What You Need To Know About Older Nurses: Myths and Realities

Today’s nursing force is aging with an average age of 44 and average retirement age at 61 Current strategies to address the continued nursing shortage includes retaining older nurses and delaying retirement for those leaving the workforce prematurely. However, stereotypes of older nurses is common in healthcare and can lead to early retirement-further complicating the nursing shortage


  • Columnist
    Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 30 years experience.
What You Need To Know About Older Nurses:  Myths and Realities

The words "older adult" often produces a stereotypical image of someone who is sick, slow, frail and senile. As I age, I am guilty of thinking aging is all about decreasing... decreasing physically and decreasing mentally. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing 2015 Nursing Workforce Study reported 50% of registered nurses and 46% of licensed vocational nurses are over the age of 50. Institutions are exploring ways to retain these older nurses in a strategy to maintain the nursing workforce as nurse baby boomers retire. However, ageism is a threat to the profession's ability to maintain enough nurses in the workforce to meet the healthcare needs of our aging population.

If you are in search of a lively discussion, just ask the question "At what age should a nurse retire? The conversation will most likely be divided and laced with stereotypes of older individuals. It is realistic older nurses experience more chronic disease and may find the physical demands of nursing challenging. This generation may also be less comfortable with the use of technology. However, negative stereotypes and myths of older nurses remain a threat to the nursing profession. Let's explore deeper the realities and myths surrounding aging nurses.

Older Nurses Do Not Have The Physical Strength Needed For Job Role

It is true the body does experience a small decrease in muscle strength from ages 40 to 65. There are many muscles in the body and they decrease in strength at different rates. Therefore, there is no one test that assesses a person's overall strength. A nurse with many years of experience has most likely developed successful strategies in meeting physical aspects of a job. In addition, nurses maintain muscle strength with the day-to-day walking, lifting and carrying that comes with the job.

A benefit to a career in nursing is the diverse settings nurses, both young and older, are needed. Many jobs outside of the hospital and bedside nursing are less physically demanding. These jobs require the experience and expertise that is prevalent in older nurses.

  • Nurse Educators- Nursing programs are currently turning away students, due to the shortage of nurse faculty, at a time when the need for nurses continue to grow. Outside of the classroom, older nurses experience is knowledge is needed to fill clinical instructor positions. Nurse educators are also hired by medical device companies, textbook publishers, community clinics and others.
  • Public Health Nurse- These nurses focus on the health of a community, school, community organization and community health clinics.
  • Occupational Health Nurse- Serves employees of a business to promote overall health, safety and injury prevention

Older Nurses Think Slower And Are Less Productive

Managers and co-workers are often concerned that older nurses have trouble meeting the mental demands of nursing. Posthuma and Campion (2009) synthesized over 100 studies on stereotypes of older workplace employees One theme that emerged is the stereotype older workers are less motivated and lack competence. It is true, especially with bedside nursing, that productivity declines with age. The Occupational Outlook Handbook (2016) reports 61% of nurses work in a hospital, however, many nurses successfully work bedside beyond age 65. In addition, the nursing profession offers jobs in a wide range of areas and settings.

Older Nurses Do Not Like Change And Are Stuck In The Past.

This is a myth and can easily be dispelled with 3 key points. First, baby boomers typical place a large amount of trust in leadership and in the strategies of their leaders. However, it is important to the older employee that they understand how change supports new strategies and how it will benefit or improve their ability to perform a job role. Second, older nurses bring knowledge that only years of expertise can provide. Through mentoring and informal teaching, older nurses can pass their knowledge on to newer, less experienced nurses. Third, older nurses stay informed of new standards, skills and healthcare changes through to their state board of nursing continuing education requirements and workplace training.

Older Nurses Call Out And Use More Sick Time

Although older individuals have more chronic illness, young and older workers actually have similar absentee rates. In addition, studies have shown younger workers have more acute illness than older workers.

Consequences Of Stereotypes

Ultimately, ageism in nursing negatively impacts the patient's experience. Stereotypes can make an older nurse feel unwelcomed and unappreciated. Older nurses may feel pressure to retire- leading to a staffing gap in a healthcare environment that is already understaffed. As our population continues to age, older nurses understand the aging experience. Having nurses on staff that understand their specific needs significantly improves the patient experience. Older nurses are valuable to the community and nursing profession.

What you can do to address ageism in nursing

  • Reflect on your own views about aging and the older nurse
  • Be aware of common stereotypes and your own attitudes that reflect ageism
  • Avoid telling or laughing at jokes with themes of ageism
  • Avoid gossip about the performance of an older peer.
  • Acknowledge how older nurses benefit the patients in your setting.

