“I love what I do”: How 64-year-old Adelaide nurse bounced back from career low

Nurse unemployed over ageism

In a new survey conducted by Australian Seniors of more than 5,000 Australians aged over 50, 20.7% said they had experienced age discrimination in the workplace – which, worryingly, has more than doubled from 9.6% in 2016. 

Almost all participants (93.2%) also shared they felt ‘undervalued’ and almost 100% of the sample (97.7%) said the older they become, the harder it is to secure employment. 

Out of the respondents, almost 70% claimed they knew or believed they were not considered for a job because of their age – a percentage that has increased more than 20% since results last obtained in 2016. 

“They assumed I was ready to retire” 

For 64-year-old registered nurse Heather Garreffa, retirement was the furthest thing from her mind, when she shockingly realised her employer was not intending to renew her work contract. 

Having worked for the public hospital system in Adelaide for more than 20 years, Garreffa told Yahoo! Finance, “Initially, the research department was told all contracts were going to end. I thought this happens when funding ceases.” 

However, Garreffa discovered that she was the only employee who wasn’t staying on. 

The nurse believes she was let go due to her age, telling Yahoo! Finance, “At 64, I was close to retirement age, and they assumed that I was ready to retire.” 

Age is not the problem: Ageism is

Unfortunately, ageism is the most accepted form of prejudice in our country, with the Australian Human Rights Commission finding that 90% of Australians agree ageism exists in Australia. 

Dr Kay Patterson’s data in her report What’s age got to do with it? A snapshot of ageism across the Australian lifespan, noted that 63% of Australians have been subjected to ageism in the past five years. 

She added, “I call on everyone to think about ageism and how it affects you and those close to you … Age is not the problem. Ageism is.”

Looking for work at 64

After registered nurse Garreffa was forced to leave her job at the hospital in Adelaide, she began job hunting at the age of 64, applying for dozens of jobs, but not being approached for any interviews. 

“Even within the nursing industry and the current demand for staff in areas of infection control and vaccination, nobody wanted a bar of me,” Garreffa told Yahoo! Finance. 

But soon luck was on Garreffa’s side, and an encounter with a carer that was helping a neighbour turned her ageism misfortunes around. 

“The carer … asked me if I’d seen my neighbour. She was deeply concerned for my neighbour, who needed care.” 

Now 68 years old, Garreffa shared, “This story still surprises me. My colleagues treat me with dignity and respect and they want to hear my opinions about things.” 

She added, “I don’t feel old, and I love what I do. It’s wonderful to feel like I’ve made a difference and perhaps made someone more comfortable than they were before my visit.” 


If you or someone you know is experiencing ageism, contact the Australian Human Rights Commission, Fair Work Ombudsman or Equal Opportunity Commission in your state. 

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  1. Ageism is rife in Aged Care organisations.
    I walked away. It wasn’t worth the fight.
    Young male managers arrive and see no value in years of experience in the industry.
    Their issue is they have the problem because they do not have the experience.
    They are toe nail cutters hired to slice n dice budgets. People skills are not required. Surprisingly it is a people focused industry.

    1. Yes the young have no respect for the experience of age and the ability to know by instinct when something is wrong with a client and the fact that these vulnerable people will talk to someone who is older and clam up when it’s a young thing and especially a young man is the person attending to them. Our older citizens will talk to someone who has the time to listen and ask the correct questions and they also have the skills which are only gained by experience.

  2. Australia is not the only country where ageism is thriving It’s just the same in New Zealand and has been for at least 25 years. I had the same problem when I reached the age of 59 and could get interviews and got to the the last 3 candidates and always failed at that stage to younger candidates and I knew this because I done the ultimate and sat and watched who they interviewed. I had excellent qualifications and references for the positions I applied for but that was not the reason. The most disappointing thing about this to me the exact same job would be advertised within a year. Eventually I applied for to be a support worker and done that for 20 years until my husband’s health failed and I had to continue this type of work for him and also Covid19 intervened for me and I became a vulnerable person. So I left that and am now still at home caring for my husband 3 years on. Only took 5 minutes interview to get the job as well. Qualified as a level 4 support person and worked the hours I wanted to. Became the union delegate in that work place and really enjoyed the work helping others less fortunate than myself. I feel lucky to have had that position and be able to care for these people for all those years

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