Age Discrimination in Nursing

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    Have you experienced age discrimination? This writer says it exists, and it's real. Maybe you are having a hard time getting hired, or worse yet, you've lost your job for flimsy reasons. Here are some tips to help.

    Age Discrimination in Nursing

    Ageism is pervasive in our society. It's not news to anyone that our society values youth and devalues age. It seems that the worst choice you can make is to grow old.

    Older people are often mistakenly seen as irrelevant, slow, and a burden on society.
    Getting old is deeply feared by many and not without reason. Women are coy about their age. Anti-aging products are a gagillion dollar industry.

    Likewise, there is ageism in nursing. Jobs go to younger applicants. Older nurses are squeezed out and replaced by younger nurses. If you show up to an interview with wrinkles, are you automatically disqualified?

    Yes. Yes, you may be.

    There are laws to prevent age discrimination. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (amended in 1986) says that it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against you if you are over 40 (no upper cap on age). However, this is not likely to help an aging nurse even if she/he is being discriminated against.

    But here are some tips to help you in the workplace and when interviewing for a job.

    On the Job

    What does age discrimination look like on the job? Perhaps you've experienced or witnessed some of the following:

    Are you frequently asked about your retirement plans?
    Are you excluded socially?
    Have you been passed over for a promotion?
    Have you watched incredulously while a nurse with one year's experience is selected to be Charge Nurse?

    Maybe you just know that age discrimination exists in your workplace, but it is hard to put your finger on.

    Stereotypes

    Stereotypes of older workers exist and they can be inaccurate and damaging.


    • Older nurses are slower. They cannot keep up.
    • Older workers are resistant to change. They are rigid and set in their ways.
    • Older workers cannot understand technology.

    What other generalizations are you aware of?

    What you can do to mitigate age discrimination

    The law is not going to help you. Age discrimination is difficult to prove, even if you are inclined to spend the time and money. What you can do is change yourself.

    Do not internalize society's views on aging. In other words, do not drink the Kool-aid. Do not draw attention to your age.
    • Do not repeatedly say "Back in my day" or "When I started nursing, we had 25 patients and no IV pumps..." Do not refer to yourself as "old". Daily at my work, I hear co workers brand themselves as "old" and I wince.
    • Resist the temptation to talk about your aches and pains or point out to others that you can no longer read up close without glasses.
    • Have a positive focus. You have valuable life experience. You have a strongly established work ethic, you are not going to get pregnant. You have learned to play well in the sandbox with others....what else, my over 40 friends?

    Stay Vibrant

    What age are you projecting? Pay attention to your personal appearance. What is it saying about you? Is your appearance age appropriate?
    • Stay fit and healthy- this is half the game. Never give up. Sit up straight with your back not touching the chair. Cultivate a spring in your step and a light in your eye.
    • Project energy and enthusiasm.
    • Pay attention to the vibe you are projecting and your energy aura. Energy is attractive. Be passionate. Use words like energy and motivated in your interview.

    Stay Relevant/Stay in Touch

    Stay relevant in your field. Practice is changing a mile a minute. Read journals and pursue continuing education. Be known as the nurse with the latest evidence-based information. Be a life long learner. Intellectual curiosity is your ally.

    Stay culturally relevant. For example, occasionally listen to current popular music (have you used Shazaam this week?), and be aware of beauty/fashion trends.

    If you have a sixteen year old in your life (like my niece), you have an automatic pipeline to the latest everything. Try new restaurants. Be open-minded. Stay tuned in.

    Create Your Own Value

    Create a niche for yourself. What does that mean? You can be the unit expert on 12 EKGs, or blood gas interpretation.

    You can be comfortably confident by virtue of maturity. No limp handshakes for you. You know how to make eye contact and conduct yourself socially.

    Emphasize your technology skills. Put your LinkedIn url on your resume as a contact. If your email account is aol, change it to firstname.lastname @gmail.com.

