Wednesday, May 20, 2009
An Age Old Story
Out and about yesterday, I met a couple of ICU nurses who are older. Like me. Like the average nurse, who is in her (or his) late forties. These two have worked in the same ICU for decades and told me they, and their fellow nurses who are aging, are being forced out of their hospital-not just their units. They told me they felt it was age discrimination. Now I always take things like this with a grain of salt, but this rang true.
Can it be that faced with a budget crisis, hospitals are flushing out their older employees who earn a salary at the top of the range and a pension? Are they really hiring new grads with no experience in the School of Hard Knocks? There is something to be said for the wisdom of seasoned nurses that only years of practice can offer. Can a new grad walk into a room and with a quick once over, assess a situation that will soon be heading south long before it actually does? Who will mentor these new nurses and teach them the ropes, imparting pearls of wisdom along the way? I learned so much from older nurse mentors, more than nursing school taught me and more than I'll ever be able to repay. Long ago, we were willing to pay for experience and it was nearly impossible to get a job in a specialty area without more than several years of experience under the belt. More and more specialty areas are hiring new grads, and I find myself wondering if money, not the nursing shortage, is the driving force.
It seems that hospitals are more than willing to invest in aesthetics by offering pristine surroundings in upscale neighborhoods, well appointed rooms and a dietary department that offers room service, but seem unwilling to staff with seasoned nurses. With losses due to the economy and newly uninsured, are they being forced to cut the budget in the area that means the most-patient safety?
Seven years ago, at the beginning of Michigan's slide into recession, my husband was laid off from his job. His position wasn't eliminated though. He was replaced by a new employee who had a shiny diploma and salary requirements many thousands of dollars less than my husband's. It was a decision strictly motivated by money. I don't know what gave me the impression that my profession was safe from this kind of thinking and practice.
This getting old business is hard enough, but with so many new graduates out there, and only so many jobs to go around, how can we older nurses compete? Recently, someone made an offhand remark to me about nurses getting raises, as though this was something we should feel badly about because it puts a burden on the whole organization. I don't know how my fellow nurses feel, especially those who have been in this business as long as me, but I'm tired of apologizing for my salary. After 25 years, I've earned it. I'm educated both formally and by many years of experience. Once upon a time, this experience was considered invaluable. I can only hope that it is appreciated by those who are running hospitals and making decisions that impact patient care.
I hope that what these nurses told me is not a trend. Perhaps what they're experiencing is isolated, but I fear it isn't. What's been going on for years in other industries may well be seeping into mine. Are you seeing these trends in your hospitals?
Photo: Google Images