Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Keeping older nurses in the workforce

Roger Watson, Editor-in-Chief

Older nurses have a great deal to contribute to nursing but the physical and psychological stress of the job and caring responsibilities for older relatives and generally being 'burned out' after years in the profession mean that many leave.  Being primarily a female profession, also, many leave when they have children and seek to return later in life but it is not always easy.  This represents a considerable waste of the resources that have been invested in education and training.

A study from New Zealand by Clendon and Walker (2016) titled: 'The juxtaposition of ageing and nursing: the challenges and enablers  of continuing to work in the latter stages of a nursing career' and published in JAN aims to: 'To identify why some nurses cope well with continuing to work as they
age and others struggle.'  The study surveyed over 3000 nurses and held focus groups with nearly 50 nurses aged over 50 years.

In New Zealand it is reckoned that half of the current nursing workforce will be lost in the next 10-15 years.  The authors reckon that this is an international phenomenon.  Those of us working in nursing education know how student attrition can be high and that many nursing students do not enter the nursing workforce.  Also, there are significant problems keeping nurses in the health services.  The nurses reported the physical stresses associated with nursing and how they were less able to carry out their jobs due to physical limitations.  They also reported guilt associated with this in that they were not able to do their job properly.  Some felt limited in their job prospects due simply to their age - possibly indicating ageism - and also the struggle to keep up with professional development requirements.  On the other hand, older nurses did report that they had developed resilience and some said that they made efforts to keep fit and eat healthy foods to remain fit for their job.  They also said that they found that being afforded flexibility in their jobs was a factor that made remaining in the jib easier and this reflects some work with which I was involved nearly a decade ago in the UK and also published in JAN (Andrews et al. 2006).

The authors conclude: 'The juxtaposition of ageing and nursing demonstrates nurses who continue to work while they age face a range of challenges associated with the ageing process but develop effective coping strategies that help build their resilience in the workplace. Workplaces can support nurses to managethe challenges of ageing by addressing ageism, assessing their organisational approach to older workers and providing a supportive environment where nurses of all ages can flourish.'

You can listen to this as a podcast.


Andrews J, Watson R, Manthorpe J (2006) Employment transitions for older nurses: a qualitative study
Journal of Advanced Nursing 51, 298-306 

Clendon J, Walker L (2106) The juxtaposition of ageing and nursing: the challenges and enablers of continuing to work in the latter stages of a nursing career Journal of Advanced Nursing doi: 10.1111/jan.12896

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