As the population of many countries continues to age quickly, we must also face the fact that the nursing profession is ageing simultaneously. Older nurses who are reaching retirement age may or may not want to retire, and some may feel pushed out of their careers before they’re ready. If there’s a nursing shortage afoot in certain regions, shouldn’t we consider how to retain older nurses in the interest of the profession and the healthcare industry at large?
Repositories of Nursing Wisdom
Older nurses who’ve been part of the profession for many decades are repositories of invaluable wisdom, skill, and experience for those of us from younger generations. They’ve seen so much, and they can share what they’ve learned if we’re willing to listen.
Nurses who worked within the healthcare industry throughout various decades of the 20th century have witnessed a rapid rise in the use of technology, as well as changes in the insurance industry, infectious disease, and the treatment of chronic disease.
Mature, experienced nurses have grown with the nursing profession as we’ve gained increased autonomy and a broader scope of practice, including the exponential rise of advanced practice nursing and the popularity of terminal nursing degrees such as the DNP and PhD.
Nurses who’ve been around for decades have something to teach us; are we willing to listen?
Overcoming Stereotypes and Judgments
There are myths and stereotypes about older nurses; which ones have you heard and which do you believe? Do you judge them harshly? Sure, some older nurses might struggle adapting to newer technologies at times, but plenty readily learn new EMRs and bedside technology. In fact, most of them have seen astronomical technological change throughout their careers.
Some older nurses are vilified for being slow, less physically agile, and having less stamina. After forty years of floor nursing, there are certainly older nurses who might have less energy for 12-hour shifts and miles of walking on hard tile floors; does this make them less valuable or intelligent?
Stereotypes exist about every generation; do they really serve us? How do stereotypes and judgments about others do anything but divide us?
Valuing Older Nurses
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and other respected institutions have written extensively about the value of older nurses. In their 2006 white paper on the subject, RWJF recommended that employers consider making accommodations for older nurses, including altered work flows, redesigned nursing stations, ergonomic adjustments, and other changes that can allow the mature nurse to function at his or her best.
In the aforementioned white paper, the writers from Robert Wood Johnson outlined the financial burden of nurse attrition and the cost of replacing experienced nurses, especially those in nursing specialties. And when a nursing shortage is activated, working to retain older nurses makes simple financial sense.
How do we value older nurses? How do we judge or sideline them? Do we need them? Can we benefit from their wisdom? And if we do need them, what are we doing to make sure they stick around long enough for us to reap the benefits of their experience, knowledge, skill, and institutional memory?