Why nurses over 50 can’t find jobs

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When I first started nursing school, I revered the older and highly experienced Registered Nurses who represented what we all aspired to be. I recall seeing the letters R.N. on their name tags with great admiration. THESE people were the “Real Deal!” They had the designation that I so desperately wanted one day! They had earned the right to wear The Cap that I had yet to deserve!

The RNs who were our clinical supervisors on the floors knew stuff. Things that were not in the textbook–like the early warning signs of a patient going downhill. Back before nursing practice was research-based and there were Rapid Response Teams. Back before there was ACLS and all of its variations. Their hard-won and finely tuned “gut instincts” were respected by the doctors because they had experienced the consequences of ignoring a nurse’s “bad feeling” about a patient.

In the years that have passed since those first quarters of nursing school, we have seen incredible changes in our profession. And through it all, those of us who DID make it through school and work at the bedside became every bit as intuitive and skilled as those who were our role models. Even more so, we had the benefit of the huge changes which took place when nursing practice finally started utilizing scientific-based research as the basis for standards of care.

At long last, WE were the ones who knew stuff. WE were the “go-to” resource people! WE had earned the right to wear The Cap and the designation of Registered Nurse!

And even more of us became nationally certified in our fields  and went on to more advanced roles in the new areas of treatment gleaned from the ever-expanding advances in technology.

So WHY are so many nurses over the age of 50 having such a hard time finding jobs in areas where we have so many years of experience?

It isn’t because we have lost our knowledge and dedication to patient care. Nor is it because we are no longer, in most cases, unable or unwilling to do the work.

It is, in my opinion, simply because we are too valuable. As in: We cost too much to hire! In addition, when an over-50 RN who meets ALL of the qualifications (and then some!) for a position is passed over for a younger and much less experienced nurse, it can only mean one thing: Discrimination based on a person’s AGE.

It is happening all over the country, even in areas with critical shortages of experienced RNs. HR departments have developed a system for exercising this illegal practice of not hiring qualified candidates based on age. It is much more “cost effective” to hire a new grad for half as much as an experienced nurse would cost. Never mind that patient care will be affected–what counts is the “bottom line.” And age discrimination is almost impossible to prove unless some brave soul is willing to risk his/her own job by testifying that it is so.

It is a shame, really, to waste so much talent and experience that is waiting and willing to put on The Cap!

The pioneers of one generation are forgotten when their work has passed into the accepted doctrine and practice of another (Edward Cook, “Florence Nightingale”).

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Nurse Rene

Nurse Rene has been an RN since 1978; CCRN since 1989 and attained a BSN in 2010. She has worked in virtually every specialty from Neonatology to Neurosurgery and is a Member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society with a particular interest in helping students and new grads develop to their full potential. She's been married for 33 years and has a keen interest in history and in current issues as nursing continues to develop as a Real Profession. When not spoiling the grandchildren, she enjoys sewing, cooking, kayaking, camping and travel. She likes all music which does not hurt her ears, watching NCIS, Leverage, Top Gear and Criminal Minds and reads books written by Clive Cussler, Miss Manners, Erma Bombeck and Tom Clancy. She enjoys collecting Quotations for use in her writings.

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32 Responses to Why nurses over 50 can’t find jobs

  1. Bfriend

    I have been trying to figure out why we cannot seem to find the more experienced RN leaders that are out there! We have been recruiting for a Director of Nursing for our clinic nearly 9 years now, to no avail. If interested, the Kodiak Community Health Center needs you!

    • Nurse Rene RN

      If that is Kodiak, ALASKA, one of the people who responded to this blog is an RN with a Masters’ Degree who lives on a boat and works home care on Prince of Wales Island. You might find her and contact her through FAcebook.

  2. fleary

    If you can move to Australia, you will have your pick of jobs. We are desperate for experienced and dedicated nurses, and we don’t discriminate on age.

    • smokey52

      for nurses over 50 years of age, it is not that you are being discriminated against because of your age. The new industry is looking for leaders not foot solders. You must go back to school and get your master, you have valuables skills but they must be reapply to the new need. The younger nurses are cheaper because they have less skills not because they are better.

