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Combating Ageism in Nursing

Dr. Robert N. Butler first used the phrase ageism in a 1969 interview with a reporter from the Washington Post. Ageism is a type of discrimination aimed at people age 50 and over. In times of economic downturn, many older Americans have a difficult time finding employment because of their age. Negative attitudes toward older workers are common in all occupations including nursing.

Why Is There Ageism in Nursing?

Hospitals are always looking for ways to reduce expenses, and experienced nurses cost hospitals more money. Their salaries are much higher than those of recent nursing graduates. In some instances, hospitals may hire two new nurses for the same wage as one older nurse.

Some retired nurses are trying to return to work for financial reasons, but they are struggling to get hired. They may come across employers with prejudiced beliefs that older nurses are not flexible or adaptable to the changes in healthcare. They also battle the stereotype that older nurses are physically incapable, too fragile for the job, and unsuited to fast-paced environments.

What Is the Age of Nurses Nationally?

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported a total of 3,184,283 nurses in the U.S. According to the 2015 survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in conjunction with The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, 50 percent of the 260,000 participating registered nurses (RNs) in the study were age 50 or older.

What Is the Age of Nurses in Georgia?

Georgia has 91,829 nurses according to KFF. The University System of Georgia (USG) Center for Health Workforce Planning & Analysis (CHWPA) estimated in 2010 that 60 percent of the Georgia nursing workforce was 50 or older, and they predicted that, due to retirement, there would be a shortage of 50,000 nurses by 2020.

How Should Healthcare Organizations Address Ageism?

For the first time, the field of nursing has five generations of RNs working together: Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X’s, Millennials and Post-Millennials (Generation Z’s). The table below shows a breakdown of the generations in the 2015 workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

Generations Years Born Ages 2015 Percentage in 2015 Workforce
Veteran 1928 to 1945 70 to 87 2 percent
Baby Boomers 1946 to 1964 51 to 69 29 percent
Generation X’s 1965 to 1980 35 to 50 34 percent
Millenials 1981 to 1995 20 to 34 34 percent
Post-Millennials (Generation Z’s) 1996 to 2010 5 to 19 1 percent

Much like racial and cultural diversity is important in healthcare, so is a multigenerational staff. A workforce made up of different ages is rich in different viewpoints, experiences and ethics, which adds to the pool of resources available to nurses. Each group brings valuable assets to the healthcare setting. Veterans and Baby Boomers have accumulated knowledge and intuition while Gen Xers and Millennials are self-reliant and tech savvy.

Why Should Healthcare Organizations Value Older Nurses?

The misconceptions that persist in nursing about older RNs include the following:

  • May slow down the progress of younger nurses.
  • Too set in their ways to learn new skills.
  • Cannot relate to patients.

Older nurses have the skills and insight needed to mentor younger RNs and help resolve conflicts between peers. Experienced nurses can also help with onboarding new RNs to familiarize them with the healthcare organization’s policies and procedures and prepare them for delivery of patient care.
Older nurses can empathize with aging patients about the health issues they are facing and understand their generational background.

No matter how long it has been since a nurse graduated from nursing school, all RNs have to keep up with changes in their field. Younger nurses can add their knowledge of the latest trends in nursing to the wealth of insights and clinical experience of older nurses.

By acknowledging the strengths of each generation and seeking out their unique traits, administrators can improve the work environment. They need to embrace the similarities found in the generations to build an atmosphere of collaboration and cohesiveness and develop effective communication techniques to maintain the flow of information. Healthcare organizations should not back away from generational diversity in the workplace because all nurses have a common goal: to provide safe, high-quality patient care.

Learn more about the Columbus State online RN to BSN program.


University System of Georgia Board of Regents: A Profile of Georgia’s Registered Nurse Workforce: 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Licensure Renewal Survey Results

American Society on Aging: A History of Ageism Since 1969

The American Nurse: Creating a Practice Environment That Supports Multigenerational Workforce Collaboration

AARP: Forced Out, Older Workers Are Fighting Back

Daily Nurse: Ageism in Nursing: Dispelling the Myths

American Nurse Today: Talent-Management Strategies: Bridging the Multigenerational Gap in Nursing

Pew Research Center: Millennials Surpass Gen Xers as the Largest Generation in the U.S. Labor Force

National Council of State Boards of Nursing: National Nursing Workforce Study

American Society on Aging: The Pernicious Problem of Ageism

Emerging RN Leader: Is There Ageism in Nursing?

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation: Total Number of Professionally Active Nurses

The New York Times: Mover Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generation Z

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