Ageism in Nursing and Healthcare
Published: 21 February 2018
Published: 21 February 2018
Ageism in nursing is a real and present threat to the profession and the healthcare system writ large.
In reviewing articles about ageism in nursing, one might believe that it occurs only in relation to older nurses. Yet, ageism can cut both ways.
Any form of age-based discrimination is reprehensible, and only those aware of the problem can speak up and take action against it.
According to the AIHW (2016), 39% of the Australian nursing workforce is aged 50 or older.
Meanwhile, a growing 'Millennial' population of nurses is also stepping into the workplace and infusing the profession with a younger generation.
Whether a nurse is discriminated against for being too old or too young, ageism can hurt on a personal level, as well as potentially damage or cripple a promising career.
The fallout of ageism may stymie a nurse’s career trajectory, or negatively affect the choices that are made in relation to seeking a promotion, applying for a new position, or returning to school.
Younger nurses who feel judged for their youthfulness and fewer years of nursing experience may not as assertively pursue the opportunities that would move their professional lives forward.
After all, enthusiasm and desire for knowledge are the twin engines of a burgeoning nursing career.
Older nurses, on the other hand, may feel prematurely pushed towards retirement.
While physical stamina or tech skills may be weaker in the older generations, other forms of knowledge, expertise and skill are important aspects that older nurses can bring to the table.
Misconceptions about both youth and ageing lend themselves to unnecessary poor treatment of valuable workers who have much to contribute to their communities and workplaces.
In various countries around the world, nursing shortages have real-life impact. And with a so-called 'silver tsunami' of ageing citizens straining healthcare systems of some countries, age-based discrimination has no place.
Able-bodied, intelligent nurses willing to provide care and make a meaningful contribution should be encouraged to remain in the workforce in an effort to shore up the system.
Patients undergoing medical treatment benefit when receiving care from a nurse of a relatively similar age. There is something to say for an older nurse relating and empathising with an older patient’s concerns.
Likewise, a younger nurse can often communicate more effectively with a patient with whom they share a generational bond.
The diversity of the patient population should, to whatever extent is possible, be reflected in the healthcare teams providing care.
Diversity of race, gender identity, sexual orientation,and age benefits everyone involved.
When nurses are punished, ostracised, or discriminated against for being perceived as either too old or too young, everyone loses.
Being a 22-year-old nurse fresh out of school isn’t a crime, nor is being a 65-year-old nurse with 40 years of experience.
Older nurses may receive greater pay based on experience, yet cutting costs is no reason to weed them out.
Older nurses bring a breadth and depth of experience that can be transmitted to younger nurses, with institutional knowledge passed on through mentorship, informal teaching and hands-on instruction.
Like any form of discrimination, ageism has no place in 21st-century healthcare.
With a diverse population of patients, an ageing citizenry and nursing shortages, an all-hands-on-deck approach is prudent.
Individual nurses, nursing organisations and healthcare workplaces must stand up against ageism. This damaging practice devalues experienced nurses and detracts from the effectiveness of healthcare delivery.
Patients deserve a diverse and experienced workforce that delivers effective care, and nurses deserve workplaces where their life experience, skill, and knowledge are duly recognised and valued.