Can a Nurse Be Too Old to Excel in the Workplace?

If you’ve been a nurse for a while, you may be wondering if you’re too old to excel in your career. After all, with brand new nurses entering the field all the time, it’s beginning to feel like a young man’s (or woman’s!) game. And even though we more experienced nurses feel at the top of our game, it can also feel like we’re looked down upon for being old-fashioned, outdated, or just not young enough to keep up with our duties.

But don’t let the younguns fool you – age is nothing but a number when it comes to being a great nurse!

The Stereotypes

First off, there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding nurses of all ages, and none of them are really quite that fair to any of us! Whether you’re a brand-new nurse fresh out of nursing school or a veteran nurse who has been in the profession for twenty years, you’ve probably faced a few stereotypes. Here are some common ones:

  • Young Nurses. Younger nurses just out of nursing school are often seen as less competent. While it’s true that they have less experience, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t good at their job. Of course, they have a lot to learn – but so does every nurse! Many young nurses are treated unfairly by more experienced coworkers, often given the less desirable jobs or busy-work. If you’re an older nurse reading this, don’t forget to let your young co-workers get some practice in and allow them space to grow.
  • Older Nurses. Older nurses also face a lot of stereotypes. We are often seen as stuck in our ways or less flexible than our younger counterparts. While change is hard for everyone, we pride ourselves in being able to keep up with the newest technologies and medical advancements as much as younger nurses do. Older nurses are also seen as bossy or pushy. While we may be able to do better at having tact and patience with younger nurses, there’s just no denying that we know very well the ins and outs of our profession!

Ageism

With all the stereotypes surrounding older nurses, it can be difficult to feel like we are worthwhile in our careers. In fact, in 1969, the term “ageism” was created to represent the negative attitudes towards populations of advanced age. Ageism is a type of discrimination against those who the majority might consider “old.” However, in recent years, that term has also been taken to mean discrimination against anyone of any age.

Nursing is experiencing a subtle ageist attitude since the nursing workforce is aging at a more rapid rate than other professions. No, we don’t mean that nursing as a career ages people faster (though this is a little bit true, if we’re honest) – rather that not as many new nurses are entering the field. It’s no secret that we’re facing a bit of a nursing shortage, which means that nurses are staying in the profession as they age while young people aren’t entering the profession. In fact, the current average age of nurses in the US is 50, much higher than in other careers.

You’re Never Too Old to Be a Great Nurse

Despite the stereotypes and the ever-growing ageism surrounding older nurses, you’re really never too old to be great at your career in the medical field. Have doubts? Here’s what you have to offer as an older nurse:

  • Work Experience. If you’re an older nurse that’s been a nurse since your 20s, you have tons of work experience! You’ve probably worked in lots of different specialties and departments, and even if you haven’t, you’re still an expert in the department you have worked in your entire career. You have a lot to teach others!
  • Life Experience. Even if you’re a new nurse joining the profession in your 50s, you have a ton of life experience to offer. You understand how people work and you’ve probably had the opportunity to take care of people, like your own children or other family members. You will be able to relate to patients on a more personal level.
  • If you’ve been continuously working as a nurse, chances are that you have done a bit of continuing education and special courses. Racking up those extra certifications means you are extra desirable for potential employers.

Being an older nurse around much younger coworkers can be intimidating, but as long as you keep up with new advancements and are willing to keep learning, you’ll be just fine and will certainly excel in your career.