The 4-Generation Gap in Nursing

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


April 11, 2013

In This Article

Calling All Generations

A nurse manager, desperate for more staff, telephones 4 of her nurses to ask whether they will pull an extra shift.

The first nurse says, "What time do you need me?"

The second nurse says, "Call me back if you can't find anyone else."

The third nurse says, "How much will you pay me?"

The fourth nurse says, "Sorry, I have plans. Maybe next time."

According to Bonnie Clipper, author of The Nurse Manager's Guide to an Intergenerational Workforce,[1] these different responses are typical of the 4 different generations of nurses currently working side by side in nursing.

In the same order as the responses above, these generations are:

The "traditionalists" (also called the "veterans");

The "baby boomers" ("boomers");

The "X generation" ("Xers"); and

The "Millennials" (also known as the "Y-generation" or "nexters").

Social scientists maintain that this is the first time in history that 4 generations of nurses have worked together. In previous years, earlier retirement from nursing and shorter lifespans kept the workforce to 3 generations. Recently, however, many nurses have continued to work long past the conventional retirement age of mid-60s, some well into their eighth decade of life.

However, because the youngest nurses of the traditionalist generation are now 71 years old, this generation is shrinking rapidly and will soon be replaced by a new, as-yet-unnamed generation of nurses born in this century.[2] Generational differences have become another type of diversity adding complexity to the nursing workforce.[2]