‘Dangerous’: Surprise reason so many nurses are quitting

Nurses came under intense pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic, but some say it was not just gaps in the system making their working lives harder.

Alleged bullying, favoritism, and neglect by managers and executives have led some nurses to leave the profession, creating even larger holes in staff rosters.

Sofia (not her real name) was one of the 20,000 nurses to quit the profession last year.

She said one of the reasons for leaving a job she loved was feeling bullied by her manager.

“There is a big bullying culture in nursing, and against people that speak up – bosses will turn on them. That’s why no one says anything,” Sofia said.

Sofia – Muslim and wearing a headscarf – was told by another senior nurse that she was being passed up for further training opportunities and that the boss was “racist”.

“That boss, you could tell who she liked and didn’t. If you were one of the ones she didn’t like, your concerns would go unheard no matter what you say,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“There’s a very bad culture in nursing. We had no one to tell except for each other because our bosses aren’t approachable.”

Camera IconMany nurses have been left feeling burnt out and underappreciated due to the pandemic. NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi Credit: News Corp Australia

Former nurse Amy Halvorsen, who also left the profession last year, said the standards and quality of leadership within hospitals had slipped.

Ms. Halverson said that, in many cases, managers had found themselves between a rock and a hard place during the pandemic.

She said with the “chaos” of Covid-19, exacerbated by understaffing and constant changing of protocols; the focus shifted to simply getting by shift by shift.

“There was no chance to debrief; just onwards to the next thing,” Ms. Halverson said.


“I think management lost their ability to have heart and compassion because everyone just became focused on getting it done.

“They’re too busy to keep an eye on their staff and problems. I felt like going to my manager and saying, ‘I’m not happy, and I want to leave’ was the least of the problems at the time.”

Camera IconAmy Halvorsen (pictured) is one of the thousands of nurses to leave the profession after her concerns went unanswered by management. Image: Supplied Credit: Supplied

Former nurse and founder of Fire Up coaching Kathy McKenzie said the amount of training being put into creating better managers in healthcare was severely lacking.

Ms. McKenzie said it was more important than ever to help the healthcare industry endure some of its greatest challenges.

“They get busy doing the work – but they never develop their staff,” she said.

“So they concentrate on the day-to-day tasks to get done, which is fine, but if you don’t develop people’s awareness, they get very narrow in their thinking.”

“One of the big things I hear a lot of is the lack of appreciation for diversity. I do shudder with some of the racist comments I hear, which, if they weren’t so short-staffed, would be a sackable offense.”

Ms. McKenzie said arbitrary performance indicators and protocols were a major headache that regularly led to nurses being reprimanded for small mistakes.

“That’s a very common thing in health; rather than appreciate the long hours people are putting in, they pick on the minutiae,” she said.

Camera IconKathy McKenzie is a former nurse who now runs leadership courses for managers in the health industry. Image: Supplied Credit: Supplied

Sofia recalled how a small mistake was handled, which left her feeling shamed in front of colleagues.

“My boss pulled me up once because I left one needle in a dish. It wasn’t safe, but she yelled at me in front of everyone for it. I’ll never forget it,” Sofia said.

“They don’t see all the effort you’re putting in. We never had a nice word. We never had a ‘guys, you all did great today’.

“Sometimes just one word of encouragement is needed to get through the shift.”

Ms. McKenzie said having staff fearful of speaking up was detrimental to them and could easily create an unsafe environment.

“If people feel threatened in a workplace, they won’t report accidents or mistakes, and that’s where I see a real issue,” she said.

“Someone who’s a real power tripper and scares the shit out of everyone under them – and there’s plenty of them in health – what happens is people don’t report if there’s a drug error or any kind of mistake,” she said.

“If you think you’re gonna have strips torn off, you won’t report it.”

Ms. McKenzie said she feared the catalyst for change would only come when there was another public tragedy.

Camera IconMs Halverson said there was rarely any appreciation for the hard work and extra demands facing nurses. Image: Supplied Credit: Supplied

Ms. Halverson agreed and described existing staffing levels as “terrifying”, while Sofia said the lack of staff across all areas put lives at risk.

“Those sorts of things happen because people are just not paying attention and not listening to people in the front line,” Ms. McKenzie said.

“When something disastrous happens, they always find the money then. But it’s too late.”

A spokesperson for NSW Health – which oversees a workforce of roughly 50,000 nurses – said it provided leadership and management development training programs.

It also promotes the core values of collaboration, openness, respect, and empowerment and is working to create an online tool for managers to help navigate staff grievances and concerns.

“This is part of a larger project that will build capacity for managers and staff in strengthening workplace relationships,” the spokesperson said.

“NSW Health is also piloting a methodology to undertake timely investigations into the culture of individual wards and units within health services, designed to help managers resolve culture-based issues.”

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.