The Covid-19 pandemic put a special focus on nurses, not just in America but around the world. The public got an insight into how critical they are to healthcare. Nurses were tested in new and unexpected ways. Many quit, but most stayed and gave their best. They dealt with the influx of seriously ill patients, working overtime and even risking their own lives to provide care.
Nursing students, or those planning to enroll in a nursing course, will want to know whether good things await them in the coming years. What does the future hold for nursing professionals, and what will be their place in it?
The nursing profession is changing at an unprecedented rate. Even before the pandemic, many institutions were struggling to maintain adequate numbers of nurses. Retirements outpaced new entrants into the profession. The increasing number of baby boomers is also of particular concern. They are elderly, and they are putting a significant strain on the healthcare system.
For those considering a nursing career, things may look a bit dire. They should not. The latest projections tell us that nursing is one of the fastest-growing careers in America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the right time to train as a nurse. The profession is expected to grow by 6% in the next 10 years, with more than 200,000 job openings every year.
With such optimistic numbers, one may ask how to become a nurse in Kentucky, or New York, or wherever else they live. The process is not complicated. One needs to enroll in nursing school to get the required qualifications, register with the state and then seek employment. An associate degree in nursing takes about two years, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing takes four years. Both will give nursing students the necessary qualifications to become a registered nurse in their state.
Even when researching nursing schools, it is important to know what the future career prospects are. Will nursing roles and responsibilities change? How will technology impact nurses’ careers?
Future trends in nursing
As a nurse, it is important to keep abreast of changes in the profession. If one knows what is coming they will prepare for it, and adapting to new ways of working will become easier. Those who know what the future holds own it because they are ready to embrace changes as they come along.
Let us look at the most important trends that are expected to impact nurses in the future.
Gone are the days when the role of the nurse was limited to changing bedpans and giving sponge baths. Indeed, these tasks are still undertaken by nurses, but for those with the right credentials, nursing is much more than delivering basic patient care.
As healthcare evolves, it has become necessary to incorporate practitioners into senior roles. Nurses form the bulk of healthcare professionals and are uniquely placed to understand patients’ needs. As such, it is vital to involve them in policy making at different levels.
Nurses who obtain a master’s degree or a doctorate in nursing are leaders in their fields. They manage other nurses and are involved in decision-making wherever they are.
Today’s nurse has the potential to rise to the highest level of management in the workplace.
A registered nurse (RN) can start with the most basic nursing qualifications but they do not have to stop there. Getting a master’s degree or a doctorate will help nurses move up the career ladder.
They will not only earn more, but they will also become an advocate for patients in their field, helping shape decisions that impact healthcare outcomes.
A change in demographics
Demographics within the profession have undergone a significant change in the last 70 or 80 years. According to one study, there were only 10,000 nurses in America in 1900. By 1910 this number had jumped to 74,000, and by 1930 the country had 230,000 nurses. Throughout this period, the majority were white women.
Today there are more than 5 million nurses in America and that number is expected to grow by 11% in the next 10 years.
Although most nurses are female, we have seen a rise in the number of male nurses over the years. Of the 3 million registered nurses in the country, about 400,000 are male.
Furthermore, the profession is no longer reserved for white women. Nurses come from all races, and many are immigrants who come to America to practice their craft.
Some may be unsure about nursing as a career because they are male, or because they belong to a minority group, but they should set aside their doubts and enroll in nursing school. With the proper qualifications, they stand an excellent chance to rise to the highest levels of nursing.
A growing emphasis on population health
Population health is about the health outcomes of entire communities. Strategies may vary, but they all involve wide-reaching initiatives to provide healthcare to everyone.
They include things like providing vaccines and flu shots, encouraging people to adopt healthy diets, and ensuring that the elderly get mental and physical exercise.
There are four main goals of population health:
- To increase physical activity across the board.
- To decrease the number of days lost due to sickness within communities.
- To decrease infant mortality rates and preterm births.
- To decrease diabetes within communities.
These may seem like rather basic goals, but they are effective in keeping communities healthy. By keeping people active for example, many lifestyle diseases can be eliminated. By aiming to reduce the number of sick days, it becomes easier to tackle the direct causes of illnesses that render people unable to work.
Population health is a rapidly growing field because it is one of the ways that the government can reduce healthcare expenditure.
For nurses, it poses an exciting future. Those who do not fancy working in a hospital, a clinic or a hospice can train in community health. Their roles will be community based, so for most of their career, they are out and about educating the community, doing research, providing home healthcare and getting to understand the challenges their communities face when it comes to living longer, healthier lives.
Incorporation of informatics in healthcare
Technologies in healthcare are advancing every year, and they are changing the role of nurses. The amount of electronic data collected for patients has made it easier for nurses to deliver appropriate care.
Today’s nurse has the option to track their patient’s health using wearable technology. They can use patient portals to communicate with those in their care.
Although the technology is yet to be perfected, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to play a significant role in diagnosing patients in the coming years. Robots will collate symptoms, run them through a database and issue a diagnosis and possibly the best methods of treatment.
Some feel that this may put nurses out of work. It does not have to be the case, especially for those who are properly trained. Professionals who have an IT background will become critical to the healthcare system, whereas nurses who insist on sticking to the old way of doing things may find themselves out of jobs.
