Gee, Am I the Oldest Nurse Here?You know the line the stand-up comedian starts with… "A funny thing happened". Well, it did the other night/morning when I was in the nurses’ station. As I was giving my report, I turned around and realized that I was the oldest nurse on both shifts. How did that happen, I wondered to myself?

Given that, I didn’t really look too different from the other nurses there but I knew better. After all, I just lost 33 pounds in the past year, with a combination of weight training, and cutting out carbs. I was also one of the very few nurses with a master’s degree in this unit and it is out of field (social work) and the only one who had just passed a tough licensing exam to be a therapist. In some cases, there was a 38 year age difference, and I could have been their grandmother!

Am I alone in this realization? The nursing workforce is aging and has been for a while. But given today’s uncertain economy and the fact that most nurses are living paycheck to paycheck and dipping into their 401Ks and 403Bs when they turn 59 and a half, is a reality. It’s funny but most nurses I know are very glad to turn 59 and a half because they can get their money out penalty free.   

A Look at the Aging Workforce

There will be a 30% drop in the number of RNs in the next 20-30 years due to the baby boomer generation leaving the hospital setting (1). There will be a 260,000 RN deficit in this country (2). In 2008, the age of the average RN was 46 years old. This nurse is now 55. Almost half of the working nurses in this country are 50 years old or older (2).

To make matters worse, some nurses have even left the field but returned due to mounting bills and the high cost of living. Actually, look around a typical hospital and you will see that we have a preponderance of nurses between the ages of 50 to 69. This is the largest group of age this profession has ever experienced in this country (3).

Now that the problem has been defined in terms of economic necessity, what can the older (and I cringe when I use that term) RNs do to stay connected to their younger colleagues at work?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1.  Stay up to date. I don’t mean with the latest CEUs, but of course that is important. I am talking about what’s going on in the news, music and on TV. I remember having to explain Carly Simon to the “kids” I worked with, and even playing some for a minute on a break. Well, they were surprised when they found out I knew who Miley Cyrus and Rihanna were and they even offered to teach me how to twerk! By the way, I passed on the offer.
     
  2. Don’t let yourself go. This is crucial but maintenance is the key. If you have a weight loss goal, go for it! It is never too late to lose those last 10-20 stubborn pounds. Once you lose the weight, try not to fall off the wagon. Stay away from the vending machine. Keep carbs to a minimum and concentrate on eating filling protein and fats like fat free Greek yogurt in great flavors (like apple pie, key lime pie and Boston cream pie) and low salt free almonds as a filling snack during your 12 hour shift.
     
  3. Weight bearing exercises like strength training is key to bone health and losing weight. Many older nurses start having problems related to arthritis and have also seen a decrease in their muscle strength (3). I have found that lifting weights under the supervision of a certified trainer has helped me sweat, burn fat, increased my strength, helped my balance and given me an overall sense of well-being.
     
    After workouts, where I was able to lift a 20 pound barbell 60 repetitions in 3 set intervals I have been transformed. As a veteran dieter, I have seen the weight drop off like never before. Any momentary back pain I have in the early morning vanishes almost immediately and I have dropped 2 pant sizes from a tight size 8 to a 4, probably a 2. 

 

These small changes have helped to stay connected and continue the long 12-hour shifts as an “older” nurse.

OLDER NURSES, HOW DO YOU GET ALONG WITH THE BABY BOOMERS?
Share a piece of advice in the comments below.

References

Bishop,M. (2013, October).  Work engagement of older registered nurses: The impact of a caring-based intervention.
     Retrieved October 28, 2015 from http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.fiu.edu/10.1111/jonm.12182

Longo, J. (2013, October).  Bullying and the older nurse.
     Retrieved October 28, 2015 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jonm.12173

Stichler, J. F. (2013, October).  Healthy work environments for the ageing nursing workforce.
     Retrieved October 28, 2015 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jonm.12174