Nurses are delaying retirement, helping to forestall severe shortage

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MERRIAM, Kan. -- Remember the forecasts of a dire shortage of nurses? That shortage hasn't come to pass, at least not yet. Now we know one reason why. Older nurses are delaying retirement.

Jane Lang has been a registered nurse for 40 years. At age 63, you might think she'd have thoughts of retirement.

"And I say no, not really. Should I be? Because I love what I do," said Lang, a nurse at Shawnee Mission Medical Center.

She's part of a trend. Nurses are delaying retirement. A new report in the journal Health Affairs finds it's one reason why predictions of a severe nursing shortage haven't come to pass. The nursing workforce was 2.7 million strong in 2012. That's above the forecast a decade ago of 2.2 million.

Nurses over 50 are staying on the job two and a half years longer than those of the previous generation. The head of the Magnet nursing program at Shawnee Mission says longer life expectancy is clearly one factor.

"We're all healthier, and we even have nurses who've retired from another career and moved into nursing," said Regina Fraiya.

Fraiya says the recession has also kept nurses on the job.

"Either retirement plans have not panned out as they wanted them to be or a spouse has lost a job," she said.

Lang says building her 401K back up is one reason she's working, but far from the primary one. She says even when she decides to no longer work full-time, she won't be fully retired.

"They'll call me (and) say we're busy today. Can you come in?" said Lang.

And she'll be there for patients.

The report says a severe nursing shortage has also been held off by a surge in new nursing graduates.

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