PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — More than a million lives later, the coronavirus pandemic has weakened the backbone of the medical profession. The nation’s nurses are stressed out, burned out, and checking out.

“Health Affairs just put out a recent study, and what the new data shows is that for the year 2021 the total supply of RNs [registered nurses] decreased by more than 100,000 in one year. That’s a greater drop than we have observed in the last 40 years,” said Michelle Harkin, a former nurse who serves as the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The foundation is sounding the alarm this National Nurses Week by calling for an urgent culture change in medicine.

FILE – Registered nurse Sandra Younan sets up a new intravenous line for a patient under her care at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in the Tarzana neighborhood of Los Angeles on March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

“We really want to set a culture in employers where it’s OK for nurses to say, “I’m not OK; I need some help’ and right now we don’t have that,” said Harkin.

The foundation is also monitoring a trend that shows more younger nurses and not those heading toward retirement are leaving the profession.

“We are losing nurses and what the research shows, we are losing nurses who are under the age of 35,” Harkin said.

To stem the flow of youth, an effort is underway to apply pressure beginning in nursing school.

Norfolk State University School of Nursing
(WAVY photo/Regina Mobley)

“With the educational institutions, we are seeing schools start to think about how they can support the mental health of students and how we can help students care for themselves so that [they are prepared] when they go into the stressful workforce,” she said.

The foundation is also calling on lawmakers to eliminate some of the paperwork associated with nursing.

“We’re not just losing people who are my age and older and are going to retire but we are losing newer nurses who have just come into the profession. So we need to do a better job of making sure we take care of our nurses so that they can continue to take care of us and our family members when we need them,” said Harkin.