How to Prepare Financially and Intellectually for Retirement from Nursing Protection Status

by Diana L. Gallagher MS, RN, CWOCN, CFCN

The new year is here (again). By now, resolutions have been made and resolutions have been abandoned. Most of us make resolutions with the best of intentions. Resolutions are dreams for something better. Perhaps we would like better health and as nurses, we know what we need to do. Perhaps our goal is a secure financial future; or perhaps, we crave better time management to survive our hectic schedules.

I envision life as a great book filled with intriguing chapters built around the rich stories that make each of our lives so full. Just think of the amazing stories that we witness every day in providing patient care. There is excitement, intrigue, comedy, and drama. There are memorable characters that will stay with us for years to come.

Our lives are like the chapters of a great book. This year is a new chapter in our lives. For the majority of us, we are well past the beginning of our book; but, we are far from the end of our stories.

The Changing Face of Registered Nurses

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the nation has an estimated 3.06 million registered nurses—more than ever before. A profession that has traditionally been dominated by white women is gradually benefitting from diversity with more men and more ethnic groups joining this dynamic, rewarding profession.

Unfortunately, even with this infusion of "new blood", the average age of a registered nurse is 47 years old. This is a number that has been steadily increasing since 1996 when it was just over 44. In 2008, 45 percent of registered nurses had celebrated the "big 50."

We know from the statistics provided to us by the HRSA that the vast majority of registered nurses, 84.4 percent, are still working and over 63 percent of those are working full time. Our "books" may end up being a bit longer than we had originally planned.

When Should I Start Preparing for Retirement?

Retirement is a worthy goal and something that many of us dream of. On tough days, we may dream of it even more wistfully. Sadly, a recent Gallup poll reported that the average American now expects to retire at age 67. This number has steadily inched upward since it was 60 in the mid-1990s.

Retirement may not be around the corner for a lot of us, but that does not mean we cannot begin planning. Whether you are just beginning your career or well along your career path, retirement planning is a lot like discharge planning – it is best when started at the very beginning.

If your employer offers matching funds for retirement and you are not taking full advantage of it, I have to ask why. Who would walk away from free money or turn down a 100% increase on their savings? Although saving is hard, putting this small percentage away is manageable and when it is doubled, it grows very quickly. This is a tangible example of investing your resources wisely.

Investing in Financial and Personal Growth

It is important that we plan toward those later chapters in our lives and make good investments. These investments may be monetary but also may be an investment in additional education or other avenues for personal growth. Investments will add richness to our lives today and to our lives in the years to come.

Every nurse knows that their lives are spent in different roles and divergent settings. We are nurses, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, partners, sons, daughters, volunteers, and so much more. We are complex individuals with complicated lives. The messiness of life is not necessarily bad. Retirement should not eliminate the complexity and textures of our lives but instead allow us the freedom to choose how we spend those climatic final chapters.

Are You Retiring From Nursing or Retiring To Follow Your Dreams?

If we do indeed retire at the age of 67, what do the next one, two, three, or more decades hold for us? Our lives are meant to be lived fully and completely. We should not retire FROM something but instead make the decision to retire TO something.

That something should be new and exciting; retirement should not be idle and boring. It should be a memorable new series of adventures to fill many more chapters with rich dialog and bigger-than-life characters. Just imagine all of things that we dream of doing—if only we had the time. Retirement can give us the time to live our dreams while we continue to change our lives and the lives of those that we touch along our way.

Now is the time for each of us to plan for the next chapters in our lives and explore all of the possibilities. The start of a new year is our chance to dream big and imagine great things. Where will our stories take us next? Being a nurse means that there are infinite opportunities. Will it be a change in venue or position? Will it be a transfer to a different aspect of direct patient care? What about additional degrees... or new scopes... or new challenges? Perhaps your future is in advocacy or teaching or sales. Imagine the possibilities if our country had more nurses in leadership positions. Congress would certainly benefit from our critical thinking skills, our caring, our compassion, our ability to form teams and our sense of justice. Our possibilities are endless, because after all, we are nurses.

About the Author
Diana Gallagher has over 30 years of nursing experience with a strong focus in wound, ostomy, continence, and foot care nursing. As one of the early leaders driving certification in foot care nursing, she embraces a holistic nursing model. A comprehensive, head to toe assessment is key in developing an individualized plan of care.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.

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