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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”).

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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