The Impact of COVID-19 on the Nursing Workforce

A National Overview

Garrett K. Chan, PhD, APRN, FAEN, FPCN, FCNS, FNAP, FAAN; Jana R. Bitton, MPA; Richard L. Allgeyer, PhD; Deborah Elliott, MBA, BSN, RN; Laura R. Hudson, MSN, RN; Patricia Moulton Burwell, PhD


Online J Issues Nurs. 2021;26(2) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant and negative impact on the nursing workforce. Immediate and long-term actions must be taken to mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic. Understanding these effects in various contexts is essential to conduct research, implement innovative interventions, and create supportive policies. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the issues in the framework of six key areas of the HealthImpact Workforce Strategy Model, including K-12 and second-degree students, pre-requisite nursing education, and pre-licensure nursing education; upskilling the existing workforce; retention and well-being; and migration of nurses. We also discuss expanding advanced practice registered nursing scope of practice; crisis standards of care; and the impact of telehealth. Exemplars highlight the issues, and document action and innovation in the domains of workforce strategy, education, research, and policy in these challenging times.


The COVID-19 pandemic was not in sight when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, with a goal to raise awareness of the need for "nine million more nurses and midwives to achieve universal health coverage by 2030" (WHO, 2020b, para. 1). Neither the WHO nor nurses could have imagined how the profession would be thrust into the spotlight during a year of multiple public health crises. The COVID-19 pandemic; Black Lives Matter and social justice movement; unemployment; financial crisis; environmental disasters; and politics have exposed the fragility and inequities of our healthcare and nursing education systems. Yet, there have been significant efforts to address these inequities and efforts to ensure a strong nursing workforce for all Americans.

The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive overview of the issues that the COVID-19 pandemic amplified and created in the nursing workforce during 2020. Exemplars are used to highlight the issues, and to encourage action and innovation in the domains of workforce strategy, education, research, and policy in these challenging times. The authors recognize there are many more noteworthy programs in communities throughout the United States. However, this discussion is intended to showcase selected exemplars to provide the reader with an overview of ideas of what has been and is currently being done. Also, given the rapidly changing environment and quick innovations, the literature reviewed for this article includes peer-reviewed publications, publications in the lay press, and personal communications.