Older nurses should have support to keep working to stay in the workforce

February 1, 2021

A recently-released international policy brief lays out a 10-point plan to support older nurses – those aged over 55 – to stay at work.

Older nurse with patient

Older nurses should be supported to stay in the workforce. PHOTO: NURSING STANDARD

Developed for the International Centre on Nurse Migration (ICNM) and supported by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and CGFNS International, it is aimed at national nursing associations and others responsible for nursing workforce planning.

Podiatry image by valuavitaly on Freepik

Along with other international evidence, the brief draws on the State of the World’s Nursing (SOWN) report. The report, released for the 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, highlighted that one in six (17 per cent) of nurses around the world were aged 55 or over, and expected to retire within the next 10 years. It estimated 4.7 million “new” nurses would have to be educated and employed just to replace those older nurses who retire. And for every 10 “new” nurses required to address the global shortage of 5.9 million, another eight would have to be trained to replace those retiring in the next 10 years.


The policy brief, Ageing Well? Policies to support older nurses at work, says COVID-19 has exacerbated the worldwide nursing shortage. And older nurses were more vulnerable to COVID-19 so must be well protected in the workplace, it said.

There was a global risk some countries could meet their replacement needs by active international recruitment. “If not underpinned by an ethical approach… this may damage the nurse workforce capacity of some ‘source’ countries to meet immediate population health demands caused by COVID-19 and longer-term objectives of achieving universal health care,” the brief said.

The reasons for examining the issue of older nurses in the workforce were “compelling”, according to the brief’s authors. Preventing, reducing or replacing the potential loss of skills and expertise was one of the main nursing workforce challenges facing many countries. Older nurses were more likely to have additional skills and advanced practice or specialist qualifications.


The brief pointed out that policy makers must be aware that their efforts to retain nurses for longer in the workforce would only be effective if they were tailored to the needs and expectations of older nurses.

The 10-point plan is:

  • understand the workforce profile and employment needs of older nurses…;
  • avoid age bias in recruitment and employment practices;
  • provide flexible working opportunties that meet older nurses’ requirements;
  • ensure older nurses have equal access to learning and career opportunities;
  • ensure occupational health and safety policies enable staff wellbeing;
  • support job re-design to reduce heavy workloads and stress, and support job enrichment to optimise the contribution of older nurses;
  • maintain a pay and benefits system that meets older nurses’ needs and rewards experience;
  • support older nurses in advanced and specialist practice, mentorship and preceptor roles;
  • maintain succession planning to enable knowledge transfer and leadership development; and
  • provide retirement planning options and, where appropriate, flexible pensions.

The report’s authors are James Buchan of the ICNM, ICN chief executive Howard Catton and Franklin A Schaffer of CGFNS International.