Nurses Find Meaning and Purpose After Retirement
A new book delves into re-creating life after leaving a traditional nursing job.
Joanne Evans’ new beginning—as she likes to call it—began after she retired from her 45-year nursing career. Evans, who holds a string of credentials—MEd, RN, PMHCNS-BC— sold her house, bought an RV, and put 9000 miles on it in 7 months. Besides traveling throughout the United States, she continues to write and speak at nursing conferences on plant-based nutrition— another one of her passions.
But for some retired nurses, as Evans learned, figuring out what to do with their newfound free time isn’t as easy as they anticipated. So, along with Patricia A. Tabloski, PhD, GNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN, she wrote a book to help. Redefining Retirement for Nurses: Finding Meaning in Retirement delves into re-creating life after leaving a career. In an interview with Oncology Nursing News®, Evans discussed what they learned from their interviews with 26 nurses.
What can readers expect from Redefining Retirement?
Most of us grew up with 1 concept of retirement, and nowadays it’s really different. There are so many more opportunities. Retirement is almost like a whole new phase of life, because you most likely have another 20 years. The book looks at how 26 nurses continued to bring meaning to their lives after leaving a full-time nursing position. These nurses have spent their whole careers tak­ing care of other people and making decisions— whether in research, education, management, or clinical areas—and now, how can they take all this knowledge and continue to bring meaning to their lives in this next phase? Do they do it in nursing or another area?
The book explores areas such as healthy aging, being active, eating healthy food, finan­cial management, spending time with family and friends, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress. It also discusses how to decide on a good time to retire, whether to move or stay put, and about volunteer activities, as well as how to deal with the unexpected life challenges.
What inspired you to write on this subject?
For me, I was 65, and when I enter new begin­nings, I tend to talk with other people. Pat and I were sitting at her beach house on Cape Cod, and I said, “Pat, what do people really do in their next phase? And, what do nurses do?”
We started talking, and then I began to speak with other nurses. I lived in the Washington, DC, area for 42 years, and I didn’t know if I wanted to stay there or if I wanted to move. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep my house or rent it out. I wanted to travel and buy an RV, but I had never traveled in an RV. I met with a financial adviser, so I knew where I was financially. That’s when I realized how broad retirement was and how many oppor­tunities I might consider.
I learned upon doing these interviews that most people weren’t even calling it retirement. They preferred “rewiring,” “repurposing,” “new begin­ning,” or “transitioning.”
Of the 26 personal stories, did any related to oncology stand out to you?
One nurse had spent a lot of time focused on plan­ning retirement, but then she retired and received a cancer diagnosis. Her whole plan went out the window. The book examines how she dealt with it, replanned, and regrouped. Other nurses have experienced health challenges, and they also shared how they navigated the unexpected.
A section of the book is titled “The New Realities of Retirement.” What are those realities?
Many people underestimate the number of oppor­tunities available. Retirement is a time to focus on yourself, as well as family, friends, and the community. As nurses, we don’t do this.
Nurses should take a look at their health. Do they have chronic or genetic health problems now or that may be coming down the road?
As far as money, all the nurses interviewed said it’s crucial to talk with a financial adviser or someone knowledgeable in this area.
Regarding family, some nurses spent their retire­ment taking care of their grandchildren or even a parent or friend who had health problems.
Where did the nurses you spoke with end up?
Some continued in nursing but moved to part-time positions or taught classes and workshops. Some started new businesses. Other people decided they didn’t want to do anything related to nursing but wanted to volunteer. One nurse recommended that nurses “speed date” the orga­nizations they are interested in. Once organiza­tions know that nurses are willing to volunteer, everybody wants them.
If nurses want to do volunteer work, it’s best to figure out how much time they actually have available. Do they want to do ongoing work or specific projects?
All the nurses agreed that they wanted to declutter, have less stress, and not overcommit themselves again. They all said that they have no concept of boredom and loved having the option to say no.
What nursing-related roles can be taken on in retirement?
I have done medical missions in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. There are a lot of inter­national volunteering opportunities. Nurses also can stay local and participate on boards, mentor new graduates, talk with high school students about nursing, or speak at community colleges. In oncology, they can teach about healthcare and prevention, as well as lead workshops with dif­ferent community organizations that focus on their expertise. They may also be interested in writing that could eventually be published in a local newspaper.
You mentioned earlier that nurses are used to putting others’ needs ahead of their own. Do you feel this makes the retirement transition more difficult?
It’s more of a challenge that you don’t get over­committed. All of us have been in positions where we easily put in 40, 60 hours a week. You can also do that in retirement with not much trouble.
Everyone said they love having choices. They can pick and choose what they want to do. Additionally, nurses we interviewed said they looked forward to sleeping in, no longer dealing with morning or night meetings, and not having to worry about shifts on holidays or weekends or even bad weather and staffing patterns.
We live in a world that is very fast-paced, so 1 of the challenges is learning to slow down. Retirement is the time to practice this.
What retirement advice would you offer a new nurse, and what would you tell one who is nearing the end of a career?
When just starting out, the biggest item is finances. It’s good to meet with a financial adviser or someone who is astute about finance, so they can look at long-term goals. Those close to retirement should figure out how much money they will need 5, 10, 20 years out. It’s important to be knowledgeable about that.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
The only thing that holds you back is your health, time, creativity, and money—otherwise, opportunities are wide open.