The Aging Nurse in the Workplace

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    A scholarly treatise on the aging of the nursing workforce and its future impact on a failing American healthcare system.


    I haven't written a 'scholarly' anything since college, and I'm not about to start again at this late date. Come didn't really think I was serious, did you?

    What I am going to talk about here is Nursing: Baby Boomer Edition.

    Now, I'll be the first to tell you I'm not really an 'old' nurse---I received my license exactly 14 years ago today---so I don't have as many years on the job as most nurses of a similar vintage. (In the nursing world, that's seasoned, not sagging.) But I do share a number of the same aches and pains, the same worries, and the same indignities as my colleagues who have been in the field for decades.....and it's these that make late midlife as an R.N. "verrrrrry interesteenk".

    Ironically, up until about three years ago I was often mistaken for someone five to ten years younger, even though I was working floor shifts in a LTC facility that whipped my butt every night. Then I hit the half-century mark, and woke up one morning shortly thereafter to find that my mother had taken over the bathroom mirror and wasn't giving it back. Even so, I didn't know I'd aged THAT much until the first day at my current assisted-living position, when two of the residents walked up to me and said sweetly: "Well hello, dear. You must be the new move-in."

    OK, so I'm getting a little gray around the edges. Actually, I'm getting gray all over, so I love it when a gaggle of Boomer nurses, who still have the ticket stubs from the rock concerts they attended back in high school, gathers together in the break room for what I call an "organ concert". This consists of a litany of complaints about the state of our organs. "Ohhhh, my poor dawgs," one will whine as she rubs her aching, bone-dry feet after a grueling 12-hour shift........"You know, he REALLY needs to get that checked out," says another, wrinkling her nose at the cloud of toxic fumes emitted by the dietary aide with gallbladder disease who just dashed in to use the restroom......."I swear, my back is gonna break in two at the waistline if I have to help turn that 500-pounder down in room 216 one more time," groans a third......well, you get the idea.

    Speaking of foul winds........I think Boomers are the first generation in history to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the fact that humans really do have gas. Nurses have been talking about flatus for ages, but we might as well 'fess up the fact that we produce plenty of it, thanks to our lust for the greasy, spicy, fatty fare we consumed in our younger days.

    We are arguably the best-educated and best-fed people who have ever walked the earth, but for some reason we keep forgetting that our middle-aged tummies don't handle pizza and pepperoncini as gracefully as they used to.....with predictable, odoriferous, and often hilarious consequences. (Even my 60-year-old husband, who is NOT a nurse, and I have been known to laugh hysterically when one of us bends over to retrieve the dog's toys from under the sofa and a goose flies out. Just goes to show we never grow too old to get some juvenile jollies over a call from "your son Rip on line toot".)

    But all is not quiet on the Western front, or the Eastern, Northern, or Southern fronts either, when it comes to our future both as nurses and as recipients of health care. We know we're doomed. Most of us will have to continue working, in one form or another, until we're 70 or even older. We don't make enough money to pay for health care ourselves, we make too much to qualify for public assistance, and our employer-paid insurance stinks on ice. But we can count......and one of the scariest numbers is 75+ million. Try as I might, I can't see how the Medicare 'experts' will manage to cram that many Boomers into a system that was designed for only about half that. Forty or fifty years ago, most people just didn't live long enough to draw benefits for decades; now, it's expected that the majority of us will live at least another fifteen, and maybe even twenty or more years beyond official Medicare age. Now who's going to pay for all the care we're going to need as we grow older? And who's going to replace us in the workforce?

    I don't know about you, but I like my plan better than anything the politicians have come up with so far: I'm just going to work until I literally can't put one foot in front of the other any longer, and then I'm going to go out into the woods like the ancient Native Americans did, and allow nature to take its course. No nursing homes for me with their tile floors and their understaffing; no cardboard box in an alley with no warmth and only the street rats for company. If I've learned anything in these years of being a Boomer nurse, it's this: sometimes, there are worse things than dying. And being destitute, elderly, and sick in a world that views such people with contempt is, to my mind, one of them.

