Nursing trends have changed over time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting demographics, technology, public health and social attitudes. With around 3 million registered nurses (RNs) in the nation, these trends affect one of the largest populations of America’s workforce.
In this article, we’ll discuss 15 nursing trends to keep in mind for those who are already in the healthcare field or considering it as their next career move.
Importance of Keeping Up with Nursing Trends
Keeping up with nursing trends is important because it helps nursing professionals stay atop of changes in patient care protocols, changes in professional development requirements and changes that affect states’ nurse licensure compact, among others.
For example, nurses who pay close attention to advancements in healthcare will understand how new approaches to care can improve patient outcomes and facilitate better experiences.
Additionally, registered nurses who remain current on changes to the healthcare landscape, such as technological advancements in care procedures and changes in RN demographics due to the baby boomer nurse retirement wave, will better understand the implications these changes have for the nursing field.
In the upcoming year, the most pressing trends relate to steps that are being taken to reduce nurse burnout, improve RN staffing ratios and improve the delivery of telehealth services.
15 Nursing Trends and Issues
Due to the fast-moving pace of the medical profession, the top nursing trends and issues often change from year to year. Below are the top 15 nursing trends and issues to keep tabs on in 2023-2024.
1. More Nurses Are Learning Online
Online education has become prominent among nursing trends, making advanced degrees more accessible to working nurses.
Nurses are taking advantage of the many benefits of online education, including the following:
- Lower tuition compared with on-campus programs
- No additional commutes or relocations needed
- Flexible learning options and a more balanced workload
As the need for higher education grows among today’s nurses, the benefits of online learning are even more appealing.
Thankfully, the flexibility of online learning has opened doors for many nurses. Busy professionals can also explore other creative ways to balance work and school.
2. Nurses Are Becoming More Educated
Another positive nursing trend is that our current workforce of nursing professionals is more rigorously trained than ever before. Figures compiled by the employment site ZipRecruiter indicate that 49% of RNs hold either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.
Better educated nurses lead to better patient outcomes. Advanced nursing degrees are becoming a more frequent standard for entry-level nursing positions and are also correlated with higher wages.
3. Nurse Retirement Is Pushing Systemic Changes
Among current nursing trends, one that’s been consistent over the last few decades is the shortage of nursing staff. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, a solid nursing workforce will be even more essential as many COVID-19 patients require long-term care and as healthcare providers prepare for future disease outbreaks.
As you read on, we’ll discuss how several modern nursing trends stem from the fact that America’s population is aging. In turn, this has created a twofold pinch on the country’s nursing supply. More people are in need of healthcare than ever before, just as millions of nurses are approaching retirement age.
This means a clear demand for a trained nursing workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that there will be about 203,200 job openings for RNs each year between 2021 and 2031.
4. The Number of Nurse Practitioners Is Rising
While there is an ongoing shortage of RNs, the increase of nurse practitioners (NPs) over time is a nursing trend that continues to grow. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that the number of NPs has reached an all-time high of 325,000. The BLS predicts that between 2021 and 2031, the number of NPs will grow by 46%, making it one of the fastest-growing professions in the country.
To compare, in 2007, there were 120,000 NPs nationwide. Advanced practice nursing as a discipline has only been around since the 1960s, but NPs are becoming an essential part of today’s healthcare system.
- More than half of full-time NPs (59.4%) see more than three patients per hour.
- More than 36,000 NPs graduated from programs in 2019-2020 compared with 20,000 in 2014-2015.
- Nearly 70% of NPs graduated from family nurse practitioner (FNP) programs.
- NPs work in almost every healthcare environment, including physicians’ offices, general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers, colleges and universities and professional schools.
In many states, NPs enjoy a high degree of autonomy compared with RNs. Many operate their own practices, have prescriptive privileges and have enough seniority to control their own schedules.
5. High Demand Is Paying Salary Dividends for Nurses
Some of today’s nursing trends are positive, including how increased competition among healthcare facilities for qualified candidates has increased wages for nurses. For example, BLS reports that RNs earned a median annual wage of $77,600 as of May 2021.
More experienced RNs can earn still higher wages, and there have been concerted efforts to retain older nurses to help mentor their younger colleagues. Recent salary data shows that NPs are making the biggest gains. In 2021, they earned a median annual wage of $120,680, with the best-paid 10% in the profession earning as much as $200,540.
