BACKGROUND Turnover in nursing and midwifery has recently become a problem in the Republic of Ireland and Irish health-care managers are constantly challenged to retain qualified nurses. The literature suggests that intention to stay or leave employment is the final step in the decision-making process. It is, therefore, reasonable to suggest that understanding 'intent to stay or leave' might facilitate nurse managers in introducing of appropriate retention strategies. AIM The aim of this study was to investigate registered nurses 'intent to stay or leave' employment. METHODS A cross-sectional quantitative design was utilized. A questionnaire was designed and these were randomly distributed to 352 registered nurses at 10 hospital sites throughout the Republic of Ireland. RESULTS Almost 60% of the sample, comprising of young, female, college educated nurses, expressed an intent to leave their current post. The most statistically significant predictors of intent to leave were 'kinship responsibilities' (P < 0.05) and 'job satisfaction' (P < 0.0001). CONCLUSION 'Intent to leave' has serious implications for workforce planning. Investigating the impact of focussed interventions in relation to job satisfaction and kinship responsibilities may be key retention strategies for nurse managers.