Aging, Experienced Nurses: Their Value and Needs

By Fitzgerald, Dorcas C. | Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, April 2007 | Go to article overview
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Aging, Experienced Nurses: Their Value and Needs

Fitzgerald, Dorcas C., Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession


The nursing workforce mirrors the trend in population; that is, it is aging. Subsequently, older nurses experiencing some aging effects themselves are caring for more elderly patients needing more assistance with illness and wellness problems. To meet the growing demand for care in this era of nursing shortage, predicted to last beyond 2020, these nurses are needed to remain in the workforce longer. Lack of nurses in the workplace compromises patient care and increases job stress. Therefore, retention incentives need to be implemented to assist aging, experienced nurses to delay retirement or prevent them from leaving the profession early, as well as encouraging younger and future nurses to work longer. This article focuses on aging nurses, describing their demographics and needs, explicating their value and listing the resources and benefits needed to prolong their vital services in the workforce. For this article, aging, older and mature refer to experienced nurses in their 40s, 50s and 60s.)

Received 31 July 2006 Accepted 15 February 2007


nursing workforce; retention; employment benefits; ergonomics is experiencing a crisis, a nursing shortage, which has been wellpublicised, along with its negative impact on patient care. Complicating the crisis are projections that no end is in sight due to two factors:

1. aging of the population, including the nursing workforce, and

2. the global nature of this shortage.

The International Council of Nurses (2006) reports that the 20th century has seen a serious increase in the numbers of older people in developed and developing countries with nearly one million people crossing the 60-year threshold every month. Consequently, there are more elderly patients needing more care, thereby increasing the need for more nurses.

At the same time, a large percentage of nurses, who too are aging, plan to retire themselves within the next 10-15 years (Australian Nursing Federation 2005; Canadian Nurses Association 2005; Hader, Saver & Steltzer 2006; Health Resources and Services Administration 2004). In addition, many aging nurses are retiring early or leaving the profession due to job dissatisfaction related to heavy workloads and other work issues (Buerhaus, Donelan, Ulrich, Norman & Dittus 2006; Priest 2006; Stone et al. 2006; Watson, Manthorpe & Andrews 2003). These circumstances signify a grave situation in healthcare delivery, necessitating different resolution initiatives from previous cyclical shortages.

Initiatives to retain nurses in the workforce longer, while recruiting people into the profession, are obvious requirements. The needs of experienced, aging nurses and retention incentives to prolong their working years are the focus of this article. A review of recent literature providing background information regarding demographics, generational characteristics and workplace issues is included as rationale for the recommendations and conclusions.


Aging nurses' demographics

Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States report the median age of nurses as mid-to-late 40s; with only 10% or less under the age of 30 and 30-40% aged over 50 (Australian Nursing Federation 2005; Buerhaus et al. 2006; Canadian Nurses Association 2005; Health Resources and Services Administration 2004; Watson, Manthorpe & Andrews 2003). The aging issue in nursing is compounded by fewer young people entering the profession, thereby resulting in the nursing workforce aging more rapidly than the general population (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare 2006; Letvak 2002; Stone et al. 2006). Although enrolments in basic nursing programs have increased, governmental workforce data in the United States and Canada reports that entering students are older as many are entering the profession as a change-of-career; consequently, most graduates are in their late twenties, early thirties, or older (Health Resources and Services Administration; Canadian Institute for Health Information 2005; Priest 2006).

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