There are special courses for nurses who want to strengthen their IT skills and become more relevant in their roles. When researching how to become a nurse in Kentucky or any other state, one should look into nursing informatics, which is specially designed to equip nurses with the IT skills that are needed in today’s workplace.
With the right qualifications, people can pursue jobs in clinical informatics, nursing informatics, clinical data analysis and informatics management.
As we become more reliant on IT, more opportunities will open up for those with the right skills, which is more reason to keep pursuing other courses and learning, especially about the role of IT in nursing.
A growing need for nurses with higher education
One of the major goals for the nursing industry, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine, was to increase nursing education, resulting in at least 80% of all nurses in America having a Bachelor of Nursing degree.
The report also outlined that nurses should be encouraged to get doctoral degrees early in their careers so that they could serve as faculty, training and preparing others for the workplace.
In the future, those who hold a higher education degree in nursing will progress in their careers while those who have only basic qualifications will be left behind. Nurses with only basic training should look at additional courses that will enable them to compete with others in their field.
A shift in work settings
Traditionally, nurses worked in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and similar settings. Today, improvements in healthcare have seen nurses transition from these places into other work settings.
It is not unusual to find nurses in schools, factories, homes, prisons and rehabilitation facilities. With the development of telehealth, some nurses can diagnose patients from home. As technology becomes widespread, it is making things more convenient for both nurses and patients.
How will the nursing profession be impacted by technology?
We have already touched on how technological innovations will impact nursing, but it is worth looking into this area a little more as it is expected to bring the biggest changes to the profession. Below are some of the most significant technological shifts in healthcare:
The use of electronic health records
In the past, when a patient visited a health clinic or a hospital, the nurse or doctor would write notes by hand into a file. For future visits, the triage nurse would pull out the patient file and more notes would be added as diagnoses were made and treatments were administered. If the nurse or doctor needed the patient’s history, their file held the information.
It was a cumbersome way of doing things. Should a file get misplaced, for example, everything within it was lost. Fires or floods sometimes caused the loss of thousands of patient files.
Then came electronic health records and all that changed. Today, most modern facilities have eliminated the use of paper files, and all patient files sit on a database. By typing in a patient name or number the nurse or doctor can see their history, past diagnoses and medications issued. Information can be merged from all departments, making it easy to get a full picture with the touch of a button.
This has changed the way nurses work. It helps save time, and they can see patient histories quite easily. They can tailor treatments based on those histories, and follow-up is also easier.
Telehealth has changed the way patients interact with the healthcare system. They do not have to leave their homes to see a nurse or doctor. They can log into their portal and access test results and prescriptions. In some cases, patients are diagnosed through video calls. It has made the whole experience quite convenient.
Nurses are expected to understand how to interact with the IT systems that make it possible to interrogate records and treat patients remotely.
The use of smart technology in nursing
Wearable devices have become commonplace. Numbers have risen steadily since 2014, and today it is estimated that about 30% of all Americans are using wearable healthcare devices. These include Fitbits, Apple watches and other sophisticated devices that can track heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, glucose and oxygen levels.
Health practitioners were quick to understand the potential benefits of these devices for their patients.
Those who are chronically ill, for example, do not have to spend time commuting to hospitals and clinics for check-ups. They can be monitored remotely, and diagnoses and prescriptions can be issued through their telehealth portals.
Nursing professionals are expected to fully understand how to interact with these systems. They should know them well enough to explain them to patients. They should also be able to analyze the data that they collect and use it to improve outcomes.
The technology will evolve in the future, becoming more accurate, and collecting an even wider range of data. Nurses have to keep up with these advancements if they intend to grow in their careers.
Robotics in nursing
It may seem a little far-fetched, especially for the older generation, but AI is advancing, and soon, we will have patients diagnosed by robots that will also issue prescriptions and even do follow-ups.
We do not yet know what form these robots will take. It may involve sitting at a computer and answering a series of questions, or patients may talk to humanoids and explain their symptoms.
Whatever the case, it will change the way nurses interact with patients. Many worry that this may lead to job losses, but that is not true. Remember there is a great demand for nurses in America today, so those with the right training should not worry about losing their positions.
Rather, they should do what is necessary to ensure that they are still needed when AI systems are implemented.
Are we being too optimistic about the future of nursing?
Numerous reports point out that the future looks good for those in this profession. However, doubts linger for some, especially when considering the rise of telehealth and AI.
Some things we know for a fact. The first is the large number of baby boomers who need specialized care every year. We can expect their numbers to keep rising in the next decade. These people require expert healthcare because most are dealing with one or more diseases in their old age.
The other thing we can be certain of is that retirements outpace recruitment in almost every state. Our institutions are not training nurses fast enough to replace those who retire, so there will be job opportunities for those who are properly trained.
It will be many years before we see technology start to take over from nurses. Healthcare still requires the human touch, and that is not likely to change in the future.
The concern for today’s nurses should be focused on training. Not only should nurses aim to reach the highest levels of their calling, but they must also understand how to use technology to improve outcomes for their patients. Whether a trainee nurse or one that has just started their career, higher education is necessary.
There are plenty of online higher education courses for nurses that take a relatively short time to complete. They are convenient as all material is uploaded on a portal, and they are also cheaper than in-person college courses.
Nursing is evolving, but its future is secure for those who have the right professional training. Rather than worrying about whether or not their jobs will disappear as technology improves, nurses should make time to gain additional credentials, including information technology so that they can evolve with the profession.