Nursing trends show a need for qualified NPs nationwide. RNs with an interest in greater autonomy and higher earning potential can start the path to becoming an NP.
6. Hiring Bonuses Are Becoming More Common
A pleasant surprise among nursing trends is that employers are increasingly offering signing bonuses to healthcare employees. This is most common in remote communities, where it’s otherwise extremely difficult to fill vacancies.
A recent Business Insider report found that some companies were offering signing bonuses and relocation expenses in the $7,500 to $40,000 range. Some employers are also paying nurses retention bonuses and bonuses for working extra shifts.
Even in major cities, competition is fierce to attract nurses from out of state (or international nurses). Incentives like free lodging and tuition assistance are helping young nurses, who often graduate with significant student loan debt, find their financial footing.
7. Awareness of Burnout Is Increasing
Nursing is a rewarding profession, but it can also be trying at times, especially in today’s climate. As a result, burnout continues to be among the nursing trends in need of addressing. More recently, burnout and how employers can actively reduce it has become a topic of discussion.
Characterizing burnout as an “epidemic,” a recent academic study defined the syndrome as “the state of emotional exhaustion in which the individual feels overwhelmed by work to the point of feeling fatigued, unable to face the demands of the job, and unable to engage with others.”
Governments and healthcare employers are investing in programs to help nurses stay safe, healthy and productive on the job.
Among the techniques being used to help nurses prevent and overcome burnout are to engage in activities outside of work that bring joy; make rest and work breaks a priority; cultivate a personal support group of family and friends and, if necessary, seek the assistance of a mental health professional.
8. More States Will Begin Regulating Staffing Levels
For decades, nursing unions and professional organizations have voiced concerns over regulating staffing ratios. To date, only California and Massachusetts have passed an ironclad set of regulations.
For example, in 2004, California established the following guidelines for the minimum number of nurses per patient at facilities in the state (note that the ratios were temporarily bypassed during recent coronavirus surges):
- 6:1 patient-to-nurse workload in psychiatrics
- 5:1 patient-to-nurse in medical-surgical units, telemetry and oncology
- 4:1 in pediatrics
- 3:1 in labor and delivery
- 2:1 in intensive care units
While California and Massachusetts remain the only states to mandate nurse staffing ratios, 12 others have passed laws intended to address nurse staffing levels in hospitals. Seven of these states require hospitals to form staffing committees charged with implementing optimal staffing levels.
9. Hospitals Are Experimenting With Scheduling and Perks
Just as hiring bonuses have emerged among nursing trends, we’re also seeing more competitive employee perks. Scheduling is a major priority for most nurses. In fact, many RNs are motivated to pursue advanced degrees so they can land roles with more work-life balance, like an FNP role.
Many employers are turning to part-time employees to provide coverage in shifts. For example, hiring two nurses who want to work 27.5 hours per week is more optimal than having one nurse work 55 hours alone.
Hospitals in more remote areas are experimenting with providing staff with free local accommodations, such as access to housing. Aside from reducing financial stress, this cuts down on commuting. Offering nurses more perks is one of several nursing trends we’d like to see grow.
10. More States Will Sign the eNLC
Unique among today’s nursing trends is how more nurses are practicing across state lines. That’s due to the widespread adoption of the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC).
In the U.S., nurses are licensed by their state or territorial board of nursing (BON). Each one enforces that jurisdiction’s Nurse Practice Act, which covers:
- License qualifications
- Which titles nurses are allowed to use (e.g., RN, NP)
- Definitions of the kinds of care that nurses can provide
- Consequences for violations of nursing law
The Nurse Practice Act varies by jurisdiction. For example, in some states, NPs can open their own practices, but in others, they require more direct supervision by a physician.
As a result, nurses who want to practice in a state other than the one where they were licensed sometimes face an uphill climb.
The eNLC creates a more uniform standard in the states where it applies, and it helps address challenges in nursing staffing levels as it allows nurses to practice freely wherever the compact has been adopted.
As of January 2023, 39 states have adopted this legislation, and in eight others it’s either pending (Alaska, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Hawaii) or it’s already been passed and awaits implementation (Washington and Pennsylvania).
11. More Male Nurses Are Joining the Workforce
From the days of Florence Nightingale to the present, nursing has predominantly been occupied by women. Interestingly, nursing trends such as this have been in flux over time and are changing for the better. For example, in 1960, just 2% of nurses were male. Today, that number is up to nearly 13%.
