Alice Facente, MSN, RN, is a community health education nurse in Connecticut. Her Reflections essays, “At Her Mercy” and “The Dirtiest House in Town,” were published, respectively, in the August 2009 and January 2010 issues of AJN.
I recently passed a professional career milestone: 40 years since I’d graduated from nursing school. When I began my career, nurses still wore white starched caps and white uniforms. I don’t know how we accomplished everything we did with those impractical caps perched on our heads. The shocking realization that four decades had so quickly passed forced me to think about all of the benefits of being a mature, experienced nurse. Right off the top of my head, I thought of 10 things (and yes, these are generalizations and exceptions exist).
1. Older nurses are often more empathetic. Chances are that in the last several decades every older nurse has been a patient, undergone surgery, become a parent and possibly a grandparent, encountered personal financial challenges, experienced the death of a close friend or family member, and much more.
2. Death is not so frightening. Nurses have cared for people at all stages of the life cycle and know that, with planning and preparation, the end of one’s life can be peaceful and dignified.
3. We are not easily fooled. There is not too much that we haven’t seen or heard in 40 years.
4. Computer crashes don’t bother us. In fact, who do they turn to when they have to chart using the “old fashioned” pen and paper method?
5. We have X-ray vision. Years of experience have fine-tuned our assessment skills.
6. We have accumulated simple “tricks of the trade” like the heel-drop test for appendicitis or checking conjunctiva pallor for anemia. 7. Older nurses are collaborative. We know our limits with new technology, and are usually humble enough to defer to younger techno-savvy nurses for this. In return, we can share our knowledge and experience with younger nurses to the benefit of their patients.
8. We are more likely to trust our own judgment. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Seasoned nurses are not afraid to say “Hold on, let me think about this for a minute.”
9. We can appreciate the enthusiasm and energy of younger nurses, and if we’re wise, let it rub off on us so we can avoid complacency and apathy.
10. We have learned that a good sense of humor is an invaluable asset, and can usually ease a stressful situation.
Younger nurses may view us older nurses as obsolete, jaded, and slow, but I prefer to see those characteristics as innovative, pragmatic, and careful. I have learned quite a bit from newbie nurses over the years, and I hope they can say the same for me. There is so much to be gained by teaming up the talents and skills of both new nurses and older, seasoned nurses. Working together, there isn’t a challenge that powerful team couldn’t meet.