Staying on-call: Nurses work later into retirement age than expected

Registered nurses (RNs) are retiring later than expected, providing a larger growth in the field than previously predicted for 2012, according to a study published in the August issue of Health Affairs.

Workforce retention and increased number of RNs entering the workforce equates to nearly 500,000 more nurses than forecast in 2000. The number of new RNs entering the job market has steadily increased, thanks to awareness campaigns and government efforts to streamline the process for educating nurses. However, these measures were in response to previous reports highlighting the number of baby-boomer nurses who potentially would retire in the next decade.

Author David I. Auerbach, PhD, of the Rand Corp. in Boston, and colleagues wrote that as opposed to retirement strategies for RNs between 1969 and 1990, nurses between 1991 and 2012 were more likely to work an additional 14 years beyond age 50, a difference of 2.5 years more in the workforce than their predecessors.

Older nurses, they found, were less likely to be in hospital settings and more likely to be part of administration, educational settings, home health settings, and other non-hospital settings. This has come at a growth rate of 140 percent in these areas, commensurate with a growth in non-hospital settings altogether and the decrease in the number of available positions at hospitals.

But, what was driving the increase?

Auerbach et al suggested that a number of factors were involved. While some of these decisions were prerecession, as with other professions, some nurses were delaying retirement due to financial pressures. Others, it seemed, were remaining in the work pool because of the enjoyment derived from the work and from helping others.

The research team noted that based on this data, they found it hard to predict potential work surplus or shortages in nursing or to anticipate future demand, although demand is definitely increasing in areas such as clinics, ambulatory care centers and other Affordable Care Act-induced changes to delivery systems.

“Hospital-based RNs are often well versed in competencies involving patient transitions and care coordination,” Auerbach et al wrote. “However, enhanced efforts on the part of nursing schools and other stakeholders could help prepare RNs for roles in the increasingly complex ambulatory care delivery systems of the future.”