    Don't be Your Own Worst Enemy

    Do not compare yourself to others who are younger. I was at an interview where an older woman giggled and said "Well, you young people will have to help me on the computer". Did she think she was flattering the interviewers? It was not funny, it was not cute, and she was not hired.

    How about this instead "The other day on Twitter I read an article by Forbes about self-governance in nursing. Is that something you do here?"

    Age discrimination may not seem real until you've experienced it. It's easy to regard growing older as something that happens to other people (old people?) and not to themselves. But it's a fact of life.

    As a wise woman once said to a young girl...

    "As you are, I was. As I am, you'll be."

    What is your experience regarding ageism in nursing? Please share, I'd love to hear.
    Last edit by Nurse Beth on Sep 4, '15
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    About Nurse Beth, MSN, RN

    Nurse Beth blogs at http://nursecode.com and is on Twitter @bhawkesrn Follow me for informative and entertaining articles on nursing.

    Nurse Beth has '20+' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho'. From 'Bakersfield, CA'; Joined Mar '07; Posts: 741; Likes: 2,395.

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    104 Comments

  3. by   traumaRUs
    Thanks Beth.

    As someone in my ummm....middle 50's, it is very important to smile, smile, smile and be enthusiastic.
  4. by   travelNP
    There is also age discrimination of young nurses too. This is unfortunate, as we would like to look to older nurses as mentors.
  5. by   Nurse Beth
    Quote from travelNP
    There is also age discrimination of young nurses too. This is unfortunate, as we would like to look to older nurses as mentors.
    Discrimination of any kind is unfortunate. I'm sorry if you are talking about your own experience..? Personally, I love to mentor new nurses and pretty much do it constantly. It's rewarding.
    Last edit by Nurse Beth on Sep 2, '15 : Reason: typ0
  6. by   meanmaryjean
    I have a MSN in Education and 30+ years experience. I didn't even merit an interview when the unit educator position opened up.

    And the social exclusion - it is real, and hurtful. Age discrimination in nursing is real, and it sucks.
  7. by   GloriaMe
    I've been a nurse for over 35 years and have never worked anywhere for longer than 9 years. I have been laid off 5 times due to mergers, businesses going out of business and at my last job, which I thought I would have forever, the hospital outsourced my department and downsized the rest of the hospital. However, I've always tried my best to really know my job and do it well, and found myself throughout my career years, bouncing around from one specialty area to other completely different specialty areas. So when my last job permanently laid me off, I being a healthy 65 years old, decided to go back to school work on my DNP and take certification courses in those nursing activities I'd always longed to have and do.

    When I'm finally done or nearly done, I hope there will be a job waiting for me in a place where I'd like to live, or I'll just start my own nursing business. I love mentoring and hope to do lots of that, too. No one better tell me I'm too old or not current in nursing.
  8. by   Nurse Beth
    Quote from GloriaMe
    I've been a nurse for over 35 years and have never worked anywhere for longer than 9 years. I have been laid off 5 times due to mergers, businesses going out of business and at my last job, which I thought I would have forever, the hospital outsourced my department and downsized the rest of the hospital. However, I've always tried my best to really know my job and do it well, and found myself throughout my career years, bouncing around from one specialty area to other completely different specialty areas. So when my last job permanently laid me off, I being a healthy 65 years old, decided to go back to school work on my DNP and take certification courses in those nursing activities I'd always longed to have and do.

    When I'm finally done or nearly done, I hope there will be a job waiting for me in a place where I'd like to live, or I'll just start my own nursing business. I love mentoring and hope to do lots of that, too. No one better tell me I'm too old or not current in nursing.
    I love your attitude! And I think how you think about yourself is how others see you. I'm thinking of getting my DNP as well and you are inspiring.
  9. by   sirI
    Great Article, Nurse Beth.
  10. by   Wrench Party
    Just a thought:

    When going for your interview, simple hydration, minimal makeup, adequate sleep and flattering clothing can work wonders for confidence.

    Unfortunately, dehydration, lack of sleep and stress can make wrinkles and dark circles a lot more pronounced.

