The average age of nurses is currently 46, according to this article in USA Today. Many baby boomers have retired or will be in the next decade or so. Nursing is a very physical job, and the requirements of the job such as lifting patients and standing for long periods can become too much for many older nurses.
New nurses are filling the breach and there are regional variations for the nursing shortage — there are too many nurses in some places, and not enough in others. Specialties tend to have more shortages. Registered nurses remain at the top of lists of employment growth, so hospitals are being proactive in trying to retain older employees, who have a wealth of experience.
Male nurses often enter the nursing field as a second career. Baby boomer Jim Carberry was a respiratory therapist for 20 years before he became a nurse.
“I wouldn’t say it’s harder to be a nurse today. It’s just different,” Carberry said.
“With so much specialty nursing, we all have had to learn so many new ways of doing things,” he said. “It’s not just one nurse doing all of a patient’s care in a day. It can be several with special skills.”
While nursing schools are graduating highly skilled individuals, the experience of older workers is impossible to teach in a classroom.
Registered nurse Rebecca Madore, 23 on her third day on the job at Wuesthoff Medical Center in Rockledge, Fla., acknowledges that the reality of nursing can be daunting.
“I learned a lot at school, but it’s totally different when you’re actually working the floor,” she said.
Madore knew she wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl, but for many of her colleagues, the profession is a career, not a calling.
“Each group’s work ethic is different,” said Suzanne Woods, vice president and chief nursing officer for Health First’s community hospital division.
“The veterans and baby boomers feel almost total responsibility for the workplace and will come in on short notice and cover difficult shifts. This has always been their practice. The Gen X and Millenniums are more cognizant of home-and-life balance and strive to keep this in check.”
Each generation also brings different skills, all needed to best serve patients.
“The younger nurses are very technologically advanced, but the older nurses are more connected with the patients,” said Rosemary Walter, director of the medical/surgical unit at Wuesthoff in Rockledge.
Technological savvy, a given for new nursing grads and necessary for survival in the health care field today, can be difficult for older nurses to embrace.
“I feel we have an advantage over older generations in the new advancements of paperless systems, computer charting and the new diagnostics,” said Michele McCray Miller, 26. “Throughout nursing school, we were constantly using simulated mannequins, computer programs and other electronic devices to master skills such as NG (nasogastric) tubes, catheters and IV skills. Older generations were not as lucky to have those resources in the classroom.”
Allison Rogers has been a nurse for two years. Rogers’ mother was a nurse. This member of Generation X had no doubts about her career choice.
“I know how important my job is, and I consider it an honor to care for patients the way I would want my family to be taken care of,” Rogers said.