Even with the uncertainty, Jennings says, the aging demographic can't be denied. "And as the economy improves those people are going to slowly retire and leave the rest of us hanging," she says. "This has helped the nursing shortage, no doubt. Unfortunately, from an economic standpoint it hasn't helped anything else. As these folks retire it's just going to widen the gap. There is no way that the rest of us baby boomers are going to stay home and not seek health services, and there aren't enough nurses in the pipeline to manage the rest of us."
Marcia Donlon, a vice president/CNO at Holy Family Memorial Hospital told HealthLeaders Media it's the same story at the Manitowoc, WI-based hospital, where the average age of the nursing staff is 47. "A big piece is economic. But a lot of them love what they do," she says. "They're saying 'I don't want to give everything up. I would just like not such a hectic pace, maybe work four-hour shifts. Maybe do education for patients or staff, different types of roles.'"
Donlon says Holy Family is doing a lot of "role transitioning" for nurses on the cusp of retirement. "We have had some groups looking at, 'if you want to stay in the workforce, what would keep you here?' We don't want to lose those years of experience. We are looking at different roles and that has been well received," she says.
Some ideas that have surfaced include more flexible working hours, including four-hour shifts, seasonal work, or teams that allow veteran nurses with years of experience to coordinate patient care.
Donlon says she's even more concerned about a looming gap in nurse leadership. "It's very difficult to find nursing leaders. People are somewhat intimidated by it," she says. "I was talking to the dean of nursing at a nearby school and she said only 10% of nurses are interested in a leadership position. We have a lot of work to do there. As leaders, what are we modeling?"
The Conference Board also found several trends in the overall workforce: