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What are my career prospects as a nurse over 50?


Nursing Times blogger Martin Jones thinks about his pension and the career opportunities for nurses over 50.

My last blog was about sexually transmitted infections in the over-50s. This time around I’m examining career opportunities for an over-50 nurse. Younger readers, please stay with it. All comments are highly valued.

I’m 51, a HIV and sexual health nurse since 1986 and feeling a narrowing of career (and life) opportunities. This doesn’t feel like mid-life crisis but has certainly been on my mind since I received my NHS pension choice pack. According to my statement I’d need to work until 64 and a half for the new 2008 scheme to provide better value than my existing scheme. That’s 13 years away. What might happen in my nursing career between now and then?

Messages from politicians and the media suggest that, in order for our pensions to provide long-lasting quality of life in retirement we’ll all need to save for longer than the previous generation. But how much longer? Will 13 years be sufficient for me?

According to an online calculator my basic and risk adjusted life expectancy is 79.96 or 85.56 years respectively. Taking the more conservative, basic estimate, I feel a long way from my eightieth birthday. However decisions that I take now will have their impact decades from now.

Putting my pension choice to one side, there are other factors causing this Weltschmertz*. For example, time in one specialty and one job: I’ve been a HIV nurse since the mid-80s and working in Eastbourne for 16 years. That looks like a long time. Yet I was drawn to Mark Radcliffe’s blog a couple of weeks ago in which he stated that nursing ‘challenges our capacity to know, do, feel and be’. HIV nursing is what I do, what I know and what I am. I’m as vocationally driven and as motivated as ever. I’m committed to a cohort of patients, some of whom I’ve known for many years.

Additionally there are personal factors. My youngest child still has to complete a year of statutory education to be followed by two at sixth form college. I’m not in favour of moving him away from his home town, so by the time he sits his A-levels I’ll be 55. Then there’s university and three further years of financial dependence. I cannot envisage a new employer taking me on in my mid-to-late fifties at the top of the band 7 pay scale. Younger candidates inevitably appear to offer longer in post at lower cost than me.

So do I have any prospect of further career moves? Should I stay or try to move? As I commented to Mark Radcliffe, ‘I nurse therefore I am’. Will I one day feel ready to stop doing this? At 51, how can I know if, when and where my nursing career might end?

* Weltschmertz from the German, meaning world-pain or world-weariness (Wikipedia)

About Martin

Martin Jones, Clinical Nurse Specialist HIV, East Sussex Downs & Weald. He has worked in sexual health and HIV since 1986.



Readers' comments (7)

  • Just a suggestion. There are millions of people in the world in need of your expertise. Why not do as I did twelve years ago and go to africa and teach and work there with a NGO ? I have to say I only go for two weeks at a time as I have grandchildren who I love to look after. The satisfaction of helping people who are really in need of your skills far outweighs any discomfort caused by heat, bugs etc. I go out to different countries three or four times a year to teach theatre nurses and it has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my nursing career ,

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  • Commute to London - you should get a job at one of the big teaching hospitals, boost your pension and make contact with teaching staff at the more illustrious schools of nursing to further your profile and career prospects when you've decided that clinical work is enough. The world is your lobster mate.

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  • There are going to be a lot of 50+ nurses retiring from the NHS over the next few years, largely depleting expertise and staffing levels. I believe it should be sensible to retain these staff for as long as possible until junior staff develop the skills to fill the gaps the over 50's leave. Don't be snobish and think that degree nurses are going to immedialetly fill these gaps, nothing, but nothing substitutes for years and years of updating knowledge and experience

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  • I registered when I was 50 years old. I am now 54 years old and working as a band 5 in an ED. I hve 11 years left before I retire (and by then the compulsory retirement age will be history), and I don't intend to sit on my laurels.
    My youngest has just turned 18, and is likely to enter higher education next September, having had three years in Further Education.
    It would also be illegal for an employer to refuse to employ you based on your age (legislation that came in in 2006), therefore I would suggest that you seriously consider what you want to do, don't discount possibilities. New Zealand will accept people as permanent residents up to the age of 54, Australia has a lower limit, but if the employer can show that the skills are needed then this can be overcome.
    Examine your skills, examine training opportunities to broaden your skills, take a deep breath and go gfor it, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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  • I am 52, I qualified seven years ago as a registered mental health nurse, I have recently been accepted as a high intensity trainee (band 6) for IAPT, there are still lot's of opportunities for people our age you just may need to do some extra training.

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  • I didn't qualify as a nurse until I was 51 (six years ago) and was very fortunate to be offered a job straightaway. Sadly, the job was a bit of a disaster and I ended doing 'Agency' until something else came along. Again, purely by a stroke of luck, I got another job - in Outpatients. My cohort friends accused me of 'retiring' as I'd taken on what they regarded to be a waiting-for-God job!
    But now, with the experience and confidence I've gained, I plan to take a Sabbatical and head out to Asia to be (as it says in Cider House Rules) 'of use'.
    There's always a use for us older nurses. Keep the faith, Martin!

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  • Martin  Jones

    What generous comments. Thankyou.
    Judy: that's real food for thought.
    Anon1, 2 & 3: don't think I could bear the commute (90 minutes from Eastbourne Station to Victoria + journey to job + inevitable delays. But appreciate the feedback.
    John: New Zealand? I've a brother out there... Appreciate your optimistic note too.
    June: I got the same when I went to outpatients (GU clinic) at age 27. Some things never change... As a northern soulie I'll definitely "keep the faith" - in my future career too.

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