Old, but Not Out: The Aging Nurse in Today's Workplace

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


December 29, 2008

In This Article

Age and Nursing

Nearly every article or opinion piece about the nursing shortage recommends the important strategy of retaining our older and most expert nurses. The fact that we must even articulate the need to retain nurses speaks to the sad state of affairs we are facing in the nursing profession. Why are qualified nurses leaving nursing for other careers, cutting back their work hours, or retiring early? And can anything be done to persuade nurses to return to nursing?

The age of the average nurse steadily inches upwards. In 2004, the average nurse was age 46.8 years (up from 45.2 in 2000).[1,2] The age at which a nurse is considered old varies according to different experts. Some define "older" as anyone over the age of 40 years, while others consider workers to be old when they are 55 to 64 years of age. In an interview with Susan Letvak, PhD, RN, from the School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who has written extensively on the subject of the mature nurse, the older nurse was defined as one who has reached 50 years of age.

The largest cohort of nurses working today consists of those born from 1955 to 1959. We are now experiencing an aging workforce, as this cohort is entering their fifties. By 2010, 40% of nurses will be over the age of 50 years. In about 10 years, as these nurses begin to retire, the nursing workforce will shrink considerably as this large cohort is replaced by smaller cohorts of nurses.[3] The loss of these older, expert nurses could have a disproportionate impact on patient safety and quality of care.[4]


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