10 Good Things About Being an Older Nurse

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.

Puddle Reflection/by joiseyshowaa, via Flickr

Puddle Reflection/by joiseyshowaa, via Flickr

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.

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Donna Gallipeau June 20, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    Nice to know I am not alone.

  2. Sheryl McCloud June 19, 2015 at 10:43 am

    35 years in nursing and I don’t regret a day of it. Nursing knowledge comes from the book, but the knowing comes from the work and experience. Good nurses are not “hatched” they’re developed we can all learn from each other. Loved the article.

  3. Tony Feltner (@tonyer62) June 19, 2015 at 12:42 am

    It is a shame that nurses over 50 in the USA are being weeded out. I am one of those. I have worked in many fields as an RN, 33 years ago I graduated and began nursing. Now, with my BSN I am trying to transition to case management as my back has suffered the many strains,wear and tear, and most recently a motor vehicle accident in Nov 2014 that has shifted my spinal column, and caused whiplash to my necked, and left arm and shoulder numbness and pain, numbness also to left foot 3 middle toes since the accident. Still in Physical Therapy, my hospital terminated my contract because this older nurse can no longer lift. I miss my patients worse, they always made me smile, as I did for them.

  4. linrenee smith February 21, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Good to hear an older nurse give her perspective. I am an older RN student. There are some other older students in my class. However, they all work in healthcare. This is a totally new, second career for me. I often wonder how I will be treated in the hospital when I finally get a job. Will the older nurses appreciate my “life/work knowledge” from my past life? Will they treat me like a young nurse? It really doesn’t matter. I am going to keep plowing ahead. Nothing will stop me now. I will hope for the best.

  5. Cheri Webster October 19, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    The Nursing system in Canada is pushing nurses over 50 out when we don’t want to be gone. We could learn from your experience!!

  6. MaryP Dvorsky, RN October 16, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Veronica, it is also called the Markle sign. A good ER doc will always have a pt perform this.

  7. Cyndi October 16, 2014 at 9:14 am

    33 years here! Yes, we have all kinds of experience that the young nurses hopefully will get in their next 33 years of nursing! I have saved my nursing cap, and I have done so many kinds of nursing that I have never been burned out, and STILL love what I do! Rock on NURSES! By the way, I am and have always been an LPN by choice, and we are nurses too!

  8. Peggy October 9, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Old nurses rock! 🙂

  9. […] 10 Good Things About Being an Older Nurse | Off the Charts. […]

  10. Veronica Cheney, RN, BSNS October 4, 2014 at 8:05 am

    I think this is a wonderful article. I want to know what the foot drop trick is. 🙂

  11. […] 10 Good Things About Being an Older Nurse. […]

  12. Cynthia Taylor October 3, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    What a refreshing and wonderful article!

  13. Kerri McDonald October 3, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I wish all older nurses were like you, and I would love to work with an older nurse as collaborative as you. I’m sure I could learn a great deal.

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