Factors influencing nurses' intentions to leave adult critical care settings

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The shortage of critical care and specialist nurses has been an ongoing issue for many decades. Although all areas of nursing are affected, critical care areas are especially vulnerable to recruitment and retention problems. High nursing turnover in critical care areas is evident; however, research into the factors that influence nurses' intentions to leave adult critical care areas is limited.


To explore factors that may influence nurses' intentions to leave adult critical care areas.


To appraise existing evidence and highlight gaps in knowledge regarding factors that may influence nurses' intentions to leave adult critical care areas.


A systematic mixed-method literature review was conducted. The search strategy was developed using the List, Keep and Delete approach, a framework used to identify search terms for systematic health care reviews. The following key words were used: intentions to leave, nurses, adult and critical care. The databases searched were BNI, CINAHL, PubMed, PsycINFO, Embase and Health B Elite from 2005 to 2016. Primary data from non-critical care areas and neonatal and paediatric critical care areas were excluded. Comprehensive supplementary searching was performed. Papers were critically appraised using the NICE (2012) checklists. Data were analysed using the Braun and Clarke (2006) thematic framework.


A total of 15 studies, including 13 cross-sectional studies and 2 qualitative studies, were reviewed. Three main themes emerged following data analysis. These themes were quality of the work environment, nature of working relationships and traumatic/stressful workplace experiences.


The literature review highlighted the need for further research and greater understanding of how these themes may impact critical care nurses. Nurse managers and leaders should consider these findings when developing strategies to improve nurse retention.

Relevance to practice

The shortage of critical care nurses is currently a global issue impacting costs and quality of patient care.

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