Aim. This paper reports a study exploring nurses’ perceived work ability and its associations with age and intention to leave nursing in a representative sample of Registered Nurses in 10 European countries.
Background. Throughout Europe, there is now a substantial shortage of Registered Nurses and unless steps are taken to reverse this trend, numbers are likely to decline further. A study exploring nurses’ perceived work ability will provide baseline evidence, which may lead to improved working conditions and increased nursing retention.
Methods. A cross-sectional study design was employed. Questionnaire data were collected from 25,976 nurses in 10 member states of the European Union between October 2002 and June 2003. The response rate was 52·9% for the total investigation and varied between countries from 32·4% to 76·9%. Perceived work ability was assessed using the Work Ability Index. Intention to leave was measured by asking nurses how often they thought about leaving nursing. Data were examined using analysis of covariance and adjusted logistic regression.
Results. In all 10 European countries, scores on the Work Ability Index were significantly lower (P < 0·01) among older nurses (≥45 years). Work ability varied among countries and differences between younger and older nurses were more pronounced in some countries. In all countries, there was a significant association between low Work Ability Index and intention to leave nursing (odds ratios between 1·98 and 21·46), especially among younger nurses. The association between work ability and intention to leave was most marked for those items on the Work Ability Index which explored subjective rather than objective aspects of work ability.
Conclusion. Attempts to redress nursing shortages could include institutional policies to sustain work ability through better working conditions, improving quality of the working environment and finding suitable alternative nursing work for those no longer able to cope in their current post. These approaches should include nurses in all age categories.