Many nurses commit to a long career in healthcare, so it’s essential to support aging nurses.
This longevity may be due to their continued passion for serving the community, or it can also result from the family of colleagues they’ve built around them. Nevertheless, having a long career or even joining later in life can see professionals in the field facing challenges related to aging.
This isn’t to say that nurses are no longer vital or relevant as they age—quite the opposite. One study of more than 900,000 patient admissions over four years found that more experienced nurses on wards improve patient outcomes. They also make invaluable mentors and can bolster community engagements with facilities. It is, therefore, imperative that facilities make significant efforts to meet nurses’ changing needs.
We will dive deeper into this idea and explore three considerations for supporting aging nurses.
Nurses, like everyone else, have changing needs as they get older. This may involve mobility challenges, mental or emotional wellness hurdles, or audio-visual issues. These elements don’t mean nurses are unable to perform their duties. However, there are expectations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for employers to provide accommodations that may ensure nurses can perform duties more practically and effectively.
Facilities administrators should make accommodations provisions a positive part of workplace discussions. After all, most workplace injuries for registered nurses in most age groups resulting from overexertion and bodily reaction. Accommodations in everyday tasks minimize negative impacts on long-term wellness.
However, accommodations are also vital for challenges related to age. Human resources (HR) personnel should reach out regularly to nurses and invite discussions on the subject. Direct supervisors should also talk about employees’ developing needs during performance reviews.
That said, it’s wise to make older employees aware of their options rather than force these. The adverse treatment of resources may wind up contributing to the experiences of ageism that 82% of older Americans report living with.
Nurses, too, need to be open in talking about the resources they need to thrive in the workplace and care for their wellness. Asking for ADA accommodations at work can be a difficult experience for many people. Nurses should prepare for meetings on the subject with ideas of what resources could be helpful and how they might impact performance. They must also be clear that the requests are disability-related and therefore apply to ADA legislation. Nevertheless, solutions-oriented approaches tend to be more positively impactful.
Robust Wellness Programs
Aging nurses are fully aware of how vital maintaining health is and the imperatives for managing it as they age. Yet, more facilities must be more proactive in providing resources in the workplace and beyond to support nurses here. It is, therefore, vital for administrators to provide and for nursing staff to push for robust workplace wellness programs.
This can include collaborating with local businesses to offer nurses subsidized or employer-funded access to fitness benefits. Memberships for local gyms or sports facilities can benefit mental and physical wellness. Subscription services that provide nurses with fresh and nutritional meals can help them continue to eat positively. This is particularly useful when long shifts can make fixing healthy food less practical or desirable.
Any robust wellness program needs to include specific mental health resources, too. This doesn’t just mean options for dealing with crisis periods or burnout. Nurses must be able to use services regularly to maintain wellness rather than treat symptoms. For example, access to telehealth counseling or therapy services can be good for aging nurses to gain care without having to find time to travel during their breaks or days off.
Flexible Working Practices
One of the key considerations for aging nurses is that their priorities may change with their day-to-day roles. They may be looking for less stressful or intensely physical lifestyle routines. On the other hand, it may be the case that they want to shift toward focusing their time on outside interests as well as their nursing commitments. It is worth arranging for nurses to have the option of more flexible working opportunities.
Working from home as a nurse is an increasingly practical option for many roles. The rise in the adoption of telehealth means that professionals who prefer to work remotely can still interact with patients. If nurses want to shift to different specializations when working from home, there are options for telehealth physiotherapy, psychotherapy, and occupational therapy workers. In addition, travel nursing could align with the reduced schedule some nurses want to keep as they age.
Hybrid work can also offer flexibility for nurses while still being a core part of the facility environment. For example, they can attend to management or administrative elements at home or in a more comfortable coworking space. Then, part of their schedule can be focused on in-person patient interactions or training and mentoring roles.
Aging nurses remain an invaluable part of the healthcare landscape. However, facilities and nurses must collaborate on support solutions addressing changing needs. This should include discussing ADA accommodations where needed, providing robust wellness programs, and raising awareness of access to more flexible roles. These more experienced professionals positively impact patients, facilities, and colleagues, so ensuring they can thrive in the workplace is vital.
As an occupational therapist at VA, your expertise could make a huge difference in a Veteran’s life by helping them regain a sense of normalcy.