    • Spymandalinus

      fleary: To work inOz, you need to register with AHPRA. I have 20 years experience in critical care, and have been waiting since 2013 for a reply. I’m also still studying as I believe in continuing education.

  3. vixramey@yahoo.com RN

    I am a registered nurse over age 50. After working for a hospital in Atlanta, Ga for twenty years I was laid off with a severance package due to “a reduction in force”.
    Trying to get another job was unsuccessful so I settled for a couple prn jobs with a considerable pay cut. I am having to pay for cobra insurance and of course have no benefits. My belief is there truly is age discrimination going on.
    So glad you brought this subject up. I am not alone.

  4. wilma54 RN

    Thank you, Nurse Rene. I am 58 and I, too, have been an RN since 1978, with med-surg, acute rehab, home health, hospice experience. During the last 2-3 years, it seems like I don’t get responses from resumes. Even when an interview seems to go very well, I don’t hear back. I have been doing prn work the last 3-4 years. I currently work prn for a Home Health agency that pay every nurse the same rate per visit. So my experience and salary history didn’t scare them off. You have affirmed what I have suspected was happening because of my age and experience.

    • Nurse Rene RN

      Indeed! I have been reading blogs for months now from nurses all over the country stating the same thing. Where there is Smoke, there is usually Fire! Let us all hope that this latest ‘fad’ in hiring goes away very soon!

    • katygirl

      Hey guys,

      I am 58. RN ER, Supervisory RN, Unit Manager and out of work for a urine lab error (2nd lab error in 21 years) and asked to resign. Have applied to 18 jobs. No offer. No income since May 31, 2013. Now getting ready to lose home. Yep! I love taking care of patients still! But I have definitely faced age discrimination. Talked to a lawyer. Nothing they can do. NOW the new hire-in is: Under 40, min 2 yrs experience. Weight appropriate for height and age. The moment you give an honest answer you’ve nailed your own coffin. The older RN’s who are now CNO’s have left us behind but we made them look good.

  5. koshea61

    I too have faced age discrimination. After working 28 yrs in clinical hospital practice including 8 yrs on a pediatrics step down unit I was terminated for not giving a medication. Thant medication was not on my order sheet because the RN before me had failed to have it reordered.
    I have been through3 jobs since then all non clinical ( hospital based).
    None of them were a good fit for me and I am looking for a job again. I am very depressed and have failed in every attempt to find a job that is a good fit. I am overpriced, and over qualified and no longer want to work on the clinical floors.
    50 year old nurses are also lacking some of the computer experience of the younger generation.

  6. Laura Foerster

    I wholeheartedly agree with the notion age discrimination is alive and well. I’m convinced one of the larger health systems in St. Louis actively engages in age discrimination at the point of resume receipt. Another of the larger health systems in St. Louis embraces nurses of all ages and stripes; SSM is actively recruiting RN’s! I’ve spent 5 years with SSM, and am looking forward to starting a prn job at SSM DePaul this summer. I also work part-time for a small, critical access hospital in SW IL. I love my job at this small hospital, & love my co-workers. HSHS is the system that I work for in SW IL; HSHS is desperate for RN’s! So, moral of the story: think about working in an underserved rural area, and go where you are wanted.

    I also think health systems look at us older RN’s and see increased workers’ compensation costs. I don’t know this for a fact, but I surmise health systems are afraid of assuming the liability of us oldsters, with our bad backs. Let’s face it: we came of age when we were taught body mechanics, we came of age when universal precautions were not thought of, or actively pursued. We also came of age when physicians were gods, sexual harassment was part of the job, and the financing of health care became of paramount performance. We weathered the DRG’s, global case fees, dumping of patients into tertiary care centers (especially on Friday afternoons!), and the continued “do more with less” mantra. As a result, we take no guff, and have little tolerance for idiots. So maybe the real reason health systems don’t want to hire the oldsters is our willingness to confront management with, “Really?”

