Third Age Careers for Bay Area Nurses

A Pilot Project discussed at Holy Names University on April 16, 2005

            A one day Workshop for Senior Nurses in the Bay Area offered nursing leaders an opportunity to consider alternative ways to make changes in the profession to address the serious crisis in health care, brought about in part by a shortage of nurses and the imminent threat of early retirement of nurses the system canít afford to lose. The hosts for this Workshop were Dr. Fay Bower, Chair of Nursing at Holy Names University and former President of the International Nursing Honor Society, and Dr. Bill Sadler, Professor of Sociology and Business at the University.  A dozen nurse leaders attended, while several more indicated a strong interest to become involved in future discussions and planning.

Current Situation in Nursing

            The quality of care in hospitals is threatened by a severe shortage of nurses. This shortage is particularly acute in California . The mandatory nurse/patient ratio of 1 to 5 exacerbates a critical situation. With the average age of a nurse being 43, many senior nurses are considering retirement, which will make the shortage even worse. The California Employment Development Department has projected a need for 109,600 new nurses by 2010. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a national shortage of 1 million RNs by 2010. Leaders in health care are seeking solutions to this health care crisis, but so far have not been successful.

            We believe that there is a possibility for sustainable development of quality healthcare by focusing on the potential of senior nurses, who may now be considering early retirement. Demographic data indicate that many mature people are ambivalent about retirement. 80% of Baby Boomers say they donít want conventional retirement; they actually want to continue working, but not necessarily in the same way they have been. Two factors driving cohorts over 50 to rethink what they do next are: 1) a Longevity Revolution and 2) a retardation of the aging process among healthy, active people. These cohorts are seeking ways to redesign retirement and the second half of their adult lives to experience more meaning, growth, and personal satisfaction. Some senior nurses will be among them. With creative planning, senior nurses can redesign their work lives with Third Age Careers to satisfy emerging personal needs; hospitals and the healthcare system can benefit from retaining these valuable professionals. 

Workshop Discussions

Dr. Sadler introduced these nurses to his view of The Third Age, based on 20 years of research. After outlining the six principles of Second Growth, he described what he and co-author Dr. Jim Krefft have been learning about

Third Age Careers

We have a chance (especially in the Third Age) to shape our work to suit the way we want to live, instead of always living to fit in with our work.  Charles Handy

  •          Work is more than a job

  •          Free yourself for whatís important Ė for your Third Age Identity

  •          Dig deep, Let go, and Experiment

  •          Find new ways to work

  •          Do work that matters

  •          Redefine Success Ė do what you love, love what you do

  •          Balance your work and play

Bill illustrated these points with examples of people whose stories fill both books.

Dr. Bower challenged the participants to think about doing something never before tried, to apply these ideas to redefine how nurses nurse. She pointed out that creative changes in the health care system have come from nurses. Itís time to lead the way again, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the Third Age.

The Nursesí Response

            In a dynamic, open discussion the nurses commented on the above ideas and the need to respond creatively to the health care crisis. Highlights of their comments include:

  •      Nurses are talking about what next? But they donít have a sense of options. They lack role models; and structures are not supportive.

  •      Thereís a need to educate senior nurses about the process of transition, and to help them identify what they really want now.

  •      Nurses need to develop better images of what it means to be a nurse. Senior nurses can be role models as well as mentors. 

  •      A program for senior nurses considering Third Age Careers could help them identify their skills and how they can be applied in new ways.

Afternoon task oriented groups presented elements in a proposal for a Nurse Renewal Center, perhaps located at HNU. The Center will offer:

  •      Workshops to help nurses through Third Age transition

  •      Career Development courses 

  •      Training for nurses in how to mentor/ and be mentored

  •      Networking to build linkages with hospital, communities, other professionals, and the media

  •      Programs to support advocacy, social outreach, and nursing curriculum.

These Workshops concluded with a commitment to have a meeting for participants and other nursing leaders to explore how best to build a Center, help nurses plan Third Age Careers, and strengthen the health care system in California .


Copyright 2005 Bill Sadler and The Center for Third Age Leadership, LLC