Older Nurses in the Workforce

April 7, 2009

Beneficial or a drain to the healthcare system?

A topic that has been appearing on a number of nurses' blogs is older nurses in the workforce. The American Nurses Association reports that the average age of an RN is now 45.2 years and blog posts suggest that some nurses plan to work until age 65 or 70.

A January 2009 Medscape Nurses' poll posed the question "How do you feel about working with the over 65 nurse?" Although 67% responded positively, 13% were negative, and 20% felt that it "depends on the nurse." Interestingly, many of the posts in response to this question began with the words "I am a [age] year old nurse." Although the ages of the nurses ranged from young to older, most of the nurses posting comments indicated that they were in their 50s. One nurse wrote, "Dear me, if I am hospitalized, give me an "old nurse" any day, I mean one that has 15-30 years under her cap."

Conversely, another wrote, "I have worked with two nurses over age 70 and it has been dreadful. These older nurses cannot help in crisis situations, they have a lot of difficulty with the computer system, their cognitive skills have decreased, they have slowed down and have a difficult time moving and 'hide-out' when there are emergency situations."

One nurse wrote, "I am 59 years old. I don't move as fast as I used to and have all the usual aches and pains that someone my age has. I would like to keep nursing until I no longer can walk down the halls, although I know that that will not happen. When I get to that point does that also mean that my mind doesn't work? Well in some cases I suppose it does. If my mind is still sharp is there no place for me? Can society not see the need for the older nurse who has been through all the emergencies and dealt with all the problems and learned and stored all that knowledge? Quite often even now I deal with the younger nurse who looks at me and will say to her friend under her breath 'Isn't she about ready to retire?' My answer: NO! I hope to be around for a long time and it would be nice if instead of looking at my age, how about looking at all the experience and knowledge I have gained over the years?" Another nurse pointed out that second career nurses generally are older but in many cases, are less experienced than their co-workers. She wrote, "What I have noted in my brief nursing experience (6 years) is that I have often been asked to be the adult of the group, even when dealing with younger nurses that may have more experience."

I suspect that the poll respondents who said, "It depends on the nurse," are probably correct. It's not a nurse's age, but rather a nurse’s capabilities that make us want to work with that nurse or not.