It’s definitely the holiday season at work: the Christmas trees are up, tinsel hangs along the hallways, and there’s even a really ugly, miniature Santa standing on our front office desk to welcome patients.
We had our work Christmas party last night, and I was struck by just how many people come on a daily basis to serve patients in their healthcare journey. It was a fun evening of celebration, good food, and just enjoying one another’s company without thinking about work.
In this blog, I’d like to spend some time talking about what it’s like to work with coworkers who are older than I am. (This, of course, is a reflection on my personal experience with older coworkers, and I hope it does not come across as a generalization towards all those who have been a part of the workforce for many years).
I’m a year and a half out of nursing school, and most of my peers are working in a hospital setting where the pace is fast, the hours are long, the patients are acutely ill, and the physical demand of work is quite high.
In contrast, my outpatient allergy and asthma office is regular business hours; the patients are not debilitatingly ill; the physical demand on my body is far from strenuous. The intensity of the hospital seems to draw younger nurses, and the differing pace of an outpatient office like mine seems to cater to those who are further on in their career life. While I might be a new nurse, many of my coworkers are all at least 10 years older than I am. I don’t mind being the youngest employee in the office. In fact, I notice a lot of great benefits from working with people who are older than I am. As always, though, there are intergenerational differences between me and my coworkers that challenge me to think critically about growth and change that happens throughout life.
Let’s start with all the benefits that I see from working with people who are older than I am. I think the most obvious benefit is being able to glean from their knowledge that comes from working in healthcare for years.
For example, I had only started a few IVs in nursing school, so when I started my first real nursing job, I was very inexperienced with this skill. Because many of my coworkers have years of nursing under their belts, I was able to review the protocol, practice under guidance, and eventually adopt a familiarity with a skill that I had not previously mastered. It is comforting to have coworkers that can assume the role of teacher, and I have been lucky that my coworkers are gracious and patient while they teach me.
Another benefit of working with an experienced healthcare team is the high level of professionalism in the office. I notice this, especially when handling difficult or frustrated patients. The combined decades of experience that my coworkers have allows them to carefully craft their words, skillfully navigating the best way to address the root of a patient’s anger. I find great courage knowing that I work with men and women who can professionally problem solve in complicated situations.
Additionally, I observe my coworker’s professionalism when I see their diligence and faithfulness to patients. In a busy office, details can be missed (a medication not sent to a pharmacy, a prior authorization not sent to an insurance company, a patient not called about a lab result), but with a dedicated healthcare team, it is rare that these things happen.
My coworkers’ years of experience in healthcare have heightened the value of the patient as a person and the value of faithful work, and I credit them for teaching me this.
It may go without saying, but age and experience often bring wisdom. I’ve spent time sharing life stories with my coworkers, and I am amazed at the emotional troughs and peaks that each one of them has been through. Daily difficulties that seem to come up in the office are met with a patience that has grown with time. I think the most incredible example of my coworkers’ wisdom is the empathy they are able to show patients because of past circumstances they have overcome. I know that my coworkers have lost jobs, lost children, filed bankruptcy, and experienced divorce, but they use these past experiences as sources of strength and pathways for connecting with patients in a meaningful way. The undulation of life has made my coworkers wise: even if they don’t see it, I do.
Different Life Stages
I want to be honest with you: working with coworkers who are older than I am can be challenging. I think this is mostly due to the fact that our life stages are different, and thus, the emphasis we place on certain values can vary.
Some of my oldest coworkers are within five years of retirement, and they aren’t thinking about changing jobs or furthering their education. They also are highly invested in family relationships, and I talk with them a lot about their adult children and growing grandchildren.
Other coworkers are middle-aged, rearing elementary-aged kids and learning how best to discipline, potty-train, and teach multiplication facts. They are working through what it means to have an identity of a parent and the difficulties of sacrificing personal interests for the sake of children.
Then there’s me: fresh out of school, very inexperienced in the working world, unsure of my career trajectory, figuring out more of who I am.
My coworkers and I not only have different ages, but different life experiences, financial situations, and family circumstances. Because of this, it can be challenging to always understand where each of us is coming from. However, I think we all have mutual respect for each other which makes it worth it to put in the extra effort to see life from the shoes of the other person. I definitely grow and benefit from working with older coworkers, and I hope in some way that they, too, grow from working in an intergenerational environment.
Morgan is a new Nursing graduate living in Boulder, Colorado.
She shares her insight and advice on the nursing profession.