High Turnover and Job Dissatisfaction Among South Korean Nurses Call for Systemic Change

These steps are crucial to improve working conditions, reduce turnover, and ultimately, ensure the provision of safe and high-quality medical services to the South Korean populace.

Maru Kim
Maru Kim

A study by the National Health and Medical Workers’ Union (NHMWU) in South Korea has revealed a startling trend: a large proportion of the country’s nurses, primarily in their 20s and 30s, are contemplating leaving the profession due to strenuous work conditions and inadequate compensation. This finding underscores a critical issue within the South Korean healthcare system that may lead to an alarming turnover rate among nursing professionals.

The study included responses from 31,672 nurses nationwide. An overwhelming 74.1% of respondents reported considering a career change within the past three months, with 24.1% of these having concrete plans to change professions. Significantly, the contemplation rate reached over 80% among nurses with 4 to 5 years of experience, suggesting a potential exodus of mid-level nursing professionals.

Participants cited the primary reasons for considering a job change as poor working conditions and intense labor demands (43.2%), coupled with unsatisfactory wage levels (29.4%). These factors illustrate a systemic problem within the profession, which if not addressed, could lead to a significant nursing shortage in the future.

The survey unveiled further concerning statistics about the work-life balance of nurses. Approximately 42.5% reported working an additional 45 minutes per day on average, and 35.3% admitted to skipping meals between 3 to 5 times a week due to work commitments. This frequency increased with longer working hours, contributing to a high rate of physical (78.1%) and mental (71.3%) fatigue reported by respondents.

Demographically, 82.4%, or 25,942 of the participants, were in their 20s and 30s. In terms of experience, the first ten years of service accounted for 64.5% of respondents. This significant proportion of early to mid-career professionals hints at a high turnover rate within the profession, driven by challenging labor conditions.

The study also uncovered the prevalent issue of shift work in nursing, with only 21.6% working regular daytime hours, compared to a staggering 73.2% working rotating shifts, including night duties. This trend was especially prominent among nurses within their first ten years of service, emphasizing the challenging work schedules that younger nursing professionals face.

Additionally, 82.6% of respondents perceived a doctor shortage in their workplaces, leading to nurses undertaking traditional doctor’s responsibilities such as treatments and dressings (44.9%), and prescribing medications (43.5%). Moreover, 68.1% reported handling patient grievances originally meant for doctors, further amplifying their workload.

In light of these findings, the NHMWU urges that the recently announced Comprehensive Nursing Support Plan not remain merely a declaration, but translate into actionable measures. The union advocates for the implementation of a nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:5, expansion of integrated nursing care services, reform of shift systems, and reduction of working hours. These steps are crucial to improve working conditions, reduce turnover, and ultimately, ensure the provision of safe and high-quality medical services to the South Korean populace.

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