Nurses Are Talking About the Real Reasons They Postpone Retirement

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


May 07, 2015

In This Article

Back to Work

In contrast to the nurses who have no intention of calling it quits until they are forced to are those who have already tried, and failed, to retire.

"I tried retiring. It really was boring! I love to work and will do so until they run me off!" exclaimed one nurse. Another described a similar attempt to retire, with similar results. "I retired at age 55 but held on to my license 'just in case.' As it turned out, I did return to nursing after 5 years of retirement. Why? Because staying home became boring. There wasn't enough to excite me. I was used to working in the emergency department, and I missed the adrenaline rush."

A 68-year old nurse found that going back to work offered new opportunities in nursing. "As a retiree, I had too much time on my hands, and too little money in my pocket. I realized that nursing was not just what I did, but it had become who I am. Retired, I felt lost. Now I am working full-time again, in a different role for the state, happily plying my craft. Never have I felt so fulfilled! And since I 'retired,' I have been on two humanitarian missions in third-world countries and hope to leave soon on a third."

However, some nurses wrote that their return to the workforce after retiring was not prompted by the need for personal fulfillment. The recent recession resulted in job loss or income reduction for many husbands, compelling their wives to return to nursing simply for economic reasons.

For retired nurses who miss nursing but don't have financial woes, a nurse offers this advice: "Do what I did—volunteer. You can volunteer at a free clinic, or as a hospital visitor, guardian in a nursing home, or a parish nurse. I am 80 years old, and I still work as a volunteer nurse."

Burning Bridges

"Many older nurses are still holding on to some sort of position, just to keep a foot in the door," asserted one nurse.

The fear that if they change their minds and want to return to work, they will find the door closed, is enough for many nurses to keep working, at least part-time, long past their preferred retirement dates, as related by this nurse:

"I retired at age 70 and returned to school to finish my bachelor of science degree in nursing. I wanted to work at least part-time. I applied for many different positions, but no one will hire me. If I could do it over again, I would hold on to my job."

"I am having the same problem," agreed another nurse. "I'm unemployed and trying to get back in. I fill out online applications and don't receive any responses. These human resources people aren't even nurses. Somewhere along the line, we have given our profession away."

Is this age discrimination? A nurse who had a very similar experience bitterly reflected, "I need to get back into the hospital, because my Social Security benefit is so meager. I jump through the hoops of filling out all the computer forms, but once they look up my age, which is readily available online, I don't even get the courtesy of an email decline. Talking with anyone in the human resources department person is impossible; they wall themselves off with online applications. As nurses, they want us to show respect, but they offer none in return."

More than a few commenters warned nurses to keep their jobs as long as they can, because "you will not be given an opportunity to come back." An emergency department nurse who tried to return to work after a 6-month retirement could not be rehired. Incomprehensibly, she was told that she had "too much experience—we can't afford to pay you for it." Furthermore, older nurses are rarely selected for training in a new role. "It's cheaper to hire a new-career nurse, and hospitals want only nurses who will stay in the workforce long-term. It's just another way of saying that you are too old."


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