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Nurse workforce getting younger

Noted healthcare analyst Peter Buerhaus, RN, PhD, FAAN, recently told a group of East coast nurses that the nursing workforce is getting younger.

Buerhaus, the Valere Potter Professor of Nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, has studied trends in nursing employment for many years, with an eye toward the predicted nurse shortage.  On average, nurses today are older than nurses of the past.  In 1983, half of the nurse workforce was under 35; by 2003, only a quarter of all nurses were under 35. 

Recently, though, there’s been a jump in the number of younger nurses entering the workforce.  90,000 young nurses were added to the workforce in 2003.  The trend toward younger nurses continues, with a signficant increase in the number of young nurses noted in 2008.  Buerhaus says the increase in younger RNs corresponds with the increase in nursing school enrollment which began in 2001.

However, nurses between the ages of 50 and 64 are still the fastest-growing segment of the nurse workforce.  Buerhaus hypothesizes that recent economic conditions have contributed to the retention of older RNs; when the economy improves, many older RNs plan to retire.

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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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3 Responses to Nurse workforce getting younger

  1. Karen G. Miles

    I’m one of those older nurses hoping to retire before the stress of med-surg floor turns me out demented. I have experienced days of wild stress because the floor is short staffed. Therefore, I really appreciate hearing stories of all the new young nurses graduating school. However, hearing about the thousands of nurses also fills me with concern. Are all these new nurses really nursing material?

    Years of nursing has reinforced my belief that nurses are born, not made. Nursing schools’ only function is to give nurses the tools they need to express what’s inside. Are the new nurses, or even returning older nurses, only coming to the work force because the pay is so good? Is there enough brain matter to do the critical thinking required? More important, are they willing to go the extra ethical mile to not only meet the employer’s required work load but to do the real nursing and meet the needs of their patients? Or is their sense of entitlement in the way? Do they think of nursing as only a job to further their personal goals? Do they realize nursing is a way of life? Or am I so old school I no longer fit into nursing?

    It seems that since the nursing shortage, the schools have been forced to lower their standards and can no longer be relied upon to weed out those who are not nursing material. Maybe that is why employers are looking more at older nurses.

    I used to find it objectionable to hear the saying nurses eat their young. Now I am not so sure that is all too bad. Of course I still go out of my way to support new nurses, precepting, orienting, mentoring, guiding. Our med-surg floor is very supportive. But if after months of guiding, a nurse doesn’t get it, or has another excuse why he/she did not follow safe protocol, maybe this new employee is just not nursing material after all. Maybe the phrase should be changed from nurses eat their young, to nurses eat young that’s not theirs.

  2. Diane

    First, I had to laugh, then nod my head in agreement. But the part of nurses eating their young? I think it’s nursing bullying and nothing more, I have seen plenty in my 21 years. They work hard in nursing school, lets grow up and give them the respect they have earned, lets not nick pick them and be nasty to them because we can. Guiding them is the way to go. Enough is enough.

  3. Cora

    Condemnation is not professional or nursing. The term is Curator. look it up. Anyone can provide care. Everyday this world is filled with people providing first aid. So what makes us so unique. Flip side, I have felt the strain of new nurses. I have been a new nurse and ran the other way because of condemnation. What if I was born to be a nurse. Which I did discover. It took a real vet nurse to mentor me. She reminds me to handle every single person, healthy or sick with care. I smile because she is right. I smile because I can do so. I just pray young nurses stay brave. Take inventory everyday. Learn more and more. Grow, do not be afraid to find that mentor.