The U.S. Census predicts that by 2016, 33% of the country’s workforce will be over 50.  The impact of the “graying” of  American workers is especially significant in the health care industry.  The Department of Labor funded a special report on this issue, which can be accessed here.  Its recent report includes some startling statistics and projections.

  • By 2020, nearly half of all registered nurses will reach traditional retirement age.  Currently the average age of a nurse in the United States is 50. 
  • Nearly 25% of all physicians in a 2007 national survey were 60 or older.
  • In 2001, more than 80% of all dentists in the country were older than 45, and the number of dentists expected to enter the field by 2020 will not be sufficient to replace those likely to retire.
  • By 2030, the country will need an extra 3.5 million formal health care providers just to maintain the existing ratio of providers to the total population.

The report summarizes strategies that health care providers can use to retain older health care workers, including the following:

  • Implementing ergonomic improvements to make job tasks easier for older workers.
  • Permitting flexible work hours rather than the rigid shifts typical of most health care jobs.
  • Creating a team-based work structure to allow older workers to transfer their institutional knowledge to younger workers and share tasks that may be more difficult for older workers to perform.
  • Allowing workers who are 65 or older to work part-time while drawing on their pensions.
  • Allowing employees to work for three, six or nine months, and then take a three-month break.

The report is a wake-up call for all health care providers to assess their own workforce and determine whether specific strategies should be implemented to encourage older workers to remain employed.