What Does the Future of Nursing Look Like?
What’s Ahead for Nurses?
Health care. The health of our care. Is it a basic human right or a privilege?
There is a growing awareness toward ensuring that everyone gains access to the proper care, including healthcare providers themselves. The Affordable Care Act was passed by the United States Congress in 2010 to help provide quality healthcare to all Americans. Nurses will play an increasingly important role as health care needs continue to expand (and will accordingly require the attention and equipment they need to work safely and effectively).
A formidable presence
Nurses have a powerful presence in healthcare, with over four million registered nurses in the US today. Americans have voted nurses as the most trusted healthcare professionals in the Gallup poll for nearly two decades running, largely due to their honesty and ethical behavior.
Nurses are well-educated, with 80% of RN’s holding a Bachelor’s degree — up from only 50% ten years ago. 13% of nurses also hold graduate degrees, consisting primarily of Master’s degrees, although 1% hold a Doctorate degree.
And although 62.2% of nurses work in hospitals, they are also found in clinics (10.5%), public health (7.8%), home health (6.4%), nursing homes (5.3%), and schools (3.8%). Advanced practice nurses (APNs), such as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, midwives, and nurse anesthetists, require a minimum of a Master’s degree. APNs have an increased level of training, offering more advanced skills with a higher level of authority and function within their scope of practice.
As some of the most trusted professionals, nurses excel at connecting with the people they care for. Nurses have a variety of responsibilities and skills, so it is quite unfortunate they are left with only 20% of their time to spend by the bedside. If patient care standards and job fulfillment are to be maintained or improved, this needs to change.
How do nurses perform?
Although the number of nurses may have doubled since the 1950’s, there are still not enough to meet growing needs. It’s predicted that 500,000 seasoned RNs will leave due to attrition or retirement by 2022, while the need for nurses will increase as baby boomers grow older and require medical care.
The US Bureau of Statistics predicts that 1.1 million NEW nurses will be needed to avoid a national nursing shortage. While the COVID-19 pandemic has raised public confidence in nurses, it has also unexpectedly caused a certain level of apprehension for nurses themselves, which may lead some nurses to exit the field.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) delivered a report on The Future of Nursing, which includes recommendations to advance the nursing profession. The report advises nurses to achieve higher levels of education and utilize the full extent of their nursing education and training to help propel their nursing careers.
Moreover, the implementation of APNs will be critical to reaching more people and filling gaps in care. Removing barriers in APN practices is a goal of the American Nurses Association, and this was reflected in the IOM’s recommendations. In order to satisfy national demand for nurses, we're going to need to make changes to existing nurse licensure, whether this is more states joining the Nurse Licensure Compact or the inception of universal nursing certifications and requirements.
There’s more than just a place for nurses in the future, there is a significant demand. A critical shortage (if not already here) is expected within the next five years, and the inception of COVID-19 has likely only shortened that timeline.
Nursing leaders must seek to leverage the momentum from the renewed faith in nurses to advocate for better safety standards in hospitals and nurse staffing that is done smarter. There is a significant opportunity for improved education to produce stronger nurses, fill in the gaps, and deliver better healthcare, especially as it pertains to new grad nurses getting ready to enter the workforce.
Ultimately, we need to better acknowledge and address the situation as it stands so that we can provide further investment and better care for nurses. In turn, we can maintain the level of care needed to ensure that everyone has access to the proper care and support.