People typically seek out those who they can relate to — this is also true with healthcare. Some male patients may feel more comfortable discussing specific health-related topics with nurses who are men.
As an increased number of male nurses enter today’s workforce, it allows for a more balanced workforce that better reflects the population. Nursing is also among the fastest-growing U.S. professions, and many men are seeing the benefit of choosing a career that offers a bright outlook.
“The pay is great, the opportunities are endless and you end up going home every day knowing that you did something very positive for someone else,” states Jorge Gitler, an oncology nurse manager.
12. Telehealth Services Are on the Rise
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that during the initial peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April 2020, telehealth visits increased from less than 1% of all visits to greater than 80% in locations where COVID-19 infection rates were highest.
Later in the pandemic, from April to October 2021, an HHS survey found that 23.1% of respondents had used telehealth services in the previous four weeks, and 19.7% of households with children had used a telehealth visit for a child in the previous four weeks.
Telehealth is a safer alternative for patients and healthcare staff alike, especially for those who are high-risk or facing non-emergency circumstances. Telehealth services have risen particularly in remote areas, such as Native American communities. Patients whose mobility issues make in-person hospital visits challenging have also gradually adopted telehealth services.
One reason nursing trends like telehealth haven’t expanded previously is due to legislative restrictions on the circumstances under which Medicare programs will pay for remote services. More recently, some Medicare programs have begun allowing more patients to do virtual checkups and get prescription refills. Often, nurses and NPs handle the majority of these calls. Telehealth services are anticipated to grow as a modality of care in the future, even after our nation’s current dynamic settles.
13. Geriatric Specialists Are in High Demand
Among nursing trends, this immediately reflects our nation’s proceeding demographic changes. Today, roughly 16.5% of Americans (more than 50 million) are over the age of 65. As more people enter this age demographic, the demand for health services will grow. Older adult patients are in need of routine healthcare visits, more complex treatment plans and more frequent preventive care.
In turn, more nursing professionals with a focus on gerontological care are needed. Aspiring NPs who wish to specialize in treating older adult patients can pursue an MSN-NP Adult-Gerontology degree to develop their skills.
14. Several States Are Addressing Nursing Faculty Shortages
Despite the need for more working nurses, over 91,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools during the 2021-2022 school year. The U.S. is facing a nursing faculty shortage, with more than 1,600 faculty vacancies.
Nursing trends involving shortages have been a challenge in the field, but some governments are taking notice of the need for mentorship. Hawaii, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland and Colorado are among several states that are exploring issuing tax credits to nurses who serve as preceptors.
Nurse educators shape the next generation of nurses who’ll contribute to an essential workforce. Those interested in teaching others should consider earning a master’s degree in nursing education.
15. More States Are Moving Toward BSN in 10
In December 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo formally signed what has been popularly referred to as the “BSN in 10 Law,” which requires registered nurses in that state to obtain at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing within 10 years of their initial licensure.
Although the law only applied to nurses within the state of New York, the move is having nationwide ramifications. For example, a growing number of healthcare facilities throughout the country have begun to show a strong preference for RN candidates who’ve completed a BSN degree or higher.
Powerful lobbies have been pushing for the BSN to be accepted as the minimum qualification for registered nurses for decades, and the New York BSN in 10 Law signals that state and federal authorities are coming around to this point of view.
Today more than ever, though, nurses are required to make judgment calls about their patients’ treatments, often in situations where having to turn to a doctor for confirmation is impractical from both a care and cost perspective. Nurses thus require more training in the science of medicine to fulfill their responsibilities.
Uniquely Designed for Working Nurses
Spring Arbor University’s online RN to Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree programs offer accessible pathways to advanced learning for the modern-day family nurse. With a student experience tailored to your needs, you can advance your career, continue to work and find balance in between.
Some highlights of SAU’s online RN to MSN-FNP program are:
- A flexible 7-1-7 model offering a week off in between 7-week courses, allowing time to recharge
- Engaged faculty members who are invested in your holistic growth through faith-based learning
- A dedicated student success coach who’ll help you find balance throughout the program, from the start of your classes until graduation
Join a supportive community of nurses who also want to broaden their impact in family care. Learn more about our RN to MSN-FNP program as you take the next step in your nursing career.
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