The Challenges of Nursing Multi-Generations


This may seem like a sociology paper, but I want to share what I have observed from people, so maybe we can learn a few things.

I get to meet lots of different types of people, due to my job as an ER nurse for the last 20 years. Not just different socio-economic groups, but different generations of people. I like to study and talk to people, of all levels, and find out what’s their story. Everyone has emergencies at some point in their life so I feel like I have seen a good sampling of the population. This blog is not to criticize certain generations, but to get a better understanding for each and to be more empathetic.

For instance, I had a 85-year-old man yesterday, fall in the bathroom and break his hip.  His leg is completely deformed, shortened and outward rotated.  He refused pain meds.  States he was “ok”.  He even managed to joke with his wife.  Wow.  I explained how we have to move him, and he still refused the meds.  But, he is just one example.  I see this generation all the time and they usually don’t complain, whine or argue.  They are more worried about their spouses than themselves.

Literally, a room away at the same time, I have a girl born in 1993, of The Millennial Generation, who came into the ER for chest pain, 10/10 pain.  This girl is on her phone, in no acute distress, breathing normal, watching TV.  Really, 10/10?  She is asking for pain meds and wants to know why it is taking so long to see the doctor.  She complains about the IV hurting and asks for a pillow and socks.  Wow.  But, literally I see this all the time.

How have we become so different?

I will break down each generation and explain each of their needs.

The G.I Generation & The Silent Generation

Elderly man portrait at outdoor shot

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My Favorite generations of people is the group born 1900-1924, The G.I. Generation, and the next generation, The Silent Few, born 1925-1935.  These folks are no joke.  Tough cookies, I call them.  They literally take a licking and keep on ticking, and without complaining.  My dad was born in this generation and even though he is passed away, I see his personality traits in so many like him, born of the same time.

 These people came to age during the great depression and were affected by WW II.  Most of them didn’t have TV’s (till late 1940’s), cars, phones, and they only used one square of toilet paper.  They had pride, respected authority, and wore dress clothes most of the time.  They liked stability, and lived in the same house and stayed at the same job for their whole life.

I like these generations because they can talk to people, they can tell stories.  They naturally don’t put themselves before others.  They work hard, and don’t quit, because they wanted better lives for their family.  They have been through some rough times, so they have great perspective.  They are not dramatic or attention seeking.

As patients, they can be sick and fragile because of the advanced age.  They need to know their loved ones are safe.

The Baby Boomers

Group of seniors

Then you have The Baby Boomers, aka The Me Generation, born in the mid 1940’s to mid-1960’s.   These people born post WW II, were like an earthquake to America.  They are divided between the conformist who developed “suburbs” and taught women how to be a good wife (TV shows Make Room for Daddy and Father Knows Best), and the anti-conformists who were hippies, listened to Rock and Roll music, lived during Woodstock, and were part of the sexual and civil rights movement.  This generation did want they wanted and had the money to do it.  They wanted the American Dream and worked hard to get it.  They tend to be self-absorbed and materialistic.  They had the highest divorce rate in history.

As patients in the Er, they can be demanding.  Often sick for their age after years of smoking and drinking, they can also be frequent fliers.

As patients in the Er, they need attention and made to feel special.

Gen X

Smiling mature couple standing in contemporary home

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Born to baby boomer parents, somewhere between 1965-early 80’s, also know as latch-key kids and  the MTV generation.  This is my generation.  Where you were told to go play and don’t come home till dark.  A generation that lived in a world where there was more focus on adults than kids.  Look at some of the movies, Sixteen Candles, Goonies, ET, Ferris Bueller’s Day off.  The kids did what they wanted and the parents barely knew what was going on.  Divorce rates were high among the parents and children learned independence early on.  Because of this freedom, resentment, laziness, and “whatever” attitudes can be prevalent.  Grunge and alternative rock, which were born during this time, show these attitudes.  Also shows like Friends, portrayed Gen Xers as laid-back, social and fun.

Because of this early freedom, Gen X are great thinkers, entrepreneurs, and workers who don’t need the focus to be on them.

As patients in the ER, they want autonomy and to be included in decisions.

Millennials/Gen Y

Portrait of three friends taking photos with a smartphone.Group of young people laughing and doing a selfie in cafe.

Oh, the Millennials, born early 1980’s-late 1990’s.  The generation raised under helicopter parenting, where the parents hovered over children, protecting them from harm, making decisions for them and giving them schedules and playdates.  Often know to be entitled and narcissistic, Millennials have been coddled from birth.   Also know as “trophy kids”, Millennials need positive reinforcement and can be dramatic.

