Baby boomer registered nurses are delaying retirement and boosting the workforce at a time when shortages were expected, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation.
The researchers studied RN’s between 1991 and 2012 and found three out of four nurses were working at age 62, and nearly 25 percent of RN’s were still clocking in at 69. In the previous two decades, just under 50 percent of nurses were working at 62, and only 9 percent were working at 69, according to the study.
There are many reasons for delaying retirement, said Cathy Kennedy a nurse and a board member of the California Nurses Association.
"Many wanted to retire by 65 and they found that because of the stock market crashing back in the 90s they actually had to stay on a lot longer," she said. "I’m seeing a lot of my colleagues are 65, 68, 70, 72, still working acute care."
Kennedy said the Great Recession of recent years also forced many nurses to put off retirement plans, as they support grown children and grandchildren or take care of elderly parents. Many are living on a single income and others are hoping to restore some of the savings lost during the downturn, she said.
The reason for putting off retirement is not always solely financial, said Beverly Malone, CEO of the National League for Nursing.
"Now it’s like, why should I? I feel great, I believe in what I’m doing and so I’m continuing," she said. While acknowledging the impact of the Great Recession, Malone said, "I think there is a change in the national trend of retiring as early as we used to."
David Auerbach, the study’s lead author, said nurses who are working longer reflect the overall trend of Americans – especially women - working longer.
In nursing, he said the older nurses can help health providers meet new demands created by the Affordable Care Act.
"You have such a large cohort of nurses who are seeking to work outside of the hospital which has traditionally not been where most nurses work," he said. "This is at a time that a lot of health care delivery systems are also trying to beef up their primary care and improve care coordination and move care to less intensive settings, and [it] seems like this could be a good opportunity for those organizations."
Auerback said the large numbers of RN’s working later in life are also helping stave off a predicted nursing shortage.
In 2012 there were 2.7 million RN's, about a half million more nurses in the workforce than expected, according to RAND. It calculated that older nurses accounted for about a quarter of that 500,000, with new graduates making up the rest.