Stop Losing Experienced Nurses

Rebecca Hendren, October 26, 2010

There's no substitute for experience, especially in nursing. Experienced nurses accomplish all their tasks in a shift and somehow their patients never know how busy they are. They still find time to check in, offer support, and even a shoulder to cry on.

Nurses who know the ropes understand  how the system works. They can communicate ably with physicians, pharmacists, nursing assistants, patients, and families and are the glue that holds "multidisciplinary care" together. They can take one look at a patient and know "something's just not right," fixing a problem  before it degenerates.

Finally, nurses with experience are role models and mentors for new nurses, helping the next generation become experts and passing along their wisdom. So it behooves healthcare facilities to retain these nurses as long as possible.

But experienced nurses are aging and exiting the workforce. According to data recently released from the latest National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses—which has been conducted by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration every four years since 1977—the average age of licensed RNs is 47. Nearly 45% of RNs were 50 years of age or older in 2008, a dramatic increase from 33% in 2000 and 25% in 1980. 

Because of this looming crisis as experienced nurses retire, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched a national program in 2006 called Wisdom at Work: Retaining Experienced Nurses. The idea was to find out what will keep experienced nurses in hospital settings and find out what effect existing interventions have on the work environment for older 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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