Age discrimination for nurses comes in many flavors.
Examples of age discrimination range from pay discrimination to perceptions older nurses cannot keep pace with technology-driven equipment or changes in medications. There’s also the perception their age may lead to frailty that prevents safe patient handling.
A diverse workplace is essential for optimum patient care and business sustainability. Yet age is often overlooked when keeping track of diversity check marks.
Experts agree that age is often undervalued, considering the collective knowledge older nurses share. Which is why the Age Discrimination Act of 1967 was created to protect employees older than 40 from discrimination in terms of:
- Hiring practices
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the regulations set forth within these laws and files lawsuits against organizations that ignore anti-discrimination laws.
#1 — Ensure compensation remains competitive
Sandra Nichols, APRN-BC, PhD, has extensive experience working as an ER nurse and is a board-certified psychiatric nurse with gerontological training.
Because of her husband’s Navy career, Nichols has worked all over the U.S., so she pays attention to nurses when workplace matters become an issue.
On the age discrimination front, Nichols hears whispers about unfair wages when seasoned nurses express compensation woes.
Experienced nurses bring more years of service, loyalty, field experience and advanced skills, compared to newly graduated nurses, Nichols said. And that’s exactly why older nurses want better and more fair compensation that reflects their level of expertise.
“I know multiple nurses from different states who are aggravated and have left the job they thought they’d retire from, because newly graduated nurses are being hired and are making the same amount of money per hour that they were making,” Nichols said. “And if they asked administration for a raise, they would not get it.”
#2 — Alter perceptions around technology and experience
Even if you were born with a mobile device in hand and graduated Magna Cum Laude, it still does not replace the life-saving experience of a nurse with years of patient care experience at the bedside.
No doubt, the younger generation of nurses grew up with more technology, so it’s natural that they bring high-tech skills and mindsets to the job. The question is: Which values and skills are most important from an organizational perspective?
“New grads are more tech-savvy, but I am also hearing people say they are mostly book smart but not as field smart compared to experienced nurses,” said Stephanie Kerensky, BSN, RN, MBA, who works as a consultant with Philips Blue Jay Consulting in Vero Beach, Fla.
Not all agree with the myth that seasoned nurses cannot keep up with high-tech equipment compared to new grads. It’s known as a technology divide among generations of people working in a culture that highly values innovative technology.
As nurses mention time and again, plenty come from organizations that refuse to upgrade their technology infrastructure. It’s not the fault of nurses who lack tech-savvy skills, but rather previous healthcare employers that skimped on technology upgrades.
“(Learning new technology) takes them a little bit longer to grasp, but also, we were not all computerized across all spectrums,” Kerensky said, using electronic medical records as just one example.
#3 — Provide seasoned nurses with more tech training
Research suggests informed leadership initiatives, such as providing more training for older nurses, would go a long way to help diminish age discrimination.
Instead of vilifying older nurses perceived as avoiding high-tech medical equipment, Kerensky suggests providing training designed for nurses in need of more tech skills.
Kerensky suggests healthcare organizations should expose experienced nurses to more hands-on training that facilitates learning how to use high-tech equipment.
With training, it’s also important to provide adequate time per training slide so nurses can absorb the information, said Kerensky, who prefers hands-on training to computer simulation-style training.
“With new equipment, people like to put their hands on it, versus learning on a computer, clicking a button and going through a module,” she said.
The technology divide is well documented and often is a result of a lack of proper infrastructure. Marry that with a blended generational workforce and it can create the false notion of a learning gap between generations while also perpetuating “us versus them” attitudes.
#4 — Find solutions to lifting and alternate shifts
Nurse frailty? Not exactly.
A growing body of research suggests healthcare employers should address age discrimination by providing an environment with equipment ergonomically designed for an aging workforce.
This includes beds with hydraulic lifts to assist nurses when lifting patients. Other changes include less shift work, flexible hours and part-time opportunities.
#5 — Remember experience boosts patient safety
Age discrimination affects employee morale in various ways. When inexperienced nurses have too much responsibility, patient safety becomes a bigger concern.
“When you lose experienced nurses, you are left with a shift staffed with new graduates,” Nichols said. “I’ve seen charge nurses with less than one year experience, but (they) are the most experienced on that shift.”
With charge nurses, Nichols cares more about whether they can discern sickness from wellness, the number of codes they’ve run and successful resuscitation on their watch.