America's Nurses Are Aging
We the People of the United States are getting older.
The U.S. Census conducted in 2010 predicts that there will be 19.6 million American workers aged 65 or older by 2050. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's publication The Aging Workforce: Challenges for the Health Care Industry Workforce, a full 75 percent of the U.S. workforce will reach age 65 or older by 2050. The number of employees ages 25 to 54 will only increase by a predicted 2 percent during the same period of time.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration published the findings from the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. This survey found the majority of registered nurses employed full-time and part-time in the U.S. range in ages from 45 to 59. The average age of an RN in the United States is 50.
The average age of a registered nurse entering practice was 30 years old. Because they are entering the profession later in their lives, they will likely continue in the profession for less years than younger nurses have traditionally done.
We the People are aging, and those on whom we rely for care are also aging.
Retirements loom large on the horizon
The health care industry is facing a declining employee population as older RNs retire. Losing these older, experienced nurses could lead to increased staffing shortages – already a pressing issue. As more nurses retire, quality of patient care could be compromised, along with an increasing risk to patient safety.
The majority of the 30-something newly graduated RNs are female, meaning they will likely have families. This can impact the length of time they continue their employment as well as their decisions to work full time vs part-time.
Where are the young 20-something RNs to replace our retiring population of caregivers? According to a 2014 press release from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), "Though nursing student enrollment inched forward last year, more than 53,000 qualified applicants to entry-level nursing programs were turned away."
What is the cause behind the turning away of 53,000 qualified potential nursing students from our colleges and universities? The problems seem to be an inability of our institutions to accommodate the numbers.
The AACN relates the denials of entrance into nursing programs to a national shortage of nursing faculty. In addition, nursing programs report difficulties in procuring clinical practice placement sites. The ever-present funding issues also need addressing.
Retention and recruitment
Knowing the statistics surrounding our national nursing shortage doesn't fill the nurses' station during end-of-shift report, however. For health care staffing agencies and those charged with recruiting nurses to a specific health care provider, filling vacant positions is a priority.
One of the best ways to prevent a vacancy is to keep the nurses you have happy. Offering incentives, flexibility in scheduling and great benefits packages can go a long way. Offer nurses who meet higher education goals opportunities for professional development and advancement.
Temporary staffing agencies and permanent placement agencies should consider beginning their recruitment at local nursing schools. Recruit RN candidates as they are obtaining their licensure and entering the workforce. Uncertain economic times may cause older nurses to continue working for a while, meaning new grads in some areas may feel a job squeeze.
Signing bonuses are a popular way of filling health care staffing needs. With the current emphasis on the burden of student loans, an offer to help pay students' debt in return for an agreed upon commitment to a job placement can be an effective lure.
America's nurses are aging but that doesn't mean they must leave the workforce. Make the workplace one they will be reluctant to leave by embracing technology and inventive, flexible scheduling practices.
Help your aging nurse population work smarter, not harder. They're working hard already.