Nearly one-third of RNs approaching retirement age

January 12, 2009
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The aging of Michigan’s nurses was drawn in sharp detail by the Michigan Center for Nursing’s 2008 survey.

Ten years ago, the survey, which asks questions of nurses renewing their licenses, found that 14 percent of registered nurses and 19 percent of licensed practical nurses were age 55 or older.

Fast forward to 2008, and those proportions have more than doubled: 31 percent for RNs and 39 percent for LPNs. The average age for RNs is 50; the average for LPNs is 51.

Nurses must renew their licenses every two years, so the center uses the opportunity to survey those seeking renewal. This year, the survey covered 37,054 registered nurses and 7,520 licensed practical nurses.

The nurses who answered the survey in 2007 were even older than those covered by this year’s questionnaire, the MCN’s report noted.

Michigan has a total of 93,657 RNs and 20,700 LPNs who work in nursing in the state. The vast majority of LPNs work in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes, while RNs are more likely to work in hospitals.

The number of nurses in the 2008 survey who say they intend to leave their careers within the next 10 years crept up past one-third. In 2006 — the last time this same group of license-renewing nurses was surveyed — 33 percent of RNs and 39 percent of LPNs said they planned to leave their jobs within a decade. But this year, 39 percent of RNs and 41 percent of LPNs said they plan to leave nursing.

For both types of nurses, 21 percent had left a nursing job since the 2006 survey; 20 percent of RNs and 23 percent of LPNs said they had quit jobs in order to retire or to exit the field.

Yet just 13.9 percent of those who left an RN job cited age as the reason. An overwhelming 41.3 percent of those who left a nursing job cited a “general lack of job satisfaction.”

There is some recognition among employers that nurses are getting older. For example, the trend toward private rooms in hospitals means longer hallways and more walking. Leanna Krukowski, clinical director of orthopedics and neurology at Saint Mary’s Health Care, said the new Hauenstein Center features shortcuts between hallways to cut down on steps the nurses must take, a lesson learned from the Grand Rapids hospital’s Lacks Cancer Center. When the Hauenstein Center, which focuses on neurosciences, opens in February, the patient rooms will have mechanical lifts, eliminating the back-breaking task of two or three people moving the ill in and out of bed.

Priscilla Hadley, 61, an RN at Metro Health Hospital, started out as an LPN in Florida in 1967. She sees her decades on the job as a plus.

“I think older nurses are smarter, they are more experienced and they’re more sure of themselves,” said Hadley, of Grand Rapids. “I honestly don’t see it as a disadvantage to be older.”

She said she loves the work, but still would like to retire. Hadley said she stays in her job to retain health benefits for herself and her self-employed husband. She thinks she’ll be working at the Wyoming hospital for another five years or so, until she’s eligible for Social Security.

“I’m in for the long haul,” she said.

Among other items in the survey report:

  • Unemployment among nurses is just 2 percent.

  • Men comprise abut 6 percent of active RNs and 5 percent of active LPNs.

  • About 6 percent of RNs and 13 percent of LPNs are African American. Just 1 percent of active RNS and 2 percent of active LPNs are Hispanic, Latino or Spanish. HQ

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