1. Leftridge, Deloris W. RN, CNAA, BC, MSN
  2. Jordan, Darlene RN, MPH


Help ease the nursing shortage by retaining senior nurses.


Article Content

Two-thirds of nurses are over the age of 40 and can retire in the next 15 years. The much-reported aging of the nursing workforce will no doubt impact patient care. The average age nationally is 45.2 years, with Veterans Administration (VA) nurses averaging 47 years. A national VA study on the nursing shortage indicated a need for increased emphasis on technology that could provide a safer work environment for aging staff.


Mining the data

At the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, nurse leaders conducted a study within the 10 VA medical centers that comprise the South Central Veterans Integrated System Network. They surveyed the 10 medical centers, nursing home care units, and community-based outpatient clinics. The survey tool was a two-page questionnaire with open-ended and closed questions.


Researchers collected basic demographic data and asked the respondents questions specific to the retention and management of older staff members. Most respondents replied that retention of older nurses was a concern, but they hadn't put definite plans into place.


Findings from the 10 VA medical centers, seven nursing home care units, and 30 community-based outpatient clinics were as follows: The size of the inpatient units ranged from 50 to 492 beds, while nursing home bed counts ranged from 120 to 152 beds. The number of full-time RNs employed at medical centers ranged from 115 to 530, with part-time RNs numbering between three and 51. The range of RNs over 55 was 10% to 30%, as compared to the national average of 35%. Seventy percent of respondents were very aware of the aging nurse population and its possible impact, while 30% were moderately aware. Despite the high number of respondents aware of the concern, only 11% had plans in place, while 89% were fully aware with no formalized plans in place.


Prescription for progress

Based on the findings and current practices within the VA system, researchers developed the following recommendations:


[white diamond suit] Identify technology to boost or maintain productivity.


[white diamond suit] Identify equipment that allows nurses to perform responsibilities with decreased physical effort, such as overhead lifts and patient movers.


[white diamond suit] Identify nursing positions that are less physically demanding, such as telehealth, tele-care, and quality management.


[white diamond suit] Develop a plan to address the utilization of older nurses.


[white diamond suit] Employ older nurses as clinical leaders to educate the younger workforce.


[white diamond suit] Institute flexible work schedules and part-time positions.



The healthcare community as a whole must evaluate all of its resources and plan for the shortage's continuation. A proactive approach would include developing policies and plans to retain nurses eligible for retirement. They not only bring a wealth of nursing knowledge, but also loyalty and dedication that only come with age and experience.



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