveraging automation for clinical workflows can also help clinicians deliver for efficient, effective care while reducing burnout.

Staff management software is the ultimate tool for retaining valuable staff

The secret to retaining a robust and high-quality health care workforce can be achieved by focusing on your employees’ needs, embracing flexibility in all aspects from scheduling to training, and by utilizing technology platforms that facilitate these actions. StaffReady can outfit your clinic to provide competency assessment, scheduling solutions, easy document management, and other tools to help fight burnout and keep your health care staff happy.

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1 Messenger B, Lang N. Health care access will fuel the Great Resignation – and that’s a good thing. Fortune Web site. December 27, 2021. Accessed February 1.

2 Perna G. ‘The Great Resignation’ in health care: Five solutions to the problem. Health Evolution Web site. December 1, 2021. Accessed February 1.

3 Johnson KV. How candid conversations can retain your staff. Advisory Board Web site. October 18, 2021. Accessed February 2.

4 Nancarrow SA. Six principles to enhance health workforce flexibility. Human Resources for Health. Published online April 7, 2015. Accessed February 2.

Photo credit:

Marion Karl, MS

Marion Karl is a medical illustrator, writer, and content designer for the biomedical and health industries. Marion and her husband own a boutique animation studio, Lure Animations, specializing in the production of medical content. Marion received an MS in Biomedical Visualization from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She completed her undergraduate education at Cornell University.

Marion was recently published as a contributor and associated editor on the Wiley project A Guide to the Scientific Career: Virtues, Communications, Research, and Academic Writing.