Physicians Feel Ageism Less Than Nurses

Alicia Ault

December 03, 2018

Physicians were less likely to say that they have been passed over for a job because of age, while nurses, pharmacists, and administrators said they feel ageism more acutely, according to a Medscape reader poll.

Overall, 44% of physicians said they suspected they'd been passed over for an employment opportunity because of their age; 78% of administrators, 64% of nurses, and 59% of pharmacists said they believed that age had been used against them.

The results, based on responses of 1031 individuals, may reflect selection bias. Most of the respondents were aged 55 years or older, including 82% of administrators, 75% of nurses, and 66% of physicians.

Most of the administrators, nurses, and pharmacists who responded to the survey were women. More than half (62%) of the physician respondents were men.

The age distribution for physicians was more evenly split than for the other professions — a third were younger than 54, a third were aged 55 to 64, and a third were 65 or older.

Interestingly, 40% of all respondents aged 25 to 34 said they felt they'd been passed over because of age.

But, by and large, it's discrimination against older healthcare professionals that constitutes the biggest challenge — both for society and individuals. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) estimates that there will be a shortage of 120,000 physicians in the United States by 2030, as both the general population grows older and physicians retire. One third of all currently active doctors will be older than 65 in the next decade, according to the AAMC.

Too Old for the Job?

Age does not have to be a disqualifier, said some of the Medscape poll respondents. Urologist Leonard Rampello said that, beginning in his early 60s, he'd increasingly been made to feel irrelevant. "I began to notice that my opinions expressed in morbidity and mortality meetings, journal club, policy meetings were politely tolerated then dismissed by my younger colleagues," he said.

Understanding that he had become irrelevant "was actually liberating," said Rampello. "I took pride in my positive patient feedback, outstanding clinical outcomes, stellar student evaluations and in the fact that after 30 years in the OR I was never involved in litigation."

Most respondents said that they did not suspect that their employment had been terminated because of ageism. It was with respect to hiring or advancement that they had experienced age discrimination.

Janice Tillman, RN, said for years she has been a nurse supervisor at a local nursing facility and that she had a clean record, free of disciplinary actions. "When the position for Director of Nursing became available, I was encouraged by my peers to apply," she said, but after applying, she was not even interviewed. "The nurse that was hired was much younger, however her education and experience were less."

Clinical Nurse Specialist Barbara Murph had a similar story. "I actually had a manager tell me he didn't want to hire a nurse colleague because 'she's close to retirement,' " said Murph, who noted that she was herself of retirement age at the time.

"Ageism is alive and well. The young people that are doing the hiring have no idea the value of maturity and experience," Murph commented.

Middle Age the Danger Zone

Respondents most often indicated that people in their mid-50s to mid-60s face the greatest amount of ageism — except for physicians, of whom 54% said it's those aged 64 and older who face the most ageism.

People in the 55- to 64-year-old group were more likely to say they'd been passed over because of their age. When asked which age group is viewed most stereotypically, 41% of all respondents said it was the 55- to 64-year-olds.

Younger people may be experiencing some ageism, commented William Mayer, MD, a family medicine specialist. He said 25- to 34-year-olds are most stereotyped during recruitment "because the millennials seem to have much different career goals than older physicians and allied health professionals," said Mayer, adding, "In the practice of medicine, experience (and often the more the better) is what we are looking for in new hires."

As it which profession was most stereotyped by age, nurses singled out their own profession (74%). Physicians were as likely to name themselves as to feel that all are were stereotyped at the same level. Only a quarter of pharmacists thought their profession was most often stereotyped

The results of the survey should be a wake-up call to medicine, especially because the profession needs new physicians, said one commenter. At age 58, Glenwood Clark applied to 51 medical schools, only one of which offered acceptance. "I was not even offered an interview by my state school even though a peer who was accepted had lower GPA and MCAT (she was 22)," said Clark.

Older people may not be as quick with responses, but they have life experience, which could bring more of a human touch to medicine, said Clark. Because of a lower birth rate, and perhaps fewer 25-year-olds to fill slots, "in the future, medical school will be more of an advancement career pathway or a second career pathway," Clark said, adding, "While I might feel ageism from some of the institutions, I have never felt ageism from the students."

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