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Old 12-06-2009, 09:03 PM
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Default Are Older Nurses Being Forced Out?

Are older nurses being forced out of the profession?

November 20, 2009




by Colleen O?Leary, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Last time I talked about how I had never really experienced the concept of nurses eating their young in action.
However, I have seen the opposite begin to evolve. I see this as a bigger issue in nursing these days. The ?putting out to pasture? of seasoned, experienced nurses is happening more often and for a variety of reasons.

First, and foremost, is simply the fact that the pool of nurses inevitably follows the general aging of the nation. As baby boomers who once filled the halls of healthcare institutions caring for others begins to age, they will certainly have a more difficult time meeting the demands of current healthcare. More and more institutions are requiring nurses to work longer and longer shifts, changing from an 8-hour day to a 12-hour day. This, along with the fact that patients in the inpatient settings have much higher acuity and a variety of complex issues, makes the demands on nurses even greater.


I know for myself that when I was working 12-hour shifts, I could only do two in a row. If I had to do the third one without a break, I was exhausted. I can only imagine how someone five, 10, or even 15 years older than me would feel. In fact, I remember one time when a new young nurse just starting out came to me and sheepishly asked, ?What do you do when you go home after working a 12-hour shift?? He was finding that he was very tired and often unable to do anything but go home, have dinner, and go to bed. If someone that young has difficulty imagine how it is for the older nurse.

Not only are the hours and the complexity of patients difficult, but also the physical strain. Because patients have such high acuities, they often require turning, positioning, and moving that can cause stress on the nurse?s back, neck, arms, and legs. Injuries among nurses are much higher than even injuries among construction workers. Again, more stress and difficulty for the older nurse.

Another point to take into consideration is the advent of new technologies for diagnostics, assessment, and documentation. Often, when facilities start to change to electronic medical records, it?s the older nurses who have the most difficulty. The younger nurses grew up with advanced technology everywhere around them. I remember the first computer class I had to take in college taught us how to do keypunch machines. There were giant computers in a lab that you had to schedule time to use to do your work. Then you carried around a stack of cards with little computer generated holes punched in them, that when read, gave a story. Then many years later when I took a nutrition class and was told we had to do a computer program, I was terrified. I didn?t know how to use computer programs. How times have changed? But that?s the point. If you haven?t grown up with that being a part of your everyday life, it?s very difficult for some to catch on and take hold of new technology.

Finally, the recent change in the economy has put a different kind of strain on older nurses. Where they might have been thinking of retiring, they now find that they must remain in the workforce to survive. I?m just afraid of what is going to happen over the next couple years when the economy starts to rebound; people are feeling safer and we see a mass exodus of retiring nurses. I think it will be a time of extreme nursing shortage and we should start planning for it now.

But what makes nursing different than other professions that are facing an aging workforce, and what is it that really bothers me the most? It?s the concept of not just aging but of truly ?putting out to pasture.? If an older nurse has not worked their way through the ranks and is still in the trenches of bedside or chairside nursing, how much support are they getting? Forget the concept of the seasoned nurses not nurturing and helping the newcomers.

As I?ve said, I have not seen that phenomena. But what I have seen is a sense of impatience towards the older nurse; an underlying feeling that they just can?t cut it and not a great sense of wanting to help them. Not only the impatience, but it?s almost a disdain for them. It?s as if they don?t highly regard the years of experience as valuable because the person might have a more difficult time with the newer techniques. I?m not sure how we got to this point. I?m sure it has something to do with the whole outlook that each of the generations have on work, socializing, and facing the world, but it is a bit disheartening to see around me.

I have always learned to respect those with more experience and try to learn something from them. That doesn?t mean that I think that we should allow someone who cannot physically do the job stay in the job.
But I think we could, as a profession, hold up our experienced nurses and learn something from them instead of always thinking we need to teach them something.
Colleen O?Leary is a staff educator of medical oncology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who blogs at Oncolog-e Nurse Talk.
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Old 12-06-2009, 09:18 PM
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I did reply to her post. What a bunch of bull. I can keep up with the newest equipment, new meds, new methods, newest computer programs. Where I work there are nurses older than I am that still work their 3 x 12 hr shifts. Young and old alike are tired after 12 hours. I am respected for my 34 years of experience. Us older nurses have less call ins because we don't still have small children at home. Isn't the average age of a nurse like 45 or something?

