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Age Discrimination in Nursing

Updated | Published

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.

by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist)

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Have you experienced age discrimination?

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 lifelong 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.

Nurse Beth is an Educator, Writer, Blogger and Subject Matter Expert who blogs about nursing career advice at http://nursecode.com

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114 Comment(s)

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN, CNS

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 27 years experience.

Thanks Beth.

As someone in my ummm....middle 50's, it is very important to smile, smile, smile and be enthusiastic.

travelNP

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner. Has 8 years experience.

There is also age discrimination of young nurses too. This is unfortunate, as we would like to look to older nurses as mentors.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

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.

Edited by Nurse Beth
typ0

meanmaryjean, DNP, RN

Specializes in NICU, ICU, PICU, Academia. Has 44 years experience.

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.

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.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

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.

sirI, MSN, APRN, NP

Specializes in Education, FP, LNC, Forensics, ED, OB. Has 30 years experience.

Great Article, Nurse Beth.

Wrench Party

Specializes in Cardiology, Cardiothoracic Surgical. Has 3 years experience.

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!

:blink:

Jules A, MSN

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner.

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.

Donna Maheady

Specializes in Pediatrics, developmental disabilities. Has 38 years experience.

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.

djh123

Specializes in LTC, Rehab. Has 5 years experience.

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.

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...

Rose_Queen, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in OR, education. Has 16 years experience.

I guess my department is the exception. We have a lot of staff with a lot of seniority (and yes, those with a lot of seniority are older)- there are quite a few nurses and surgical techs who have been working in my department since before I was born. Even those of us who have been working there for over 10 years haven't been able to move up on the seniority list high enough to be exempt from working evening shift. The older staff are the ones most frequently asked to fill in as interim management, although most do not want the position permanently as they prefer being clinical instead. It seems those who leave are the younger ones, and the older ones will be there until they retire with no worries of being pushed out the door.

NurseGirl525, ASN, RN

Specializes in ICU.

I will be turning 40 in a few months. When I start looking for a job next year, I feel that being a little older gives me many advantages that I intend to bring forth in an interview. I'm a lot more stable and don't have that drama that comes with those 20 years younger than me. But, I also will not reveal my age and to be honest, I don't think you can tell with me. I am fortunate to have inherited some great genes in the wrinkle dept. My grandma in her 70s did not have a single wrinkle on her face. I also take care of my skin and wear sunscreen every day. When I get carded, I'm often told well, I never would have guessed that!!

I also agree with wearing the correct clothing, make-up, and hair style. I have always said, never skimp on your hair and face. They are two of the most important assets that you have so take care of them. I don't dress super young, but I keep up on what's fashionable and dress for my body-type, something I find that the younger generation cannot seem to do. And never wear your make-up too heavy or a kind that cakes. Those get stuck in wrinkles and make you look older. I don't buy super expensive make-up, but I try it out and buy what works for me and my face. No dark lipstick either. That can make you look older also.

You can use your age to your advantage, just use it appropriately. Know how to use technology, be up on the latest techniques. I just had a conversation the other day with some nursing instructors about not having to aspirate when doing IM injections. They were talking about it and I had said how I read an article on that earlier in the year. There is nothing wrong with spending 20-30 minutes here and there knowing the latest techniques and newest technology. Whether or not you agree with it, you at least know what is going on in the world of nursing.

I do struggle with my weight, but I do work out and keep myself healthy. I take care of myself. And since I dress for my body type, you can't tell my weight too much. One of my new favorite activities is Brazilian Jujitsu. It doesn't kill me and it teaches me great self defense. I've come to realize that sport is all about physics with your body. It's not necessarily about being the strongest, it's about how to use your body and leverage to your advantage. I can run circles around other people.

Also, keep up on your interview skills and have updated resumes. Writing a resume that is the same way you have always written it will also date you. Resume writing has come a long way even in the last 10 years. Research what employers are looking for and have good interview skills. Nurse Beth is absolutely correct to have a firm handshake, look the interviewer in the eyes, and smile. Exude confidence. You have a short period of time to convince this company to hire you. Use it to your advantage and make the right lasting impression. Not the wrong impression which I find many people do. So, you need to rehearse it in your mind. Have an idea of what you are going to say. There is a pretty standard list of questions they may ask, so plan it out in your mind.

You only have one chance to make a great impression. Once it's gone, it's gone.

Jensmom7, BSN, RN

Specializes in Hospice. Has 36 years experience.

When I interviewed for the Hospice company I now work for, I actually think my age worked for me (I'm 58).

I brought 36 years of Nursing experience with me, including the critical thinking skills that are still important, even in Hospice.

I know what I want to be doing until I retire.

suseliz, MSN, RN

Specializes in Family Practice, Med-Surg. Has 40 years experience.

We have to be realistic about aging. I am a very young looking 62, but left my job a year ago. I could not keep up with the corporate demands of my family practice NP practice. I think I was doing very well, but had no life outside of work due to exhaustion. Age discrimination, I'm sure. I was turned down for a job 5 years ago, I'm sure it was my age.

macfar28

Has 20 years experience.

There does seem to be a pattern here at my present hospital of older nurses being picked apart and needled over small, insignificant things. It has left me wondering if this is because they can bring in 2 new grads for the cost of one of our experienced nurses. I hate to think that way but I can't help it.

We are going to mandatory 12 hour shifts in a month and many of our older nurses are taking early retirement. (They don't feel they have the stamina and have always worked 8s.) I'm talking nurses who are the backbone of this organization. In fact one, whom I admire greatly, precepted me in my clinical rotation on this very unit 20 years ago. We are all very sad.