Ageing at work: the phenomenon of being an older experienced health professional
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This study explores the phenomenon of experienced health professionals ageing at work asking: What is the meaning of being an older experienced health professional. The aim was to open up the taken for granted aspects of being an older health practitioner. While much is known about older nurses; for instance that they have intellectual capital and knowledge of the organisation, that their experience benefits healthcare organisations and enhances care of patients, there is little writing that shows what it is to be an older experienced health professional including their own and their managers' perspective. The philosophy underpinning the research is hermeneutic phenomenology which draws on the work of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer to uncover meaning. Of the 14 participants, purposefully selected, 10 were older experienced health professionals, from five different professions, and four were managers. The method involved individual interviews with each of the 14 participants. Stories from the interview transcripts were crafted to tell of the lived experience of health professionals ageing at work, and of managers interacting with them. Four overarching themes that emerged from my interpretation of the participants' stories form the study's findings. They show the way that 'Being the past future and present' constitutes older practitioners' lives; that through the 'announcing of change' older health professionals' bodily ageing is revealed; that their experience of 'being-with others in the world of work' is full of contradictions, of being respected or not. The impact of being experienced and older as they entered 'into the heart of practice' reveals growing in practice wisdom. Yet being an older experienced health professional does not have a single meaning. Older practitioners and their experience differ; for many the call to care stays with them, for others it does not. The surrounding world is increasingly complex. Older practitioners' ability to adapt and change to meet the ongoing physical demands of practice and their shifting workplace environment determines in part whether they will be valued at work and remain in their roles or whether they will leave. Both managers, particularly those who are younger, and older health professionals need to communicate in respectful ways across generational divides. If health services are to retain older practitioners, managers too need to make adjustments to their views of older practitioners, recognising the values that underpin their practice, negotiate ways to capitalise on their practice wisdom and organisational knowledge, and in some cases, make accommodations for their ageing bodies. This study too, recognises and acknowledges the double jeopardy of external and internal change that transforms the lives of older health professionals at work. The meaning of being an older health professional is contained within their years of experience.