A Final Thought

Being aware of the realities and myths are the first step in supporting older nurses. Experienced nurses bring a wealth of knowledge that is valuable to younger nurses and patients. With the looming nursing shortage, it is important for the nursing community to continue identifying strategies to retain aging nurses.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, (2017). Nursing Shortage Fact Sheet, Nursing Shortage Nurse Journal (2018).

155 Super Great Non-hospital Nursing Jobs for Nurses. 15 Super Great Non-Hospital Nursing Jobs for Nurses | 218 NurseJournal.org Stokowske, L. (2008).

Old but not out: the aging nurse in today's workforce. Medscape: Medscape Access The NTAR Leadership Center


RN, MSN with over 20 years nursing experience in bedside nursing, hospice, management and nurse faculty. Openly writes about experience as a nurse in recovery for addiction. Read J.Adderton's Blog for additional articles. https://allnurses.com/member-1231877/blog.html

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Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

2 Articles; 6,840 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 12 years experience.

Another one: Older nurses can't adjust to new technology.

Personally I ADORE working with older nurses. They have more experience and interventions stored in their pinky finger than I can ever hope to learn.


J.Adderton, BSN, MSN

168 Articles; 496 Posts

Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 30 years experience.

Thank you for bringing up technology. I enjoy it too.


8,343 Posts

Has 18 years experience.

Hey, if my employer paid out a percentage of banked sick credits upon retirement, they'd see a huge reduction in sick hours in the last few years of a nurses career. Right now we can bank 999 hours of pais sick leave. The day I retire, it disappears. Those are hours of pat I've technically earned by not using them. I book my appointments on days off.

Offer me a 25% pay out of unused sick hours and I can guarantee there would be a reduction of usage prior to retirement.

I've worked in the past for employers who paid out up to 50% of unused sick hours when you left their employment for any reason.

Trauma Columnist

traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

153 Articles; 21,229 Posts

Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 31 years experience.

Me three...

CapeCodMermaid, RN

6,090 Posts

Specializes in Gerontology, Med surg, Home Health. Has 30 years experience.

I'm an older nurse....63....no thoughts of retiring. I can still run circles around the young nurses who complain they're tired after working two days in a row.


389 Posts

I really love the "afraid of technology" one.. I'm 47 and was building my own pc's from parts 25+ years ago. I feel sorry for the generations that follow, because they often don't understand the underpinnings or how badly they're being abused by poorly written and conceived technology for tech sake.

Why does a patient need to write their name on the top of 19 forms on admission. Why does a nurse need to individually sign off on six meds instead of filling in a checkbox for each. Why do you need to chart the same data into two or three systems that don't talk to each other.

There's so much technical barf on the medical computer side of things that paper charts were often easier to use and maintain. Saying that doesn't mean I'm afraid of technology, it means I can tell time.

Specializes in critical care, ER,ICU, CVSURG, CCU.

I'm 69yr/ 46+ years a RN, still got game, and still working....failed attempts to retire x4 ..... all be it I work home health now, comparing majority career in critical care.....I could pull a 12 hr shift in ER, but would be exhausted a bit......

Specializes in critical care, ER,ICU, CVSURG, CCU.

I welcome change, it is challenging

Have Nurse, ADN, RN

15 Articles; 719 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg/Infection Control/Geriatrics. Has 33 years experience.
not.done.yet said:
Another one: Older nurses can't adjust to new technology.

Personally I ADORE working with older nurses. They have more experience and interventions stored in their pinky finger than I can ever hope to learn.

Thank you. And some family members prefer an older more experienced nurse. (smile)

allnurses Guide

hppygr8ful, ASN, RN, EMT-I

4 Articles; 4,776 Posts

Specializes in Psych, Addictions, SOL (Student of Life). Has 21 years experience.

The whole technology thing is really a myth. I am an older nurse (56) but when Our facility went paperless a year ago I was one of the first to fully comprehend the changeover and became a master trainer for the facility. Many younger nurses struggled with the change.

I do psych so not a lot of heavy duty bedside nursing but I do have to keep my wits and reflexes sharp.



1 Post

I graduated from nursing school at age 60 in May 2017 with a BSN. I passed my NCLEX in June 2017. Since then I have had two jobs. My first job was in the mental health unit at a maximum security prison. I lasted two months. A month later I was hired at an inpatient acute care hospice facility. I loved the job and my fellow nurses. However, the only shift available was the night shift. I resigned after nine and half months. Three 12s, 7p to 7a wore me out. I started feeling ill. My BP was 188/105. Now I'm not sure where I can go. Night shift is out of the question and 12 hour shifts are still on the table but not desirable. I am an Army veteran and real team player. Any suggestions for someone at my age with less than two years nursing experience?