Older nurses are ‘gold dust’ and urgent changes are needed to retain them, says ICN chief

An ongoing global shortage of registered nurses is expected to worsen with 4.7 million nurses worldwide expected to retire by 2030.

Chloe Dawson
13 December 2020
District Nurse

Flexible working and a reduction in work-related stress could help bolster nursing numbers.

Older nurses are like “gold dust” and urgent measures are needed to retain them, according to international nursing leaders.


The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has warned that an ongoing global shortage of registered nurses is expected to worsen with 4.7 million nurses worldwide expected to retire by 2030.

Published earlier this week, the report Ageing Well? Policies to Support Older Nurses at Work by the International Centre on Nurse Migration (ICNM), the International Council of Nurses (ICN), and CGFNS International, Inc., details the policy implications and actions that are necessary to retain older nurses in the workplace.

A ten-point plan included in the report suggests that providing flexible working arrangement, a reduction in work-related stress, and removing the age bias in the recruitment process could boost the number of nurses on the frontline.

It also recommends that a better understanding of the workforce and needs of older nurses is needed to support them to stay in practice.


Losing the most experienced members of the profession.

Lead author Professor James Buchan, adjunct professor at the WHO Collaborating Centre at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, said: “We need to improve the retention of older nurses, otherwise we risk losing the most experienced members of the profession at a time when the pandemic has exposed the risk of global nursing shortages.

ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton, who also co-authored the report, said that the report did not “does not take into account the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic” and warns about the ethics of first-world countries importing nurses from developing countries.

Mr Catton said; “After the past nine months, nurses are exhausted, some have post-traumatic stress disorder, and very many of those who came back to the workforce to help out are not staying. I also suspect that nurses who pre COVID had been intending to work up to their normal retirement age, may now say they have had enough.

“In the past, rich countries have seen importing nurses from poorer countries as a key part of the solution to address their own shortages. That has never been acceptable when it robs countries with weaker healthcare systems of much needed nursing resources, and a post-pandemic world might also see different migration patterns that mean the usual ‘donor’ countries will no longer perform that role.