Aging, Experienced Nurses: Their Value and Needs
Fitzgerald, Dorcas C., Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession
Healthcare.delivery 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). These nurses will have fewer years in the profession and will themselves need aging workplace initiatives in the near future.
Although more men are entering the field, females still dominate nursing and hospitals remain the employers for more than 60% of nurses (Australian Peak Nursing Forum 2004; Buerhaus et al. 2006; Canadian Nurses Association 2005; Health Resources and Services Administration 2004). Thus, the average, mature or older nurse is 46 years old, female and working in a hospital.
Generational traits, value and stressors
The generational characteristics of this age group, those 46 and older, explicate their professional value. Hill (n.d.) describes older workers as more conscientious, more agreeable, more emotionally stable and as making fewer mistakes owing to work experience. A report by Lockwood (2005: 7) for the Society for Human Resource Management states that experiential knowledge of the mature workforce is 'at the very heart of the organization's future and its sustainability in an ever increasing competitive marketplace'. …