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Older nurses and midwives are battling fatigue, physical changes and lack of respect in the workplace, according to new Australian research.

This study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, featured interviews with 50 nurses and midwives aged 46 to 74 years who worked across a variety of clinical settings.

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The research team from the University of South Australia identified three key themes from the interviews: ageing body, youth focus and wise worker.

Ageing body

Being an older worker meant increased fatigue and physical changes affecting their ability to function at full capacity.

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“You’ve got to be thinking constantly, so mentally and physically it’s very draining”, one participant said.

Physical changes, such as the onset of conditions like age-related arthritis and diabetes, or loss of vision or hearing acuity, also affected the ability of many older nurses and midwives to perform to their best, the study found.

One participant discussed her diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, saying it reduced her capacity to work: ‘Bending and doing general ward work is really difficult’, she said.

Youth focus

The second theme identified within the study, Youth Focus, uncovered that for many participants, being an older worker in healthcare meant being viewed as a poor-quality worker, and being afforded limited access to education and promotional opportunities. Many older nurses and midwives did not feel as valued in the workplace as their younger counterparts.

‘When I was a fresh graduate people would ask my opinion, but now if I speak, people say, ‘oh whatever’’, a participant said.

Older nurses and midwives who took part in the study also reported being treated differently in the workplace, including being shunned by younger colleagues because of their age.

Wise worker

Contrary to the negative experiences reported by many participants, a small number of older nurses and midwives felt valued and respected for their wisdom, knowledge, experience and skills, and said they were treated well at work. Several others also spoke about inclusive workplaces with no difference in the treatment between generations.

‘I am looked on as being the wise old woman, the person younger ones come to’, one participant said.

In these workplaces, for some participants, being an older nurse or midwife meant that they were given the opportunity to mentor junior colleagues.

The researchers said their results highlight the need for improved support of older nurses and midwives in managing age-related fatigue and physical changes.

A solution proposed by the authors was the adoption of a ‘wise-worker model’, where workplaces have practices that enable and facilitate the contribution of older workers.

They said that the ‘wise-worker’ model of practice is one that should be promoted by all healthcare workplaces to ensure the knowledge and skills of the profession are passed from one generation to the next.

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Charlotte Mitchell

Charlotte is a published journalist and editor, with 10 years of experience in developing high-quality content for national and international publications.

With an academic background in both science and communications, she specialises in medical and science writing. Charlotte is passionate about creating engaging, evidence-based content that equips the community with important information on issues around healthcare, medicine and research.

Over the years, she has partnered with organisations including the Medical Journal of Australia, Cancer Council NSW, Bupa, the Australasian Medical Publishing Company, Dementia Australia, MDA National, pharmaceutical companies, and state and federal government agencies, to produce high-impact news and clinical content  for different audiences.