“Should I stay or should I go?” Nurses' perspectives about working during the Covid-19 pandemic's first wave in the United States: A summative content analysis combined with topic modeling

Allison Squires, Maya Clark-Cutaia, Marcus D. Henderson, Gavin Arneson, Philip Resnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic had its first peak in the United States between April and July of 2020, with incidence and prevalence rates of the virus the greatest in the northeastern coast of the country. At the time of study implementation, there were few studies capturing the perspectives of nurses working the frontlines of the pandemic in any setting as research output in the United States focused largely on treating the disease. Objective: The purpose of this study was to capture the perspectives of nurses in the United States working the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic's first wave. We were specifically interested in examining the impact of the pandemic on nurses' roles, professional relationships, and the organizational cultures of their employers. Design: We conducted an online qualitative study with a pragmatic design to capture the perspectives of nurses working during the first wave of the United States COVID-19 pandemic. Through social networking recruitment, frontline nurses from across the country were invited to participate. Participants provided long form, text-based responses to four questions designed to capture their experiences. A combination of Latent Dirichlet Allocation–a natural language processing technique–along with traditional summative content analysis techniques were used to analyze the data. Setting: The United States during the COVID-19 pandemic's first wave between May and July of 2020. Results: A total of 318 nurses participated from 29 out of 50 states, with 242 fully completing all questions. Findings suggested that the place of work mattered significantly in terms of the frontline working experience. It influenced role changes, risk assumption, interprofessional teamwork experiences, and ultimately, likelihood to leave their jobs or the profession altogether. Organizational culture and its influence on pandemic response implementation was a critical feature of their experiences. Conclusions: Findings suggest that organizational performance during the pandemic may be reflected in nursing workforce retention as the risk for workforce attrition appears high. It was also clear from the reports that nurses appear to have assumed higher occupational risks during the pandemic when compared to other providers. The 2020 data from this study also offered a number of signals about potential threats to the stability and sustainability of the US nursing workforce that are now manifesting. The findings underscore the importance of conducting health workforce research during a crisis in order to discern the signals of future problems or for long-term crisis response. Tweetable abstract: @US nurses report assuming higher risks when delivering care than other healthcare personnel. @Healthcare leaders made the difference for nurses during the pandemic. How many nurses leave their employer in the next year will tell you who was good, who wasn't. @It was all about the team. Organizations with nurses' reporting effective interprofessional teamwork had a more resilient pandemic workforce.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104256
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Health care organizations
  • Health care systems
  • Health policy
  • Health workforce
  • Nurses
  • Nursing
  • Pandemic
  • Pandemics
  • Nurse's Role
  • United States
  • Humans
  • Nursing Staff

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


Dive into the research topics of '“Should I stay or should I go?” Nurses' perspectives about working during the Covid-19 pandemic's first wave in the United States: A summative content analysis combined with topic modeling'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this