Employing more than 1,400 occupational therapists and certified occupational therapy assistants, VA provides state-of-the-art, evidence-based care to those who have served our country with dignity and honor.
Now, these Veterans need your assistance in reclaiming the control over their daily lives that will make them feel whole.
An array of expertise
No other discipline measures the functional, physical and cognitive skills that make up the daily lives of our Veterans more than occupational therapy.
These “occupations” – whether at home, school, the workplace, the community or elsewhere – can take on a number of forms. As an occupational therapist at VA, you’ll be able to explore opportunities across the continuum of clinical care.
Areas of practice include:
Traumatic brain injury
Practice where you want
Occupational therapy evaluation and treatment supports Veterans’ engagement in everyday life, and there is no better way to see that than in the variety of settings where you can practice your trade.
Those settings include VA medical centers, outpatient clinics, long-term community living centers and even inside Veterans’ homes through our Home-Based Primary Care program. Telehealth options allow you to meet with your patients virtually and conduct assessments at a distance.
More than just a job
VA offers a remarkable compensation package, with an assortment of benefits that make the job of serving Veterans all the more appealing.
Competitive starting salaries. We offer our employees strong starting salaries based on education, training and experience. We also offer steady growth, with periodic pay raises that address inflation and local market changes.
Flexible schedules. Our employees receive 13-26 paid vacation/personal days, as well as 13 sick days annually with no limit on accumulation, and we celebrate 11 paid federal holidays each year.
Robust insurance. You can choose from a variety of health maintenance organizations or fee-for-service health plans, and all cover preexisting conditions. Additionally, we pay up to 75% of health premiums, a benefit that can continue into retirement.
Education and leadership. We offer ongoing leadership development through every level of employment, whether it is mandatory programs or competitive opportunities. All leadership programs align the organization around a set of core competencies that facilitate career development through continuous learning, coaching/mentoring and assessment throughout your career.
Work at VA
Become an integral part of our patient care team as an occupational therapist, and apply the latest advances in rehabilitative treatment to create the best treatment plans for Veterans.
Trade your student debt for a promising career serving Veterans. If you’re looking for help repaying your student loans, you can qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program with a VA career.
By cancelling loans after 10 years of public service, PSLF removes the burden of student debt on public servants and entices people to work in high-need fields. Because VA is a federal employer, new and existing VA workers with federal student loans may be eligible for this national loan forgiveness program.
Qualifying for the program
The PSLF program forgives your remaining loan balance after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying student loan repayment plan while working full-time for certain employers, like VA.
Right now, the U.S. Department of Education has waived some requirements for applications submitted through Oct. 31, 2022, opening up loan forgiveness to more borrowers.
Still, though, you need qualifying employment to be considered, which is one of many reasons why you should consider a career at VA.
Investing in your future
Despite the short-term waiver that expands PSLF, the program is ongoing, which means that anyone looking for a career at VA can participate once they begin their employment.
But that’s not all VA has to offer. With our Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP), VA employees with qualifying student loans who are in specific, difficult-to-recruit direct patient care positions may receive up to $200,000 over a five-year period.
And for those looking to continue their education, the Employee Incentive Scholarship Program (EISP) offers significant support. This program provides eligible VA employees with tax-free scholarships of up to $41,572 toward the cost of higher education, including tuition, registration fees and books. In return, you agree to work at VA for one to three years after you complete the program.
We offer some of the most comprehensive employee education benefits in the nation, and we work hard to ensure you have access to tools, benefits and training that provide the personal and professional growth needed to take your career to next level.
Work at VA
A job at VA could provide some relief from your student loans and be the next step on your journey to a fulfilling career.
With all that nurses do for our patients, it is only fitting that we do just as much for them, supporting nurses as they grow in their VA career.
Whether at the bedside of a Veteran or working in an outpatient clinic, our nurses deliver quality care and lead the way in innovating how we provide nursing care. Nurses also develop patient safety initiatives, conduct research to improve care delivery, and help guide the next generation of nurses.
VA and schools of nursing around the country offer academic affiliations. These collaborative efforts between VA facilities and the country’s finest nursing schools provide students with clinical experiences that specifically address the unique needs of Veteran population and prepare them to excel in careers at VA.
These partnerships offer nursing students a comprehensive and intensive four-year clinical training. The programs create a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship between nursing schools and VA facilities by giving students the opportunity to engage with faculty and ultimately provide better patient care as they put classroom concepts into practice.
