Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Older nurses in the workforce

Roger Watson, Editor-in-Chief

A study of nurses over 50 years of age in New Zealand, published in JAN, provides a very interesting and clear pattern of the decisions and career shifts that nurses make in the final 10-15 years of their career.

The ageing of the nursing workforce has been a major consideration worldwide for at least a decade with reports highlighting the issue and proposing solutions (Buchan 1999, Watson et al. 2003). The ageing of the nursing workforce cannot be ignored for the sake of political correctness; older nurses are closer to retirement and older nurses cannot possibly undertake some of the roles of their younger counterparts if they have had a full career in nursing. Nursing is a physically and psychologically demanding profession and the accumulated physical and mental stresses are bound to have an effect. However, health services need to function in hospitals and communities, and there is also a recognised shortage of nurses entering the profession (Buchan & Calman 2004) and a propensity for attrition from the profession (Buchan 2013), often for the reasons stated above. Increasingly, therefore, we rely on older nurses as a proportion of the nursing workforce (Watson et al. 2003). We do not have the option of allowing older nurses to retire too early and if we do we lose an incredible repository of knowledge and experience and also investment in education and career and professional development, often over up to four decades.

The study by North et al. (2014), using a retrospective cohort analysis over 5 years of nurses aged over 50 shows that there is a move out of hospital care and into community care. However, a quarter of the cohort were no longer practicing, therefore, there was a net loss of practising nurses. Over the 5 years of the analysis there was a clear trend towards reduced working hours. It is clear - generally - what older nurses like to do: work fewer hours and work out of hospital and in the community. If this is the case then, to staff vital areas where older nurses like to work and to maintain their valuable contribution to healthcare, some accommodation of these facts must be made.


Buchan J (1999) The ‘greying’of the United Kingdom nursing workforce: implications for employment policy andpractice. Journal of Advanced Nursing 30, 818–826

Buchan J (2013) Nurses’ turnover: reviewing the evidence, heeding the results. Journal of Advanced Nursing 69, 1917-1918

Buchan J, Calman L (2004). The global shortage of registered nurses: An overview of issues and actions. International Council of Nurses, Geneva

North N, Leung W, Lee R (2014) Aged over 50 years and practising: separation and changes in nursing practice among New Zealand’s older Registered Nurses. Journal of Advanced Nursing DOI: 10.1111/jan.12426

Watson R, Manthorpe J & Andrews J (2003) Nurses over 50: Option, Decisions and Outcomes. The Policy Press, Bristol

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