I love young nurses and I love precepting. I have absolutely nothing against young nurses, most all of them I think will be awesome seasoned nurses by the time I'm too old to care for myself.



By 2010, the average nurse will be over 45 years old, Buerhaus said. Many of the nurses will be in their 50s.
That's a concern, he said. "The worrisome part is their bodies are starting to break down," he said.
A third of nurses nationwide have experienced workplace injuries including back problems, Buerhaus said.
Hospitals, he said, must look at how to improve the work environment to better protect older nurses from back and other on-the-job injuries.
"If things continue as they are, we will see fewer nurses," said Buerhaus.
Nationwide, there could be a shortfall of 800,000 nurses in hospitals, nursing homes and medical offices by 2020.
But Buerhaus said he expects the medical industry and government will find ways to recruit more nurses to help meet the demand.
The number of registered nurses in hospitals jumped by more than 177,000 from 2002 to 2004, he said.
But Buerhaus credited some of the increase to older nurses who returned to the workforce during a declining economy.
Seventy percent of registered nurses are married, he said. Some of these nurses are willing to work to supplement household income during an economic decline.
But when the economy improves, those nurses often decide to work less or retire, he said.
Nursing administrators at Saint Francis Medical Center and Southeast Missouri Hospital, who attended the lecture, said their institutions currently aren't experiencing a nursing shortage.
But they said they could be faced with a shortage in the future as older nurses retire.
Jeannie Fadler, vice president for patient care services at Saint Francis, said the hospital must compete for nurses with hospitals as far away as St. Louis.
Karen Hendrickson, vice president and chief nursing officer at Southeast Missouri Hospital, said the average age of nurses at her hospital mirrors the national average.
As a result, she said, it's important to encourage more people to take up nursing careers. mbliss@semissourian.com
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Old 12-06-2009, 09:19 PM
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Such a great blog post. It should be sent to Obama.

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Old 12-07-2009, 06:35 AM
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Average age of RN's in the USA is currently 48 or 49, depending on who's study you read.
And the author is right, I can't do long shifts or a lot of turning of 300 pounders, but I and others my age have forgotten more about nursing than most new grads KNOW!
My back is in bad shape but my brain is just fine. I just wish nursing education paid better so more of us "old ladies" could afford to switch to teaching and molding the next generation of nurses. I am extraordinarily blessed to have gotten a teaching job with only a BSN, although I do need to get my MSN in the next three years.
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Old 12-07-2009, 01:42 PM
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I just recently retired, again, at the age of 62yrs young. My main reason for quitting so young was my bad back, hurt when I was 26 while nursing, and after 42 years of nursing I just could not do all the physical labor anymore. Now, I am a computer nerd so I just loved our EMR and really loved teaching and mentoring the younger nurses. Prior to my leaving, I talked with our CEO about having me at the hospital as a mentor and/or advisor for nurses who were unsure about doing certain nursing procedures and treatments. He thanked me for my idea and promptly shifted it off to a person who I have yet to hear from. Yes, I am enjoying being at home , doing my "own" thing and yet, I know I still have a alot left to give to the health industry with no place to give it. I truly can see a place for retired experienced nurses in the hospital: I could deal with difficult patients and family since I would have the time and no restraint of other patients to hinder me; I could stand by and walk new nursed thru new procedures and answer ALL their questions for them; I would have the time to LISTEN to those who needed to vent. I can see all this, why can't administration. Very frustrating and a total waste of alot of knowledge.
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Old 12-07-2009, 02:19 PM
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What a great idea, Siggie. I'm an old new nurse and would have loved having someone like you around to help me when I first started. Being too old and professional for the stress and BS, I regrettably left med-surg for occupational health. It was ok, but I loved med-surg, just wasn't willing to be abused. Now I know I need to be in psych and an NP so I won't be crapped on every day.

A thought ... Knowing hospitals won't pay for extra resources, I wonder about starting up a volunteer nurse corps, under an umbrella like ANA for insurance purposes, to provide the services you outline. Maybe then more nurses would stay in the profession.