By the end of the program, graduates are fully accustomed to the culture and mission at VA and ready to care for our Veterans.
Transition to practice
For over a decade, VA has promoted Registered Nurse Transition-to-Practice (RNTTP) residency programs to provide a transition from school to the more complex clinical environment for RNs with less than one year of experience.
The comprehensive 12-month curriculum explores the clinical, leadership and professional dimensions of nursing at VA. Post-graduate RNs perform the typical roles, duties, patient care activities and procedures that are carried out by nurses on our team.
Availability varies by location, so contact the nurse educator or nurse recruiter at a facility near you for more information.
VA offers eligible employees and students nursing scholarships to advance their education and skills training through the following programs:
The VA National Education for Employees Program (VANEEP) is offered to employees in a clinical program pursuing first-time licensure in a clinical occupation. Participants can earn their degree faster by attending school full time, with VA covering not only some education costs but also replacement salary while they are enrolled.
The VA Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) program provides an opportunity for outstanding college nursing students to develop clinical competencies at an approved VA Medical Center. VALOR is designed to increase participants’ clinical skills, clinical judgement and critical thinking while caring for our nation’s Veterans. This program provides opportunities for learning with a qualified RN preceptor. Students must have completed their junior year in an accredited baccalaureate nursing program. VALOR students are offered up to 800 hours of salary dollars.
Work at VA
Are you ready to help us heal and care for Veterans so they can thrive in life after military service? Apply for a job as a VA nurse.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are hot topics in the healthcare world, but including a DEI module in our yearly education isn’t enough to address these issues. Policy is a valuable tool, but actual change needs to come from a more personal level, from each and every staff member.
Before we can have a meaningful conversation about DEI that might lead us toward significant change, we need to understand the meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion and why it is important in healthcare.
First, the issues often relate to our biases, especially those so deeply ingrained in our life circumstances that we aren’t aware of them. We can’t advocate for what we don’t understand, and if we don’t advocate for change, we will stay in our “safe” silos, which only strengthens the idea that we are separate and different.
Understanding that we are separate and different and what that means is the first step in making diversity, equity, and inclusion a part of our workspace and nurse recruitment.
Diversity is simply including people with different backgrounds. For example, when healthcare systems conduct nurse staffing while considering different cultural, gender, religious, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic backgrounds, the staff benefits from exposure to differences among coworkers, and patients feel more comfortable knowing they aren’t alone.
Our healthcare system has been lacking in diversity from the beginning, and although we’ve seen a lot of progress since the days when only white males could practice medicine, we are far from diverse.
In one study, over 56% of physicians identified as White and 64% as male, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). According to Minority Nurse, about 75% of RNs identify as White, and 91% are female. So if most doctors and nurses are white, most doctors are male, and most nurses are female, who are we really serving?
When we don’t have a common background, it’s easy to make the mistake of seeing the patient through our own lens instead of their reality. Our lenses place them where we want them to be—fully able and capable of taking the steps we want them to take for their health. The outcomes we desire assume the tools, processes, and understanding are within their reach and that they have the same goals we do.
Textbook knowledge can never make up for the lack of diversity in our own lives. And our lack of understanding of our patients’ reality can lead to misunderstanding or errors in care, creating inequity. Hiring a diverse workforce promotes understanding and creates a more comfortable environment for patients and coworkers alike.
Equity is a concept that often gets confused with equality. In healthcare, equality means giving everybody the same resource or opportunity to achieve their health goals. Equity is recognizing that each person has different circumstances and honoring that by allocating opportunities and resources to allow them to reach an equal outcome.
Simply giving someone an opportunity isn’t enough if they don’t have the means to use it. Equity can only be achieved when nobody is allowed to be disadvantaged due to age, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, geographical background, or socioeconomic status.
Access to life-saving medication is an example of inequity we see every day. A medication that costs hundreds of dollars every month may not be out of reach for someone with superb insurance coverage and a large bank account. For someone whose job doesn’t offer prescription coverage or who doesn’t make a living wage, that life-saving medication is technically available but far out of their reach. Far too many patients fail to fill the prescriptions they need for this reason.
Healthcare policy can promote equity, but we can also change how we treat and educate patients. In our medication example, we could address a patient’s ability to obtain a prescription before they leave the office or hospital. No patient should walk out the door with a prescription they can’t fill.
