We need nurses — how to motivate a new generation

By David Page*
Tuesday, 08 December, 2020

We need nurses — how to motivate a new generation

A 2014 prediction from Health Workforce Australia estimated that the country will be short of around 125,000 nurses by the year 2030, and this doesn’t include the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on the nursing industry. The question is, how drastic will this shortage of nurses actually be by the turn of the next decade if we don’t address the problem now?

It’s no coincidence that this shortage comes hand in hand with a huge generational shift that is underway in nursing and medicine throughout Australia and the world. As previous generations’ workforce numbers decrease, millennial nurses are set to lead the way into the future of 21st-century health care. This new generation of nurses, however, hold different working values to their counterparts.

The fact is that we need nurses now more than ever before, but how do we motivate a new generation to join and remain in the profession? Here, we look at that generational divide and how to address this growing issue.

Three generations of nurses

Three generations currently contribute to the worldwide workforce of nursing: baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. Unsurprisingly, in an industry that experiences generational diversity on such a wide scale, generational differences in attitudes, values and behaviours are commonplace. These differences can pose significant problems for nurses in managerial positions however, and can even, in some cases, affect the retention of nurses in employment.

Boomers are retiring in increasing numbers and, as research suggests, millennials are almost twice as likely as their predecessors to become registered nurses. Does this mean millennials will continue developing and inevitably make up the majority of the healthcare industry? Or will that interest in the nursing profession continue to grow within the Gen Z cohort? What is clear is that millennials generally hold different attitudes regarding their careers than their generational predecessors.

A recent study showed that one out of three millennial workers hope to have a different job in five years, while one in four stated they might leave their current job to pursue a different career. These are problematic statistics for an industry in desperate need of employment stability.

In order to both retain the present generation of nurses and motivate the younger generation to become nurses, we must tackle the issue at home and away.


Studies have shown that millennials value coaching, mentoring and personal feedback more than any other generation in the workforce. This is in direct contrast to baby boomers, for example, who desire to feel empowered in the workplace and to be solicited for feedback.

Millennials regard educational programs, opportunities for self-development and flexible scheduling as greatly important. Organisations can expect a high turnover of staff in this generation if their expectations and needs are not met.

Motivating and maintaining staff that operate on such different wavelengths can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.

Those in managerial positions should seek to understand each generational cohort and develop generationally sensitive styles to effectively coach and motivate all members of their teams. By utilising and capitalising on generational differences, the entire team can benefit. Acceptance of generational diversity allows for a greater scope of practice, and adds value to experience and knowledge.

Creating a happier workforce, in which all generational cohorts feel valued and appreciated, would in turn contribute to the retention of staff as we move into the future of Australian health care.


One major factor that would help to motivate new nurses lies in education and recruitment, and for inspiration in that field we can look abroad.

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is celebrating its landmark 70th year with a major recruitment campaign, aiming to showcase the enormous contribution of existing nurses and midwives throughout the NHS, as well as present the wide range of career opportunities available to nurses today. Recruitment campaigns such as this are undoubtedly beneficial in motivating new nurses and should be utilised whenever and wherever possible.

Another possible solution to the shortage is the employment of overseas nurses within the workforce. With Australia already being a popular working holiday destination and among the best places to live, it makes sense that moves should be made to specifically target qualified healthcare professionals. Although this can be seen as a short-term solution, many nurses may choose to stay and work in Australia thereafter and ultimately increase the workforce in the long run too.

More focus is needed on the education and recruitment of nurses from both outside and within Australia. In order to attract new nurses, people must be informed of the benefits of being a nurse. You can’t catch a fish without going fishing.

Motivation and retention

Nursing can offer a rich and rewarding career path and can ultimately open many doors to millennials seeking work. The possibilities and range of different areas young nurses can pursue are as various as they are numerous.

The truth is that nursing is an excellent career choice for anybody seeking to enter the working world or make a change to their current career.

A greater focus on education and recruitment is needed to motivate a new generation of nurses, whereas a greater understanding and empathy of workplace problems is needed to retain the current generation.

We must target the internal problems posed by generational differences and use education and recruitment to promote nursing as a career to those who otherwise might not consider it.

*David Page is a resident blogger at MedShop.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/maxsim

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