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Survey report: High anxiety and lack of work – nurses on the front line of COVID-19

Executive summary

RNnetwork recently surveyed more than 400 nurses to find out their feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s affecting their lives. The survey found that most nurses (73%) have treated either COVID-19 patients or patients who were exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms but had not been tested. A similar survey administered to physicians, PAs and NPs by RNnetwork’s parent company CHG Healthcare found that just 59% had treated those same populations.

Nurses are anxious about their safety and the safety of their families

The high number of nurses treating COVID-19 patients may lead to their higher anxiety levels (79%) about the virus. Sixty-three percent are concerned with contracting it themselves while 74% are concerned with passing it on to their family members. One respondent said:

“I’m 56 years old, diabetic, and have hypertension and asthma. I’ve pleaded with my company to allow me to stay away from the frontlines and I was told I would be terminated if I couldn’t do the work.”

Another said:

“Working in home health right now instead of the hospital to reduce my risk of getting COVID-19 and spreading it to my family.”

Working situations vary

Most of the nurses who responded to the survey worked full time (46%) while 27% were travel nurses. Fourteen percent reported having been recently laid off or furloughed. Those two groups report that most are filing for unemployment (66%), reducing expenses (47%), picking up travel assignments (36%) or relying on savings (36%) in order to survive.

Those who are still working are finding their workloads being reduced. Forty-five percent reported working less than they did before COVID-19 compared to 28% who are working more today than they were before the pandemic. One respondent said:

“I work four jobs, all in healthcare. Due to the outbreak my normal hours have been cut to 10% of what they normally are. One of the reasons I chose a position in healthcare was so I would always have a job. Yet somehow, even with all my jobs and my field, I find myself out of work. It is disheartening.”

The primary cause for a lack of work is lower patient volumes (47%) and the pause in elective care (26%).

It’s time to get back to work

Nurses are eager to return to work, 67% would like to see elective care resume in the next month, and 28% would like to see it come back in the next two to three months. They are also ready for stay-at-home restrictions to be lifted. Fifty-seven percent would like them lifted in the next month while 35% think they should be lifted in the next two to three months.

Across the board, nurses are happy with the response their fellow healthcare providers have given to the pandemic with 64% rating themselves “very good” or “excellent.” The same cannot be said for the response from healthcare organizations (43% poor or fair), state governments (40% poor or fair), the U.S. legislature (67% poor or fair), or the White House (57% poor or fair).

Survey report

Anxiety levels are high

The majority of nurses (73%) have treated COVID-19 patients or those with symptoms who hadn’t been tested. A similar CHG Healthcare study found just 59% of physicians, PAs, and NPs had treated the same population.

Nurses who have treated COVID-19 patients or those with COVID-19 symptoms

This may explain why nurses also reported more overall anxiety due to COVID-19 with 79% having more anxiety compared to 71% of the physician group. Nurses were also more concerned about contracting the virus themselves (63% versus 56%) or giving it to their family members (74% versus 68%).

Overall anxiety level of nurses due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Level of concern with becoming infected with COVID-19

Level of concern with infecting family members with COVID-19

Working situations

Of the nurses surveyed, 7% had been recently laid off and 7% had been furloughed. The majority of those two groups planned to collect unemployment (66%), while many planned to reduce expenses (47%), work travel assignments (36%), or rely on savings (36%). Just 29% were planning on applying for a new permanent position.

Current employment status of nurses

Ways laid off or furloughed nurses plan to maintain their income

The majority of nurses have found their workloads impacted by COVID-19 with 73% having their workloads either increase or decrease. Just 28% reported working more than before COVID-19 compared to 45% who are now working less.

Effect COVID-19 has had on nurse workloads

The primary cause of workload decreasing is lower patient volumes (47%) and the pause in elective care (26%). One respondent said:

“I feel like last night’s leftovers. I worked four days in five weeks. No one called me to let me know if I would be working. I would arrive at work and discovered that my floor and other floors was closed … I was told I was cancelled for that night and informed I could take off the rest of the month and they really didn’t care. I was heartbroken because I never missed any work in the 23 years I have been there.”

Cause of decreases in workloads

Public health policies

Nurses are generally eager for elective care to return with 67% wanting elective care to resume within the next month. Twenty-eight percent would like to see elective care resume in the next two to three months.

Timeline for resuming elective care

Just over half of nurses (57%) feel stay-at-home restrictions should be lifted within the month, 35% prefer to wait two or three months, and just 8% want to wait longer than four months.

Timeline for lifting stay-at-home restrictions

When asked to rate the response to COVID-19 by their fellow healthcare workers, 64% of nurses felt they had done “very good” or “excellent.” They generally rated all other organizations as not doing a good job. Forty-three percent rated their organizations response negatively, 40% gave negative responses to their state government, 67% to the U.S. Legislature and 57% to the White House.

Ratings on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic


RNnetwork surveyed 428 nurses across the country. The estimated margin of error for proportional questions is +/- 4.7%. The goal of the survey was to find out the views of nurses on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it was affecting their work lives.


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