Widespread retirement of baby boomer RNs presents challenges for cardiovascular care

An exodus of baby boomer nurses from the U.S. workforce has already begun and will rapidly progress over the next few years, a recent survey indicates.

Thirty-six percent of nurses who plan to retire could do so in a year or less, and 73 percent of baby boomer nurses who plan to retire said they will to do so in three years or less, according to staffing firm AMN Healthcare’s survey of 3,347 registered nurses (RNs). These findings suggest the RN retirement totals of roughly 60,000 per year since 2012 are due for a dramatic increase, according to the survey announcement.

"The retirement wave of baby boomer nurses will create a particular drain on clinical expertise and institutional knowledge, which are critical to quality patient care and organizational success for healthcare providers," Marcia Faller, PhD, RN, chief clinical officer of AMN Healthcare, said in the announcement. "Our research, coming closely behind the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) projecting an astonishing number of job openings for nurses, should be a wake-up call, because the healthcare industry will need solutions to cope with this impending crisis."

There aren’t nearly enough nursing students in the pipeline to offset this wave of retirements, said Jo-Ann Eastwood, PhD, CNS, president of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurse Association (PCNA) and an associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing.

“We already needed over a half a million nurses just to deal with the changes in healthcare,” Eastwood told Cardiovascular Business. “The increase in access to care just intensifies it but now with the baby boomer population (leaving the workforce), that in the next couple of years will be another 525,000 projected that we need.”

Baby boomer nurses are leaving the hospital at a time when the aging population is growing and will require more care. By 2030, the number of U.S. residents over age 65 is expected to triple, Eastwood said. Advances in medical care and drug development have allowed people to live longer with more health problems, causing a further drain on healthcare resources.

“We’re not as healthy as our parents were,” said Eastwood, a baby boomer herself who graduated with a nursing diploma in 1970 and went on to add advanced degrees, including her PhD, from UCLA.

“The baby boomers are more indulgent. There’s more food, there’s more processed foods, more fast foods. There’s more diabetes, there’s more obesity, there’s more arthritis, so the healthcare industry is really stressed in all these areas of chronic disease and comorbid conditions.”

Eastwood said PCNA is taking a two-pronged approach to mitigate the impending shortage of cardiovascular nurses. The organization has established chapters across the country where young nurses can network and be mentored by more experienced nurses. Eastwood hopes this support system will convince more new RNs to continue in the profession.

“What happens now with the younger nurses is they work for a few years and then they burn out,” she said. “They burn out because they’re in a system that does not foster collegiality. It’s just moving so fast that they feel inept in doing their jobs … and we desperately need to retain them.”

In addition, PCNA has attempted to boost primary prevention efforts by giving educational resources to patients and caregivers at community events across the country. The organization developed easy-to-understand worksheets for cardiovascular conditions such as peripheral artery disease, venous thromboembolism and hypertension, as well as stroke and diabetes prevention.

Eastwood said there is a growing demand for nurses with advanced education to help facilitate transitional care for cardiovascular patients as they move from the hospital back into the community. Without the proper structure, education and knowledge of medication delivered to patients, Eastwood said, those patients could easily wind up back in the hospital.

“It’s kind of an extension of nursing is these caregivers in the home for home care,” she said. “If we can support the patients, the nurses and the caregivers in the home, we’re hoping to help with the shortage of nurses.”