Retaining older experienced nurses in the Northern Territory of Australia: a qualitative study exploring opportunities for post-retirement contributions
Carson, Dean B
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Introduction: Many countries are facing an ageing of the nursing workforce and increasing workforce shortages. This trend is due to members of the ‘baby boomer’ generation leaving the workforce for retirement and a declining pool of younger people entering the nursing profession. New approaches to engaging older nurses in the workforce are becoming common in nursing globally but have yet to be adapted to remote contexts such as the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia. This article reports findings from a qualitative study of 15 participants who explored perceived opportunities for and barriers to implementing flexible strategies to engage older nurses in the NT workforce after they resign from full-time work. Methods: The study used a descriptive qualitative design. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews with NT nurses approaching retirement (six nurses aged 50 years and over) and their managers (n=9). Clinicians were employed in practice settings that included hospitals, community health and ‘Top End’ (north of and including the town of Katherine), as well as Central Australian remote area communities. One participant who was employed as primary health centre manager in a remote community also held a clinical role. Managers were employed in both senior and line management positions in community and remote health as well as NT hospitals. Results: Three major themes emerged from the data. First, interview participants identified potential for flexible post-retirement engagement of older nurses and a range of concrete engagement opportunities 'on and off the floor’ were identified. Second, the main barriers to post-retirement engagement were an existing focus on the recruitment of younger Australian and overseas-trained nurses, and the remoteness of nursing practice settings from the residential locations of retired nurses. Third, existing informal system of post-retirement working arrangements, characterized by ad hoc agreements between individual nurses and managers, is poorly suited to scaling up. Conclusion: A knowledge and change-management approach is required to change employers’ views of the value of older nurses. Better engagement of those nurses may assist the NT Department of Health address the severe nursing workforce shortages and prevent the loss of significant remote area nursing knowledge.