Inclusion is about deliberately creating a respectful and safe environment for all staff and patients. Inclusion means giving patients and staff a voice in giving and receiving care and encouraging diversity. Healthcare isn’t the place for a one-size-fits-all approach. We must all strive to embrace diversity and promote equity.
Nurses Are Uniquely Positioned to Champion DEI
Nurses may have little say in enacting policy within their healthcare systems but are very likely the first and last staff member a patient sees and the role they interact with most frequently. That close relationship with our patients makes nurses the most important role to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion with our patients, in nursing education, and within our own workspaces.
One of the most essential directives we learned in nursing school may have been to meet patients where they’re at. Let’s add and coworkers to that and, together, we can create a more effective healthcare system that serves all people.
Today’s healthcare landscape has been riddled with hardship and systemic shifts. Large-scale downward trends were highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis, but originated beforehand and will require massive effort to reverse.
Unfortunately, the brunt of these inefficiencies and problems falls disproportionately on certain portions of the medical professional family. One primary example of this is the way problems in healthcare affect nurses. The rising stresses and demands on nursing professionals have initiated a drastic nurse staffing crisis, emptying the nursing ranks across the country, and creating significant employment shortages.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, vacant nursing positions across the United States hover at almost 200,000 openings each year. A number of problems are contributing to this reality and need to be resolved.
1. Nurses Are Often Unreasonably Responsible for the Weight of Patient Advocacy
Historically, nurses have often taken the lion’s share of responsibility for patient advocacy. This can refer to calling for fair and adequate treatment, helping other medical professionals understand the particulars of patient cases and needs, mediating and safeguarding for vulnerable patients, and more.
However, this burden can cause a significant amount of stress, especially when a nurse feels that they are advocating for patients’ needs in the face of apathy or even resistance from fellow medical professionals who might have differing priorities.
2. COVID-19 Requirements Drove Many Nurses Out the Door
COVID-19 requirements and vaccine mandates created huge turbulence for nurses across the medical landscape. Many that disagreed with requirements or how they were put into effect left the workforce. This created another large drain on an already depleted nursing population.
3. Workplace Stress is Compounded for Nurses – It Comes from Both Sides
Nurses often liaise between patients (and their friends or families) and fellow medical staff. When tensions rise; stressful or difficult situations bring out the worst in people; or priorities differ between stakeholders in a patient’s care, nurses can find themselves caught in the middle.
They often have to diffuse the stress exuded by patients, family, partners, and friends as well as helping navigate the stress and difficulties their fellow medical personnel experience. It’s an incredibly difficult job.
5. Current Inefficiencies of Healthcare System Fall More Heavily on Nurses
The nature of nursing roles means that when the medical field experiences turbulence or systemic problems, that uncertainty or strain inordinately affects nurses.
6. The Problem is Self-Propelling: Nurse Shortages Beget More Nursing Shortages
Burnout and the long-term stress of overwork is one of the most critical problems affecting the nursing population. When some nurses quit their jobs or leave a medical facility, or when open positions remain vacant for long periods of time, the existing workload falls on the nurses that remain.
This compounds the stress, overwork, and impossible expectations that remaining nurses experience, making it more likely that those remaining nurses will succumb to the stress as well and leave the workforce.
7. Pandemic’s Effects on Medical Training
COVID-19 created staggering difficulties for medical trainees across the board. Many nursing students that were in school during the height of the pandemic would have lost out on valuable class time or training weren’t able to complete parts of their coursework, or were called up early into the workforce to cover drastic needs and shortages. Many of these new nurses entered employment feeling unprepared and more susceptible to intense stress and burnout, thus ending up more likely to leave the field.
8. Average Nursing Age Looms Over Staffing Projections
The average age of nurses across the country was 50 years old in 2018. The current number of new nurses entering the workforce will not replace the large number of nursing professionals quickly reaching retirement age. If these trends do not change, projections are dire for how nursing shortages will increase over the next decade.
How to Correct These Issues
These large-scale realities are significant and systemic. It will take significant, intentional action to correct course and make the nursing profession more accessible and sustainable. If the healthcare system can take corrective action to lessen the stresses that fall on nurses, make their jobs more secure, and help spread the responsibilities nurses currently hold more collaboratively amongst other medical professionals, we can reverse these trends.