Recruiting and Retaining Retired Nurses During COVID-19 and After

Have you considered recruiting retired nurses?

With the onset of COVID-19, some governors and healthcare organizations publicly pleaded for retired nurses to consider either volunteering their services or return to work.

One health system that recruited retired nurses before COVID-19 struck and ramped up the practice when the pandemic hit, was Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said Judy Howard, vice president of talent acquisition for Northwell’s corporate human resources.

Northwell Health serves the New York Metro area—a COVID-19 hotspot.

“Our census doubled at the peak of COVID-19. Further, healthcare is a different industry, requiring a broad-based recruiting strategy – especially with regards to RNs,” Howard said.

Recruiting retired nurses plays a key role in the overall recruiting strategy at Northwell.

“Typically, if someone is a lifelong nurse, they have a calling, a mission and a passion for the profession which they pass on to others,” she said.

The latest data show the U.S. could have a shortage of nearly one million nurses by the year 2025, according to Howard.

“Achieving good staffing levels requires an innovative approach which includes hiring retired RNs,” she said. “Retired nurses bring a wealth of knowledge to an organization and its staff,”

A nurse who came out of retirement

One nurse who came out of retirement was Debra Letourneau, MSN, RN, NE-BC, assistant director for nursing at Huntington Hospital in Huntington, NY, part of the Northwell Health System.

Letourneau’s last day of work was January 31. Less than one week later she received a call from her former boss asking her if she wanted come back. The offer was for a job in the same position she had before—assistant director for nursing but now as a per diem staff member instead of a part timer.

After talking it over with her family, Letourneau decided to accept the offer. Soon thereafter, she began the onboarding process and on March 31, Letourneau was back at work.

Given Northwell’s practice of recruiting and retaining retired RNs, Letourneau had already been on the list of retiring nurses who were interested in coming back to work when a position opened up. “Even though I retired, I was not ready to completely stop working,” Letourneau said. “I saw this as a way to ease into retirement.”

Remaining in the nursing workforce as per diem staff provides Letourneau with the flexibility she was seeking with regards to scheduling—eight hour shifts instead of 12, and a lower number of shifts she’s required to work each month.

Offering flexibility to older nurses can increase recruitment and retention

The flexibility Letourneau enjoys now as a per diem coincides with observations made by David Auerbach, PhD., health economist, and external adjunct professor at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.

In a recent interview with, Auerbach said given the large numbers of retiring baby boomer nurses in the U.S., it could benefit healthcare organizations to strategize on ways to retain these nurses.

“Providing opportunities to work in less physically demanding roles for older nurses along with options for less rigorous schedules, may result in more nurses being willing to delay their retirement,” Auerbach said.

Howard said Northwell utilizes feedback from focus groups to uncover the features of a job retirees are looking for such as shift length and offering a variety of practice areas to work in.

Retired nurses returning to the workforce sometimes prefer roles that don’t require direct patient care, Howard said.

“When this occurs, it’s important to provide opportunities to work in roles they’re looking for,” he said. “Working as a nurse educator is one example. With their wealth of experience, they make great educators.”

Weighing the decision to recruit retirees

Not all hospitals recruited retired nurses to help with COVID-19.

“We originally looked at targeting retired nurses,” said John (Jack) Blake, assistant vice president of human resources at Scripps Health in San Diego. “However, with the stay-at-home orders including people over the age of 65, we backed off that idea.”

Scripps decided to pursue other strategies to increase staffing, one of which was to look internally at nurses who were being flexed in other areas.

“We surveyed their background to see who could float into the ICU and emergency department,” Blake said.

Senior healthcare recruiter Lori Rogers, who has worked with multiple healthcare organizations for more than 16 years said some hiring managers can be reluctant to bring back retired nurses who have been out of practice for a certain period of time.

“I’ve not been involved with recruiting retired nurses, as some hiring leaders may not want to hire a retired nurse at the bedside or for a critical care role if it’s been more than two years since they’ve been in practice,” Rogers said. “Some hiring leaders may feel that there could be too much to learn or they might take longer to train.”

Finding qualified retirees

Howard said when COVID-19 hit, Northwell culled their database for nurses who had retired within one year or based on their prior role, to identify retirees they could reach out to who could jump back into the fray with quicker speed.

Effective methods used to find external candidates of all ages include:

  • Asking nursing leaders for referrals

  • Advertising in blogs

  • Banner ads

  • Google ads

  • Holding virtual events

  • Launching a “Healthcare Heroes” campaign

Even though Letourneau does not provide direct care, going back during COVID-19 helped the hospital with staffing during the early days of the crisis, she said. “Some nurses were out sick and others had moved into different roles in acute care to fill in the gaps.”

In addition to appreciating the supportive administration and good infection control practices where she works, Letourneau said, “There has been a phenomenal outpouring of appreciation from the community, which has been great.”