    My 0.02 worth.

  7. dronet1

    When I read articles such as this, I think about what we have done to ourselves. If all nurses were members of professional organizations then we would be able to have the numbers behind us to give us a voice in our grievances.

    I graduated nursing school at age 60, I am definitely competing with the younger crowd. I will go in as a new nurse though, not one with all the years experience. I graduated from an ADN program and 8 months out of that program I am graduating with my BSN and will immediately go after my MSN. I am willing to work the night shift and very willing to start at entry level. I’m still interviewing and believe that I will find a position.

  8. khoop60

    I don’t want to get an advanced degree OR be a supervisor. Maybe I should get serious about another field and get used to paying my own health insurance.

  9. Ames Roberts

    While I cannot say what I would do in someone else’s position, I will say that as a nurse under 40 ( but knowing that I will be working for some years), I am already looking into non traditional RN roles.I personally know nurses over 50 who are having great times in Infomatics ( almost 10 years ago I was in Nursing school with a young lady her mom was a Nurse Informaticist, still is) Hospice, Telephonic Nursing, Nursing Education/ Staff Development, Wound Care, Case Management as well as in the Nurse Entrepreneur World. I am sure there are other areas where these nurses are thriving, but I only will speak to the ones I personally know.

  10. tblackadar RN

    I believe in continuing education, but incurring thousands of dollars in student loans at this time over my life is counterproductive to retirement goals. Most nurses I know plan to be in the workforce to age 70. Fifty is still so young!!

  11. WPBnewlyRNover50

    Interviewing for the masters program I was asked about my job experience (a year and half hospital & post acute rehab and a year nursing administrator for LPN program) and then told I needed more clinical nursing. To which I replied that finding a job in nursing is unbelievably difficult and after explaining where and how many applications were made, I was met with disbelief. Interestingly, shortly thereafter the interviewer conducted research pertaining to RNs having difficulties with landing nursing jobs. It is embarrassing to have gone through school (ADN 2010) continue onto BSN (2012) and be half way through my masters and admit that I cannot find a job as a nurse, feeling dejected is an understatement. I do not look my age and before the internet employers had no idea of an applicant’s age and were not allowed to ask, now with a click they know.

    Forget landing a job try landing an interview or even a callback! Sometimes 100s are applying for the same position. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to land an interview with a local hospital and in the HR waiting area across from me sat another RN. I learn that she’s a new nurse (ADN 2014) age 32, has six mos long term care experience, and Im thinking, well its about time that employers are considering newer nurses! I asked if she had been waiting long for her interview, to which she replied that she was there for orientation. I wanted to reply “really?” but did not and she followed with that she was very happy to have gotten the job after putting in many applications (then she tells me it was at least 10!). I tried to relate (knowing that 7p-7a is a difficult shift) and asked her if she has worked nights before. She proceeded to tell me that she was hired for days and had never worked in a hospital only long term but that she was hired for pediatrics.

    Thank you for posting the article about nurses over 50 that cannot find jobs! Friends (non nurses) and relatives just cannot believe with the “nursing shortage” how difficult it is to find a RN job . . it breaks my heart to hear it and I no longer keep them informed about my ongoing struggle in my sought after career as an RN.

  12. Kathryn Wakeford

    Could not disagree more. I am well over 50. I have been offered at least 6 positions.

  13. sieversb

    I’m 67, worked in Indianapolis for many years, now in Ohio and have never had a problem getting a job. In fact, I get offers regularly for jobs.

  14. Renee the nurse

    I am so glad to read this. I thought I was the only one experiencing this. I’ve been a RN for 40 years and I still love it! It seems like nobody wants a Real Nurse anymore! I relocated a few years ago. When I finally reached the salary I made before I came down here, I get told “it’s not working out”. I’ve been told by those very dear and close to me that it must be my attitude. Thank you for confirming what I know to be true. It’s a sad day when a nurse dreads the day she has to go to work! Not any fault of hers /his but because of not being cost effective!