    Now if I could just remember where I put that letter I was writing to my Congressman, I could really bring older nurses' concerns to the forefront of..........oh crap, what was I talking about again??
    cjsbaskets, elprup, joyouter, and 42 others like this.

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  2. About VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

    VivaLasViejas has '17' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'LTC, assisted living, geriatrics, psych'. From 'The Great Northwest'; 55 Years Old; Joined Sep '02; Posts: 25,268; Likes: 36,787.

    Read more articles from VivaLasViejas

    50 Comments so far...

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    Well said Viva! I will be 62 in October and have been at this for 28 years. There is no end in sight I'm afraid. I dream of winning the lottery but I always forget to buy a ticket! Nurses in my age group talk all the time about the eventual end of our careers and we are all pretty determined not to end up in miserable circumstances if we can help it. If you have been on the job for any length of time you do know that there are fates worse than death. Humor covers the fear. We've been around a while and we know the deal.
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    I'm there with you sister
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    [QUOTE=cherryames1949;5349525 I dream of winning the lottery but I always forget to buy a ticket! [/QUOTE]

    That's me in a nutshell! Every morning I drive past the big Powerball billboard on my way to work, and when the jackpot edges north of $100 million I tell myself I am going to buy a ticket. I never remember to do it though, probably because I'm so thoroughly convinced that I was never meant to have an easy life, and if God wanted me to be rich He'd have provided me with the means to get there.
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    I am in my fifties and most of my co workers are my age or older, no one is talking retirement. Many are working in lower physical jobs such as home care and case management.
    cherryames1949 and VivaLasViejas like this.
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    That's one of the reasons why I opted for assisted living. I don't have to do any of the physical stuff (unless I choose to, and sometimes I do help out to get the resident and/or staff through a crisis) and can pretty much pace myself during the course of a typical day---no one is holding me to a 2-hour window to get all my meds passed etc.
    cherryames1949 likes this.
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    in the same boat my wife & I both have 35 years in & need 9 more to reach 65. we joke that by the time we get there they will have increased the age so no one will live long enough to retire.looks like cat food & beer diet upcoming!!
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    I plan on floating out on my lone ice berg or whatever it is called like an Eskimo. May have to do it before the body wears out because the money will be gone first. I'm a boomer who can't find a job. 50 and out of work is not what I had planned. Hopefully God takes me before starvation or a cold night under the over pass. The future is scary.
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    Quote from DSkelton711
    I plan on floating out on my lone ice berg or whatever it is called like an Eskimo. May have to do it before the body wears out because the money will be gone first. I'm a boomer who can't find a job. 50 and out of work is not what I had planned. Hopefully God takes me before starvation or a cold night under the over pass. The future is scary.
    I was in your shoes only a year ago myself; if you care to, you can check out the "Fired After 50" series I wrote here in this blog. I'd gotten laid off from my charge-nurse job in LTC due to chronically low census, plus the inconvenient knee surgery I had to have around the same time. I put out a gazillion resumes, and actually got lots of nibbles, but nobody really wanted to take a chance on a broken-down old grey mare like me, except one other LTC that worked its nurses into the ground routinely and recruited for new ones every few months when their staff got injured or burned out.

    But where the Lord closes a door, He opens another one, and just as I thought I was washed-up for good, along came the best job I've ever had, which was offered to me by a Gen-X'er who is fortunately wise beyond his 44 years. I didn't really want to be salaried, and I REALLY didn't want to work a 40-hour week, but I learned early on in the job hunt that unemployment benefits don't stretch as far as they need to, and he persuaded me rather easily to take the job as it was offered........and I've never looked back. I fully expect to still be in this position, or one very much like it, when I hang up my steth another 15 years or so from now.
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    Thanks Viva! I went out on temp disability (not work related) but I have got to work. Will read your blog for ideas. Glad you found something and it is working out so well. I just assume that someday my turn will come.
    VivaLasViejas likes this.

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