Millennials are saving the nursing profession. Facing a potential shortage due to baby boomers retiring, nursing has welcomed an unexpected surge of millennials entering the field.
Those millennials are nearly twice as likely to be nurses as their grandparents’ generation, the baby boomers, a recent Health Affairs study found. This trend has averted a potential workforce crisis and has implications for the future of nursing, said David Auerbach, one of the authors of the study.
“Definitely the composition of the workforce is shifting. In just a few years there will be more millennials than baby boomers in the nursing workforce,” he said.
Ashley Dasko, 25, is one of those millennials. In high school, she had no interest in nursing and she initially majored in political science at Florida State University.
But the subject just didn’t engage her so she decided to audit a biology class and fell in love with the subject. She enrolled at Tallahassee Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in nursing.
Now, she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree from the Indiana University School of Nursing and eventually become a nurse practitioner. For the past eight months, she’s been working at IU Health Methodist Hospital as a surgical trauma nurse and loves her job.
“I wanted to start somewhere where I could see everything,” she said. “This is a good place to see a little bit of everything.”
Across the country, hospitals are seeing more nursing job applicants like Dasko — and they’re embracing them, hiring them to fill positions vacated by retiring baby boomers.
“We’re really seeing an influx of millennial nurses into our workforce,” said Lisa Sparks, chief nursing officer at IU Health West Hospital in Avon, Indianapolis. “I would say it’s been the most noticeable over the last 18 to 24 months.”
Experts point to a number of reasons millennials are opting for nursing careers. Nursing schools have almost doubled enrollment in the past decade to help train a replacement workforce for the many nurses who will soon reach retirement age.
Nursing fills the void that the decline in manufacturing jobs created and offers steady, reliable work, Auerbach said. Healthcare also appeals to millennials’ desire to do meaningful work that allows them to contribute to society. Finally, nursing careers come in many shapes and sizes and offer a flexibility many other fields lack.
“There’s not going to be any one simple explanation,” said Auerbach, an affiliate of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies at Montana State University. “It’s probably going to be a combination of things.”
As a child, Ryan Page, 24, had no doubts he wanted to go into healthcare in the footsteps of his mother, an IU Health nurse. For a while, he wavered between medicine and nursing.
By the time he graduated from high school, however, he had settled on nursing and went to Ball State University where he earned a B.S.N. degree.
“It made better financial and personal sense for me to go to nursing school,” said Page, a Westside resident. “I personally didn’t want to stay in school for eight years straight. I wanted to start my life earlier rather than later.”
For the past two and a half years, Page has worked on a cardiovascular unit. He’s working on a master’s in health systems leadership at the University of Indianapolis and aspires one day to be a clinical unit manager.
Hospitals do have to make some changes to accommodate this new type of worker. Indiana’s IU Health, which has about 6,000 nurses throughout its hospital system, has developed an experiential transition of practice program to help new nurses adjust, Gilbert said.
IU Health has also discovered that credentials matter to many young job applicants. Often they will ask whether a hospital has magnet designation, something fewer than 4 percent of hospitals have.
Prospective nurses also look for flexibility, in terms of job schedules and the environment in which they work, Sparks said. Other generations may have stayed in one job for years, Gilbert said; this generation prefers to try new things.
“The adaptability piece is key,” Sparks said. “That’s one of the benefits that we offer as a system, because there’s a lot of opportunity to move through our different hospitals, or even our different service lines or units. That’s very appealing to this generation.”
Not only do younger nurses learn from their older colleagues, they may also teach the veterans some new skills, particularly in the area of technology.
Older nurses may also find themselves in some situations being mentored by or reporting to a millennial. Some days, Page serves as a charge nurse, which means he can find himself as the manager to nurses who have far more years of experience than he.
Although Page has such a youthful appearance that patients sometimes question how he’s old enough to be a nurse, he said, there’s nothing awkward about overseeing colleagues his parents’ age and beyond.
“A couple of them have been nurses longer than I have been alive, and they’re a wonderful asset to have on our team,” he said.
Those seasoned nurses helped Kathryn Johnson, 24, find her way to nursing. When she started at Indiana University, she was interested in medicine but nursing was not on her radar. Then when she was a junior, her father was diagnosed with cancer.
Strangers to medicine, her family started spending a lot of time in the hospital. Throughout her father’s illness, that eventually took his life, her family turned again and again to the nursing staff.
“After the whole rollercoaster of everything that happened, I was able to look back and had a lot of respect and awe for the nurses,” Johnson said.
After earning a biology degree from Indiana University, Johnson attended an accelerated bachelor of nursing program and for the past six months, she has worked as an emergency room nurse, a job, which she said, she just loves.