  15. Rose Vitale

    Your article was so on target- I’ve been an RN (A.D.) for 40 years (this year). Four years ago I relocated to another state to be closer to my aging mother and had a job prior to this move. It has now been over 4 years that I’ve been actively job searching – literally have applied either online and/or resumes and cover letters numbering in the hundreds resulting in a few interviews but no job. But all along we’ve been brought up with ‘oh you’re a nurse? you can get a job anywhere”-per the old adage Now we’ve been covertly forced into shifting gears I know all about including key words into my resume and cover letter, and have done extensive research on the subject. No matter what I do, I still have no job. Who ever heard of such a thing? Your article really hit home especially your description of the negative feelings that surround this issue- uselessness yet knowing you have so much to offer, not being productive, hopelessness, not to mention the number it does on one’s self esteem. I will keep my nursing licenses active yet I run the risk of having one or both licenses rendered inactive by the respective Boards of Nursing, Not my fault but adds more fuel to my frustration. Being over 60, retirement will soon be an option, but not what I want especially being ‘involuntarily’ retired (not of my own choosing). I am in good health, good shape, still copus mentus and can run circles around younger nurses. Yes, it is a real travesty to keep us older nurses ‘on the shelf’; we’ve learned things over time that could never be learned in a book or even put into words and are a treasure trove of great information and good old fashioned wisdom. Because I’ve never actually been told why I’m not being hired has left me with questions mostly ‘is it my age’? but thanks to some great folks who have defined this, I can swallow ‘involuntary retirement’ a bit less begrudgingly. God help us.

  16. Rose Vitale

    Hi Nurse Rene- great article and explanation of why we older nurses are either being ‘forced’ out of existing jobs or are passed over for jobs. I moved four years ago to be here with my aging mom; despite hundreds of applications, resumes and tailor made cover letters I have gotten enough interviews that can be counted on one hand. I have an ADN, no upper degrees (as I am approaching retirement age) which does not guarantee a job anyway. As I see it, the illegal practice of age discrimination is prevalent with no way to address it. Other types of discrimination are more specific and able to be challenged. With age legal recourse is nearly impossible due to its broader, nonspecific nature. And no potential employer is stupid enough to put anything in writing. Even with the improbability of age brought up in conversation, it’s my word against yours. I’m very unhappy with this unfair situation; yes I know life is unfair, but with a need to work where do we go? Everyday jobs, as cashiers, sales, etc will not hire me as I am ‘overqualified’. So I’ve sat here day in and out for four years racking my brain for possibilities as well as wondering why I wasn’t getting hired. After so many years as a nurse I feel like I’m at or close to the ‘top of my game’ and feel that I have much to offer that only experience can give. I believe this situation should be tackled legally at the national level; we are being not-so-covertly discriminated against and have no recourse; does anybody know? does anybody care? Well, I think we should stand up for our right to be hired and to work. I resent having been ‘involuntarily retired’. I’ve worked my entire life- it’s what I’ve always done for forty years and like feeling useful, productive and contributing to society. I present this suggestion as I’ve no clue who does this sort of thing and would take it seriously enough to intervene. I may not be up to date on my nursing skills but certainly am able to learn. Yes I know about refresher courses- I took one but could only complete the didactic; the school offered no assistance in preparing a clinical rotation for me- it was up to me to secure the hospital, the person to shadow, etc. Even area nursing students are waiting 2 years to access their clinical. With so many of us oldies looking to work, it would be best to have the respective boards of nursing team up with local hospitals to offer such clinical rotations. Nurse Rene thanks for identifying the issue in your wonderful article and I do hope that you or colleagues might take an interest in helping nurses overturn this illegal practice. God bless us all.

  17. Rhiannon Edge

    as a visibe minority i find it very difficult to find a job. when i do end up looking for a job it takes an average of five months to find one. in a nursing shortage.