They grew up during the recession of the late 2000’s and because of this, many have not been able to find work right out of college.  This has prolonged many life goals such as getting married, having children, and moving out of their parents house.

On the upswing, Millennials are the least prejudice and most accepting generation.  They also are tech savvy and accommodating to change.  They also have higher volunteering rates than past generations.

As patients, in the Er they need lots of reassurance and hand holding, and they also need friends and family to be involved.

Gen Z/Post-Millennials

Group of diligent schoolchildren looking at camera in school

Born 2000’s current, this generation is yet to be formally named.  Gen Z are going to be the most tech savvy, never knowing a pre-internet world.  They are possibly more cautious than Millennials because they lived through 9/11 and the recession in their early childhood.  These children have to compete on a global level for jobs and may no longer seek college for safe jobs, like doctor or lawyers.

 These kids know where to find answers and are able to network.  They are quick to think and can be impatient.

These patients need updating, resources and family involvement.

So there you have it.  The last 100+ years of generations.  As you can see, there is quite a variance in each.  Learning to care for each at their level is the challenge.

What observations have you discovered?


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Retirement, Are We There Yet?


A co-worker of mine just retired after 40 years in the nursing field.  She and I have been friends for the last 13 years, since I moved to my current job.  I know all jobs have issues and struggles.  Construction is physically draining.  Sales is emotionally draining.  Administration is tedious.  But let me tell you, nursing is all of the above. Not only is the job physically rigorous, but it’s a dirty job.  People suck the life from you with endless demands and dissatisfaction.  You see people and their families at their worst.  When people are stressed and sick, they have to vent and it usually comes out on the nurse.  Doctors and nurses often have a complicated working relationship, which can make nurses feel underappreciated as well.

That being said, nursing is the best job out there and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.  (Other than blogging :). Don’t get me wrong, being a wife and mother always comes first.  But I have to work.  I spent my first 20 years of my life preparing to go to college and get a job, so I actually feel like working was in the plan my whole life.  But, nursing is more of a calling then a job.  The miserable nurses, which there are plenty, went into this field for the wrong reasons, and end up hating it and getting burnt out.  But for the ones of us that were called to nursing, we stick it out, year after year, making the most of it.  We rely on the bond that all nurses have, and the humor that we find in mankind.

Patients always ask me “how long you been a nurse?”  I often wonder why, is it because I look like I know what I’m doing or because I look middle-aged.  Anyway, I proudly reply “19 years”.  Wow, 19 years is a long time.  It even catches me off guard.  I have been a nurse longer then I have been a wife and mother.  Being a nurse, was my first identity.

If you are like me and in your early 40’s, then the sad truth is that 19 years at a job is only almost half way to retirement.  What!  If I retire at 65, then I still have another 24 more years at this.  Mind blowing.  How can it be that far?  How can I last another 24 years?  I think of 24 years ago and I was 17, a baby.  And now I realize that much time has to pass in order for me to retire.  Oh boy.  I am not sure I can handle that.

When I graduated college in 1997, I could not wait to get my first job.  The process of employment seemed like it took forever and I could not wait to start.  I was ambitious and eager to learn.  I looked at the middle age nurses for wisdom and guidance.  As the years have gone by, I somehow transformed from the young new nurse to the middle-age nurse.

Even though 40 is not old, from the perspective of a 20-year-old, it is.  Now, my job is to help and teach the new generation, and not only about nursing, but about life.  These young women, born of a different time, need a loving mom figure and I have adopted them.   As nurses, we don’t just take care of patients, we take care of each other.

My co-worker that just retired was my mom figure.  She helped me through 3 pregnancies and then after.  She even made to go into labor with her famous meatballs.  She has listened, asked, cared and supported me and my family though these past 13 years and I am going to miss her dearly.  Her leaving, transforms the staff as well.  I am now one of the “senior” staff .  The torch has passed.

So from here on out, 24 years and counting, I have to carry this torch.  I have to fill the shoes of wisdom and guidance. I have to do what my friend did for me, in her absence.

Even though I am only half way to retirement, I realize that work is a privilege.  It is an honor to be able to affect so many lives, both clients and co-workers, and to be an active part of society.   Yes, I am exhausted and frustrated at times, but it has molded me to be the person I am today.  Whatever you do, work at it whole heartily, and do it for the Lord.  Colossians 3:23.  That is why it is so important for us parents to direct our children to do what they love, because 45 years at a job that you hate, is a waste of a lifetime.

So, retirement, are we there yet?  Not even close!  But I’m glad, this torch is still on fire.