“When it hits you in the face all at once it is like what are we going to do. All of a sudden there is going to be a huge exodus,” she says. “It just makes sense if you’ve been in nursing for any length of time and you look around the room and you see a lot of people in the same age group.”
As the role of the nurse changes to incorporate more knowledge of information technology, there is a learning curve associated with age, Donlon adds. Also, long hours and long shifts can be a turn-off for older nurses.
"The younger nurses really like [longer shifts]. They don’t get as tired. But a lot of the older nurses will tell you they can’t do them. Another thing is the number of morbidly obese patients. Nurses get hurt because you are trying to lift and turn and care for people who are over 400-500 pounds,” Donlon says.
These are significant demands that have to be overcome, but Donlon says hospital executives – and the nurses themselves – who are willing to compromise, may be able to minimize the exodus.
“It’s really a shift in our thinking about what the possibilities are,” Donlon says. “Why would I want one of my most valuable experienced nurses to retire at 60 when he or she is most valued by patients and colleagues.”