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


Joanna said...

What a sad comment on the state of health care! You would think that in the medical field especially, experience would be highly valued. But I fear that your instincts are correct, Rudee, since hospitals are run for profit. Our system in Canada is somewhat different but even here, the bottom line is becoming more and more important. We need to recognize that the wisdom and experience of nurses, teachers, and other professionals is invaluable and can't be duplicated with college courses. Ageism sucks.

Cynthia said...

Rudee, I hope that good sense prevails in the health care industry. Imagine if youth and inexperience becomes the norm. I admire the fact that you can continue as an ICU of the most difficult jobs in the hospital. I think that your experience helps you to be more insightful about so many likely events...dealing with family, doctors and patients...and so many complications. Cost and value are highly related...that is, you have to pay more for what is the best value...particularly with jobs that require special talents. <3

Sandy said...

I'm afraid it is a trend, this happened to my husband three years ago...and he was a great loyal employee and good at his job...and it was already happening back in the mid 90's with my career, edging the older ones out who earned a lot more, and bringing in the younger ones..I can only imagine how it will end up now..with our economy.

NCmountainwoman said...

What we are seeing here in western North Carolina is that the new nursing grads are having trouble finding jobs.

Because of the unstable economy, many nurses continue to work after having a baby, etc., and are not leaving the work force for fear that their spouses may lose their jobs. So there is not the normal attrition and thus fewer jobs for the new grads.

In this day of performance-based evaluations, it would seem more difficult to eliminate experienced nurses without good reason.

Brenda said...

I am not sure about the nursing field, but every other field is forcing the elders out. Most people we know that are around our age that work for large companies have already left. I foresee many books being written about this mess we are all living with.
I keep wondering what everything will be like 5 years from now.
I think people our age have been afraid to go through an employment change because of the age. I would think businesses would value all that experience that they have....guess not.

Jadekitty said...

It is a crying shame. Right now we are teetering on a nurses strike on the Newfie Island. I wish the government would pull up it's socks and pay the workers what they are worth.

Rositta said...

I thought nurse's were in the union and age discrimination was not allowed. It's not here at any rate but what happens is that there aren't as many nurses. They use practical nurses more an more rather than RN's. Your right, aging sucks in more ways than one...ciao

distracted by shiny objects said...

Yes, indeed. In our state, and I imagine some others,instead of seeing a bell curve in age and employment we see a U with the highest numbers being "older/seasoned" RN's, then younger nurses. The ages in the middle??? Nurses get out of school, spend 6 months at the bedside and go back to school. That's a problem. Ditch the older RNs and we've got a big problem.

Pyzahn said...

Ewwww, don't get me started on age discrimination. It's alive and well and ugly.

As is only having regard for the bottomline.

But it really saddens me that it would happen in a hospital setting...where experience is so vital.

What really gets me depressed is that I don't feel I can do anything to change the trend. My little voodoo pin cushion effigy has been getting seriously overused.

Rudee said...

NC- we haven't been doing performance based reviews. We all earn the same based on years as a nurse. Word on the street was that local hospital officials banded together to fix our salaries. We'd probably have severe shortages if we didn't have so many Canadian nurses who cross the border to work here.

Rositta-very few hospitals are unionized, therefore, no protections.

Rose said...

I'm sure this happens in other industries, but I feel like this happens more in fields that are traditionally female. What do you think?