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Old 12-08-2009, 11:32 AM
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I think it is happening but under different banners.

My old unit is changing everyones rotations next month. The people with the worst lines just happen to be those at the top of their paygrid. Oldest by experience not necessarily age.

People who never worked more than four shifts back to back are suddenly being forced to work seven (permitted under the union contracts) again experienced and at the top of the paygrid.

It's out there they just hide it under different headings.
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Old 12-17-2009, 02:33 PM
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Last time I talked about how I had never really experienced the concept of nurses eating their young in action.
However, I have seen the opposite begin to evolve.


If I am reading this wrong, forgive me. But is she saying the "young eat the nurses" with this line?

Oh my, can I count on how many levels that is out of line.

1. The "young" being brought in at lower wages are, in their minds, simply accepting a job. They don't know someone with more experience is being bumped to make room for them. They apply for a job, interview, and are given the job. Thats the extent of their involvement.

Who the heck visits a workplace and interviews all the other workers to make sure they are not replacing someone before accepting a job? Why should the young nurses do it?
It is management/administration and stock holders who drive this, not the young nurses. And, unless you have the "set" it takes to call them out, it won't change. Even if you do, it won't. But, at the very least, your anger would be pointed at the one's who mean you harm, not the new nurses.
Thats the problem with nursing. This is a fine example of why......after many years of practice, we still have to beg for respect. People make comments about us being tech. school ecucated bedpan changers and we complain about it. But, when someone means to do our profession harm, we go at one another instead of the one who wishes to hurt us. We are often like the young boy who, after getting beat up by the school yard bully, go home and hit our younger brother in retaliation.

2. As a whole, I do not agree with the article. My experience both with real life and through talking to people on the internet has not been "putting out to pastor" the experienced nurse. I have seen quite the opposite.
Most hospitals I know of won't even interview you unless you have experience. GNs who graduated LAST YEAR MAY are still looking for work. There is a thread by a new grad on this very site, a Jen I believe, who is very afraid of not finding work because of this.
Seems to me the experienced nurses are being held from the pastor if anything. I know more than a few who want to retire but can not due to the economy.

3. As far as experienced nurses not being able to keep up with new technologies and everything else she said: I think most experienced nurses, even the one's with slower feet due to age.......are faster at what they do.
I see it like this. In my first year of nursing, I rarely left late. I still had the landscaper mentality of getting the job done by a certain time no matter what the cost. If time were short, quality of work went out the window and I just did whatever it took to have my bases covered.
As I matured in the profession, I learned more about how what I did affected those relieving me and how it affected the patient. Corner cutting was becoming less and less of an option.
Also, I was becoming more aware of things I did not notice before. I now had some ability to anticipate problems and take care of them before they caused harm. This took time, but in the long run I had better outcomes.
I left late often my second year of nursing. Was it because I was all of a sudden out of shape or unable to comprehend the "latest technology"? I think not. I was more mindful of what I was doing and therefore took more time.
I think many experienced nurses will share the same experiences with you. That is why they tend to take more time than the new grads who leave 5 min. early every single day.
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Old 12-17-2009, 03:25 PM
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Well said Eriksoln. About 25 years ago I noticed a lot of the more seasoned nurses were complaining about computers and defensive charting, having to wear PPE, etc. As we progress and are educated it becomes more of a way of life--sink or swim if you will. As you work, you learn and God knows that medicine is a gray area. Answers are not black and white.

I don't think technology in any way will 'force' out older nurses. Disease and disability maybe but most nurses work, and work in the way the facility they are working at trains them to. That's just the way it is.

We do a little bit of charting on paper but mostly computerize all of our work--I LOVE IT!. In about 5 years I would love to teach, too. Hopefully I can find something when the time comes. Interesting topic--I've been a nurse 31 years.
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Old 12-19-2009, 09:30 AM
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I think it is happening. The co-worker who just left turned 62 earlier this month. All of a sudden, she got wirtten up for complete BS. and we were told that 'Corporate' changed things. But in mid-stream?

I truly think that older nurses ARE being pushed out, mainly to save money. More experience = more pay, and that means less money for the 'Powers that be'.
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