Retired Nurses Ease a Staffing Crunch, Bolster Budget

Rebecca Hendren, September 20, 2011

The nursing workforce is rapidly graying and healthcare isn't doing enough to prepare for it. The impending "silver tsunami" of patients that we know will tax healthcare's resources will arrive at the same time that vast swathes of experienced nurses reach retirement.

The median age of the nurse workforce is 46. Almost 45% of nurses are older than 50. Many delay retirement as long as possible, but hospitals must acknowledge that they will soon lose a significant portion of their most skilled staff. These are the unit managers, the educators, and the experienced bedside caregivers who mentor younger nurses and who provide invaluable wisdom in policy and procedure decisions, care delivery models, and quality improvement initiatives.

Hospitals must find a way to retain the collected knowledge and experience of older nurses for as long as possible. We've seen nurses delay retirement in this economic climate, but keeping them in the workforce long-term necessitates policies and programs specifically designed to provide flexibility and different options than currently offered.

Nurses frequently comment that they'd like to stay in nursing, but can't physically keep up with 12-hour shifts and the rigors of patient care. Branching out from traditional staffing models may take some effort, but the dividends will be well worth it.

MidMichigan Health, a nonprofit system based in Midland, MI, has kept older nurses connected at the same time as it eliminated its need for agency nurses and increased the satisfaction of its nurses.

Rebecca Hendren Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at
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