In conversations with nurses around the country, I hear from older nurses who feel their age is a significant liability in today’s nursing job market. While age discrimination can be a valid concern to remember, older nurses can also leverage their professional history and life experience as a plus for employers seeking accomplished nurses with much to contribute as highly skilled healthcare professionals.
Age and the Nursing Shortage
According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey conducted in partnership with The National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers (the 2022 study results will be released sometime in 2023), the median age of RNs is 52, up from 51 in 2017.
With an ongoing nursing shortage projected through 2030 by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and numerous others, employers are not in the position to look a gift horse in the mouth when an older nurse applies.
When it comes to the numbers, there are so many nursing jobs in need of qualified candidates, and, more often than we would like, there need to be more nurses in the market. This is worrisome. As Auerbach et al stated in their April 2022 article in the journal Health Affairs, the total supply of RNs dropped by 100,000 in 2021, the most significant single-year drop in four decades. This is a universal cause for concern.
Enter: The Older Nurse
Despite older nurses’ understandable concerns that employers will pass them by for younger applicants, there may not be enough 20- and 30-something nurses to go around. There’s something to be said for length of experience, and a nurse with several decades behind them has something unique to bring to the table. Unfortunately, while younger nurses just out of school or with less than ten years of experience have fresh perspectives and energy, employers ignore older nurses’ gifts and potential contributions at their peril.
We can attest that age discrimination can cut both ways. For example, some hiring managers or HR professionals may have an inherent bias against younger, less experienced nurses, just as others may look askance at those with more years under their belts.
Truly, nurses of all ages and levels of expertise and experience have unique qualities, and this variety is healthy for the profession, the healthcare system, and employing institutions. With four generations of nurses active in the workforce (i.e., Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millennials, and Gen Z’ers), each cohort can be avidly embraced, especially with a significant nursing shortage with no end in sight.
The Argument for the Older Nurse
If you’re an older nurse (e.g., 40s, 50s, or beyond), there are many arguments to make for your continued relevance. Of course, you don’t want to unnecessarily make your age an issue on your resume, cover letter, or job interview. Still, there are subtle ways in which you can leverage your status as an older, more experienced nurse in your favor.
Experience: Let’s face it — experience counts a lot in most cases. An L&D nurse with 22 years of experience has seen a thing or two. Their ability to contribute to patient safety, the delivery of high-quality care, positive outcomes, and patient education should be considered. If you’ve cared for hundreds of laboring moms and attended hundreds of births, you have valuable experience to draw upon. On your resume, in your cover letter, and during interviews, you can tout your volume of experience as a big plus for why hiring you would be smart.
Maturity and life experience: Maturity isn’t always proportional to age (I’ve known teenagers who are significantly more mature than most 30- or 40-somethings), but we can, by and large, figure that experience and exposure to the slings and arrows of life hold some value. Without explicitly drawing attention to your chronological age, you can communicate how your life experience (e.g., as a parent, a nurse, a citizen, etc.) gives you an edge.
Longevity of employment: A clear bias exists (at least in the media) that Millennials and Gen Z’ers are likelier to ditch an employer when they feel their current position has outlived its usefulness for their careers. Like any bias, its validity is highly debatable; however, what’s not debatable is that older nurses can be very clear when describing their track record of employer loyalty (if that’s the verifiable case, of course), and their desire for a new professional home where they plan to stay for a significant amount of time.
Keep Your Head Held High
You can walk into an interview with your head high as an older nurse. Professional experience, life experience, and relative maturity are factors that any prudent employer will consider.
During an interview, the older nurse can point out that, with onboarding new employees costing tens of thousands of dollars, hiring well is essential, not to mention nurse retention. With a clear demonstration of past workplace loyalty, you can verbalize how you plan to stick around, become a valued employee, and deliver a significant return on investment.
We need newer and more experienced nurses in the nursing workforce, and older nurses can leverage the ongoing nursing shortage to their advantage. However, your value should not be questioned, so make your case loud and clear.
Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.