  18. Tricia Dowless

    I am in my 50’s and have never had a hard time finding a job. I also only have my 2 yr degree and I have been a RN, Nurse Manager, DON over a smaller facility, ER Nursing, Travel nsg, now in the process of running my own business along with writing a book about nursing. I may go and get my BSN but I am not sure i want to at this point.

    I may be blessed and/or may have just worked hard at proving I can do the job.

  19. ganurse1

    Dronet1 What college program are you using for your BSN AND MSN?

  20. Eborn2

    I have had difficulty getting back into nursing. An illness kept me from working 2+ years. I have 3 years of Critical Care experience, 1/2 year of ER, 1 year of Tele charge, and 8 years of Acute Dialysis experience, (4 as a travel RN).

    For 3 years I’ve looked for nursing jobs. Out of state, out of country, applied to every type of work available, even signed up to volunteer at the Red Cross.

    I get minimal interest. My suspect is some one is blackballing my work history, giving poor reference. Travel nursing is the dregs of nursing. You find yourself in some seriously unscrupulous employers. If you make any complaints instantly your the problem.

    I’d check into who’s giving you poor work reference. Good luck because no one seems to address or investigate this. I’ve complained to government agencies, inquired to the Board of Health if some one filed a complaint. No one will answer any questions.

    There is no nursing shortage. There is a shortage of nurses that match the “cookie cutter” image they have of a employed (RN). Do what I tell you, when I tell you. Don’t question the poor care and even murder of patients observed by RN’s everyday!

  21. Camillus

    I’m a LPN with over 20 years experience. I have work in many different jobs. I have been looking for work for 2 years and have 3 interviews, I believe it’s my age and sex (male) that is stopping me. Also, hiring managers don’t want to pay for my experience. I worked in Chicago and made a good wage, moved back to Michigan had an interview for a position in their gerentology clinic, she asked what I made last job, told her, she totally freaked, she was sure I was looking for that wage, after telling her what wage I wanted, she still went on about other wage, so basically interview for her was over. Also, I think she put something in my application/history I haven’t been able to get another interview. Even the VA is bias to age, and I am a vet.

  22. NurseYoung50Plus

    Graduated nursing school 2 years ago in my early 50s then took time off to care for my dad. At the same was volunteering at a hospital 70 miles away. After 14 months of submitting applications, I realized what was happening…ageism. I have a BSN/MS. My nurse preceptor who was a director at the hospital called me and said SHE HAS a job for me. I met with the nurse manager. Didn’t get the job. People were literally scratching their heads! Applied for about 40 jobs there even when others were advocating for, encouraging and reassuring me. One person in an ANA nursing forum recommended that I remove the Masters from my resume since it may be “too threatening for nurse managers”. Worked too hard to do that. Nurse recruiter recently got me a hospital interview. I knew I wasn’t
    getting the job when the nurse manager mentioned “the younger nurses” three times, then recommended that I apply to the stroke unit down the hall. Ageism does exist in nursing! Nursing is my 2nd career and I only became one out of compassion and passion to serve. Now I’m looking to volunteer overseas to do just that while sharpening my clinical skills.

  23. melindab45@gmail.com

    Hi there, I am a newly graduated RN, now aged 53. I knew it was going to be tough to get back into the workforce again after having children later in life at age 38 and 42. I retrained after moving interstate with my family, and did 18 months as an Assistant in Nursing at the local public hospital, doing what is called ‘specialling’ for patients with delirium and dementia. This is no picnic, however I wanted to get some basic work experience to help me get a foot in. I had no other nursing experience before this but wanted to do nursing as I like helping people and thought I was a good fit for it. I had friends who had done nursing since leaving high school who encouraged me do try it also. I got in the top 15% academically but missed out on a new graduate position at the local hospital. It seemed hard to compete with those younger ones who seemed to know everyone already and who many of them seemed to be sons, daughters or partners of employed nurses at the same facility! I was offered a two month ‘temp’ position, I think to save face in some way, on surgical ward, as I was already employed in the system. but was harassed and not supported on the ward, and it was a relief to leave. I was then back on the casual pool but haven’t been offered many shifts, just when they are desperate. I am so disappointed as I too thought and everyone said I would have no trouble getting work as a nurse! I have applied for other jobs but as a new grad the standard response even when I got interview but missed out is lack of experience, which most RN jobs want at least 1 year experience to be considered. There are a lot of new grads without jobs anyway, and I believe now it is probably age-discrimination on top of this and ‘who you know’ or a related to. I now think I made a mistake and am not wanting to do nursing any more as it’s too cut-throat and costly. Sad, as I put my whole family through a lot of stress and financial cost over 4 years to get qualified, and now for no reward of a job! I still can’t believe it.

