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Nurse Emeritus Combats Staff Shortages by Keeping Retired Nurses Engaged


Older nurses have been quitting the industry in droves due to unsafe working conditions and excess stress. They have valuable experience that can benefit younger nurses, but they take these experiences with them when they leave.

Jefferson Health, which operates 18 hospitals throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, recently announced it is using the Nurse Emeritus Program to keep retired nurses engaged. It allows those who have left the workforce to engage with, support, and mentor nurses, nursing teams, and new leaders across the system.

Emeritus nurses can work at the bedside or within the department of nursing as a way of putting their experience to good use. They are often there to guide new-to-practice nurses, managers, and directors of nursing as they try to change the industry for the better. The participants also have a lot of freedom in terms of where they work. The program includes inpatient, ambulatory, and surgical service settings.

Leaders of the health system believe it will give younger nurses the support they need to stay on the job for years to come.

“This program is part of a comprehensive nursing workforce optimization strategy,” said Kate FitzPatrick, executive vice president and the Connelly Foundation chief nurse executive officer at Jefferson Health. “Our goal is to bring innovative approaches to support our nurses and care teams during this time of global workforce challenges in healthcare.”

Emeritus recently named its first lead nurse, AnnMarie Papa, who previously served as vice president and chief nursing officer for Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in East Norriton, Pennsylvania.

“Nursing has always been more than a career; it is truly my passion,” Papa said. “Through the years, I’ve been fortunate to learn and grow from seasoned nurse colleagues. I’m excited to continue doing what I love while also being able to support the next generation of nurses.”

Experts believe some 4 million registered nurses will retire by 2030. But they can stay involved in the industry and put their experience to good use without having to endure the stress that comes with working as an RN through the Emeritus Program. E-RNs can work fewer hours on a more flexible basis compared to regular staff members.

“As nurses retire, we are losing a wealth of knowledge, clinical expertise and strategic leadership,” said FitzPatrick. “This is a wonderful opportunity to sustain important knowledge and expertise at Jefferson and support nurses across our organization.”

Judy Boerger, chief nursing executive and senior vice president at Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, Indiana, created the E-Nurse program in 2016 when she realized her company was on the verge of losing thousands of experienced nurses to early retirement.

“I did not need to look too far into my crystal ball to know we would need these experienced nurses,” Boerger said. When starting the program, she reached out to hundreds of retired nurses who left the profession in the last three years. Forty-five responded and said they missed caring for their patients but could no longer work the 12-hour shifts.

“With flexible hours, the nurses can rejoin the work and community they missed, and we can retain their clinical expertise,” Boerger added. “Novice nurses like the program, too, because it provides another less-threatening expert to go to, someone who isn’t a manager or a preceptor.”

She said the program is already paying off at hospitals around the country by helping new RNs learn the skills they need to excel on the job. Boerger added that senior nurses have instincts that you can’t learn in nursing school.

“There is an experience-complexity gap [in the ability of the nursing workforce] because of retirements, and we think our E-RNs can help fill that gap. They can walk down the hall and sense when things are not right. They can see the nurse who is ready to go over the edge and offer help,” she added. “Having E-RNs to do discharge planning, do rounds with patients, and ensure patients understand their medication goes a long way to preventing readmission and improving the health of the population we serve.”


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