New Kids on the Block

Well, this is interesting!

It seems between 2002 and 2009, the number of people ages 23-26 entering the nursing profession  increased by 62%!

Wait! I thought no young people were going into nursing and we were looking at a massive “graying” of the profession with a catastrophic shortage of RNs caused by en masse baby boomer retirement by 2030!

Haven’t we been hearing this from the harbingers of doom and gloom for decades?

Well, apparently things are looking up.

That surprising bit of data comes from an article at Health Leaders Media, entitled Nursing Workforce Stats Take a Surprising Turn.  The article reports the results of a new study looking back at the last 35 years of nursing workforce data.

Even with the new kids on the block, we’re still an older profession. The article references the 2008 Department of Health and Human Services report showing that about 44% of nurses are over the age of 50. (Hendren, 2011)

So we have in influx of very young nurses and a large group of very, ahem, seasoned nurses. Or as author Rebecca Hendren notes, “The two largest cohorts of nurses are at opposite ends of the spectrum.”

I’ve read many articles talking about the multi-generational nursing workforce, those born pre WW2 vs. the Boomers vs. Gen X, Y, Z and whatever they are calling this latest youthful cohort.

Usually, the articles are discuss generational conflict in the workplace, differences in work ethic, differences in how the generations perceive the place of work in their lives, how they approach nursing.

There may be conflicts but I’m not all that sure they are generational. To be honest with you, I have never noticed any stereotypical differences. Someone is either a hard worker or they aren’t, and there are slackers in every generation.

It should also be noted that working in a multi-generational environment is not something new. My nursing class waaaay back in ’78 ranged in age from 18 to 45.  On my first job I worked with a nurse who was 65 years old; I was 21.

Even when you are talking “boomers”, you are talking about people born between 1945 and 1964 – that encompasses more than one “generation”. Perhaps my experience has been unique, but there has always been a variety of generations in every one of my departments.

We have a responsibility to our new colleagues. Author Hendren discusses the need for experienced RNs to provide “professional development opportunities and mentoring” to our new colleagues. That’s always been true, more so now because many of us will be retiring as a group in the not too distant future.

I would give my new, young colleagues two pieces of advice.

One, don’t stop with their initial degree. Go back for the BSN, the MSN and if they are so inclined, their nursing doctorate, and do it while they are young. They will have many more options open to them if they do.

I waited way too long, and would have done it 20 years sooner knowing what I know now. The opportunities in nursing are going to be wide open, and the programs available today make it workable to go back to school.

Two, learn about nursing’s recent history. Know that the good salary, the working conditions, the benefits, all those things were fought for by the generations of nurses that came before us. They aren’t provided out of the goodness of any corporate heart.

Remember that, don’t ever take it for granted, and be vigilant because there are constant, sometimes subtle attempts to reverse them.

And welcome to the profession! We’ve waited a long time to see you!


Hendren, R. (2011). Nursing workforce stats take a surprising turn.