  24. salamar

    Not getting hired when over 50 is not unique to nursing. That said, this is a much different era for employment and nursing is not immune.

    The majority of hiring is via networking. Knowing somebody opens more doors than applying for positions blindly. It is challenging to have to relocate without having an income source, thus not recommended. It is understandable that one may want to help ill family members, but you are of little help to someone if you’re financially compromised.

    Asking for feedback as to why one was not hired is far more helpful than waiting for them to provide feedback. Employers are not obligated to do so.

    There are many reasons why hospitals may not be hiring those with 20+ yrs of tenure:
    1) they already have a high amount of veteran RNs and it is necessary to have a mix of staff with varying degrees of experience, including no experience. consider if one unit was staffed only with those with 20+ yrs experience…they would be loosing a significant portion to retirement each year.
    2) extensively experienced RNs may have more occupational limitations due to long-term stress on joints, muscles, etc…this can mean more time off, which may require the use of agency PRN RNs to fill in (that is very expensive…the hospital is billed almost double what the staff hrly rate is (I worked in staffing, staffing agencies require margins to keep the lights on. If the agency pays the RN $40/hr, the hospital may be billed at 80/hr.). It may also mean potential for workman’s comp/short term disability.
    3). The mere fact that 2RNs can be had for the pay of one. Those 2 may be able to give 20+ yrs of service to the organization in various capacities (move up thru the chain in the organization), while the one over 50 may only be able to give 10yrs or less.
    4) the concept of mobility is lost on many RNs. The question must be asked “why did you stay at the bedside for 25 yrs?” “Did you do anything else that may enhance your chances for mobility?”

    It is unfortunate that many RNs over 50 are unable to find work in their chosen field. However, this is not unique to nursing.

    The day and age of staying with one organization until you retire is a relic from the past (started in the 80s, circled the drain in the early 90s on life support in the late 90s, pretty much dead after 2001.

    Nearing 50 myself, been anRN for 7 yrs, just finished my APN, so my role will change. I do work in an institution with many veterans, so yes, there needs to be a mix of experience levels. That said, there are quite a few of those >50 with 25+ yrs under their belt who I would not trust treating a hangnail on a corpse. Don’t get me wrong, I work with many veterans that I trust implicitly…I also work with quite a few with 3-5 yrs experience who I would also trust implicitly. I’ve also found many of those veterans who are beyond their prime are challenging to work with…where one would expect them to be clinical leaders, they are stuck in the “back in the day” nonsense.

  25. Brenda Ussery

    Never imagined being a Christian aseasoned nurse and a military veteran would be looked down on now since both daughters have graduated college I am going back for my BSN.
    I am heart broken at the sadness that age is the greatest predjudisms than race creed sex or anything.
    The great sadness is none of any of this life we all share couldn’t have been without the seasoned pioneers.
    Something must be done. I guess we need our own JFK, MLK or maybe Oprah.lol

  26. Chronicallychanging

    Hello, I am a senior nursing student in a ADN program. I am concerned that I won’t be able to find a job once I become a RN due to my age (mid 50’s) and being a new nurse graduate. What are your thoughts on this topic?

    • Chronicallychanging

      I have just read the all the comments regarding the issue of “ageism” and I am now extremely worried about my situation. However most of these comments include positions in hospitals. I am wondering if positions in nursing homes are also included in this horrible dilemma that the older nurse is in? Especially since most of my younger peers want nothing to do with this type of patient care.