    (I really do like more experienced nurses for their attitudes, their knowledge and their wicked senses of humor, and the way they school us younguns. Just trying to be helpful.)

    I'm going to go hide behind this bag now!

  11. by   Jules A
    I'm dipping my toes in this pool as someone in their early 50s and also someone who firmly believes we need to know when it is time to retire. Not saying there is a set age just that imo it is not practical to think we as nurses or physicians will be competent and physically adept to practice well into our dotage.

    That said the advice here is invaluable. I'm a very youthful 50 something, not that my face doesn't show the hard miles, but my body is in good shape, I work out like a beast, my energy level is high and I spend so much time working with younger peers and adolescent patients that I can't help but be cool. Plus I curse like a sailor. Lol or at least my delusion is that I'm still cool for an old chick. Actually my coworker friends who I get together a few times a month for happy hour or dinner are all in their 30s and 40s and they keep asking me so hopefully its genuine.

    FWIW I'm also extremely generous with my time and knowledge with social workers, nurses, techs and other coworkers. The only reason I know 1/2 of what I know is thanks to the older, experienced folks who were kind and generous with me and I feel it is crucial to pay it forward.
  12. by   Donna Maheady
    Hi Beth,
    Great article and suggestions!
    I would also like to add that age discrimination happens in academic life as well. As more and nurses are getting advanced degrees, it can be harder for older nurse educators to find work. In a system based on tenure....committees look at will he/she be around long enough to get tenure?
    Also, younger faculty members are less expensive...so follow the money.
  13. by   djh123
    I got my license at 54, then couldn't even get an interview at the bigger 2 hospitals here, while one of them hired numerous of my classmates, and it's not like I was in the bottom of my class (I was probably in the middle, roughly). Part of it was my own fault re: waiting a while to decide to try for a hospital (was having gall bladder problems, first was thinking home health and a few other types of nursing), but still: no one ASKED me anything as to why it had been a few months. I did have interviews at 2 smaller specialty hospitals, a psych hospital, and a larger hospital in a nearby city ... all not only no, one didn't even TELL me no.

    In general I thought the interviews went well, but at the same time, I think I was misunderstood, misinterpreted ... this is why I've always hated interviewing period, including my first career (although I rarely had trouble finding a job in my first career).

    So only because another older student sent me a link to a large corp's 3 local LTC facilities, saying 'I heard they need people', did I end up totally by accident in a LTC facility. I'm not the greatest/best/smartest/fastest, but you know what? For the most part, doctors, coworker nurses, family members, friends, social workers, med techs - at least 90% of the people I deal with at work - seem to think I'm good, competent, give a ****, etc. I bust my *** every day at work. I missed a week due to gall bladder surgery, missed another day once for an important dr. appt., but otherwise haven't missed a day in 2.5 years. And as far as being 'fast' or not, I think one manager's perception of me being a little 'slow' (when I hadn't been there very long) was actually because I was getting some of the things done that few other nurses on my unit ever bothered to do, such as looking at when insulins were expiring, who needed them ordered, etc.

    So yeah, this post clearly hits a nerve with me. I've even thought - more than once - of taking out a large ad in the local paper when I leave town, blasting the local hospitals for how they ignored me. No, I probably won't do it, but put yourself in my shoes and you might see why I'm angry about that, even a few years later.
  14. by   Deborahreeves
    Just have to say about some of the "tips" for older nurses like "stay fit and healthy" Really? Some age related illnesses are beyond our control. Arthritis? One of the worst things for a nurse to have. Back issues from all the years of lifting and bending even if you use proper body mechanics? It is a fact of life that as we age we don't have the energy a younger person, who is not lazy, has. We don't bounce back from 12 hr shifts and night shifts. Give us a break. How about allowing older nurses to have less taxing postions if possible instead of saying things like "sit up straight", don't complain, don't even mention your reading glasses (not good to try to start and IV without them) You would think as nurses we would understand the aging process. And believe me I know about ageism. My last job was phased out and do you think a hospital is going to hire a 63 yr old as opposed to a younger nurse? Uh, no...

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