Nursing trends have changed over time as a result of shifting demographics, technology, public health and social attitudes. With more than 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) in the nation, these trends affect one of the largest populations of America’s workforce.
In today’s 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.
Nursing Trends: #1 Nurse Retirement Pushing Systemic Changes
Among nursing trends, one that has been consistent over the last few decades, it’s a shortage of nursing staff. During today’s COVID-19 climate, a solid nursing workforce is even more essential.
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.
- Between 2020 and 2030, more than a quarter of current registered nurses will leave the workforce—one million out of 3.8 million total
- Only three out of five schools employ a full-time nurse, and 25% have no nurse at all
- Increasing rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, higher numbers of seniors, and a greater focus on preventative care mean more nurses are needed
These shortages show a clear demand for a trained nursing workforce.
The United States Bureau of Labor Services predicts 371,500 registered nurses will be hired between 2018 and 2028 alone. At 12%, nursing is one of the fastest growing professions in the country.
Nursing Trends: #2 High Number of Nurse Practitioners
The rise of nurse practitioners (NPs) over time is among nursing trends that continues to grow.
In 2019, American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) announced that the number of nurse practitioners (NPs) had reached an all-time high of 270,000.
To compare, in 2007, there were 120,000 nurse practitioners nationwide. Advanced practice nursing as a discipline has only been around since the 1960s, but NPs are becoming an increasingly essential part of today’s healthcare system.
- Nurse practitioners conduct over 1 billion patient visits in recent years
- 27,000 NPs graduated from programs in 2017-18, compared to 19,000 in 2014-2015
- Roughly two-thirds of workers graduated from Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) programs
- NPs work in almost every healthcare environment, including “private practice (25.5%), hospital outpatient clinics (12.8%), inpatient hospital units (10.3%), community health centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers (8.2%), and emergency rooms/urgent care (5.9%)”
In many states, nurse practitioners enjoy a high degree of autonomy compared to RNs. Many operate their own practices, have prescriptive privileges, and enough seniority to control their own schedules.
The increasing prominence of nurse practitioners is reflected in U.S. News & World Report’s new 2020 job rankings. NPs rose in all three rankings including:
- Best Healthcare Jobs: #4
- Best STEM Jobs: #5
- 100 Best Jobs (Overall): #5
In its explanation, U.S. News & World Report cited a strong average salary, low unemployment rate, high number of jobs and low educational requirements compared to physicians.
In fact, NPs ranked higher than physicians on each list.
Nursing Trends: #3 Nurse Practitioners Addressing Primary Care Provider Shortages
The nurse practitioner role evolved in response to a shortage of physicians half a century ago, and now they are more needed to fill in that gap than ever before.
Nursing trends like this are impacted by the fact that America is becoming critically short on doctors. Some estimates say we may be short 46,900 to 121,900 doctors by 2032.
Primary care is a major area of need with just 8% of doctors entering a primary care residency in 2018. Fortunately, fully 87% of new NPs entered primary care programs.
Currently, 22 states, as well as Washington D.C., have granted NPs full practice authority.
Nurse practitioners are trained and licensed to:
- Examine patients and assess their conditions
- Diagnose illnesses and order tests
- Develop and oversee treatment plans
- Prescribe medications
More and more patients are turning to nurse practitioners for regular checkups and treatment needs. This is particularly true in rural areas and high-density urban neighborhoods where getting an appointment with a primary care physician is difficult.
Several nursing trends have remained over time, including the fact that NPs are one of the most trusted professions in the United States. NP quality of care is comparable to physicians and their focus on holistic care has been associated with positive patient outcomes.
Nursing Trends: #4 High Demand Paying Salary Dividends for Nurses
Some of today’s nursing trends are positive, including how increased competition between healthcare facilities for qualified candidates has increased wages for nurses.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that RNs earn an average median annual wage of $71,730. In fact, a recent survey found that fully 60% of respondents had seen their pay go up over the past year.
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 nurse practitioners are making the biggest gains. In 2018, they earned an average median wage of $107,030 per year, with the best paid 25% in the profession earning as high as $125,440.
As we discussed, nursing trends show a need for qualified nurse practitioners nationwide. RNs with an interest in more autonomy and higher earning potential can start the path to becoming an NP.
Nursing Trends: #5 Hiring Bonuses Becoming More Common
A pleasant surprise among nursing trends, employers are increasingly offering signing bonuses to healthcare employees. This is most common in remote communities, where it is otherwise extremely difficult to fill vacancies.
A recent CNN report found that some companies were offering signing bonuses and relocation expenses in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. Some employers are also helping nurses pay for continuing education.
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.
Nursing Trends: #6 Awareness to Reduce Burnout
Nursing is a rewarding profession but can also be trying at times, especially in today’s climate. As a result, burnout continues to be among nursing trends in need of addressing.
More recently, the topic of burnout has become a part of collective discussion, as well as how employers can actively reduce it.
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.”
Some of the impacts of burnout include:
- Compromised patient safety
- Inability to empathize with patients (compassion fatigue)
- Reduced job performance
- Negative personal health impacts
- High job turnover
Burnout has become especially pronounced in this era of staff shortages, as too few nurses are asked to take on more and more responsibility. In fact, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel nursing rose in popularity in part because of staffing gaps caused by burnout.
Governments and healthcare employers are investing in programs to help nurses stay safe, healthy and productive on the job.
“By raising awareness and educating nurses on how to respond and mitigate symptoms of [burn out syndrome], we hope to prevent nurses from leaving the profession,” says Vicki S. Good, vice president at Mercy Hospital Springfield Communities in Springfield, Missouri.
Nursing Trends: #7 More States to Begin Regulating Staffing Ratios
For decades, nursing unions and professional organizations have voiced concerns over regulating staffing ratios. So far, only one state has passed an ironclad set of regulations.
In 2004, California established the following guidelines for the minimum number of nurses per patient at facilities in the state:
- 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
A 2011 study found that “lower nurse-to-patient ratios significantly lowered the likelihood of a patient’s death." Moreover, it produced the following benefits for nurses:
- 73% of California nurses felt their workload was reasonable, compared to 59% in New Jersey and 61% in Pennsylvania
- Among nurses with comparable workloads in these three states, California nurses reported less burnout and higher job satisfaction
- Nurse employment increased by 15%
- A separate 2015 study also found that injuries to nurses decreased by 30% after the regulations
A number of other states have passed lighter regulations, with seven states requiring hospitals to have committees to manage staffing levels. More states seem to be following their lead, adding momentum to such nursing trends.
Nursing Trends: #8 Hospitals Experiment with Scheduling and Perks
Just as hiring bonuses have become emergent among nursing trends, we are 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 worklife balance, like a Family Nurse Practitioner.
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 also cuts down on commuting.
Offering nurses more perks is one of several nursing trends we’d like to see grow.
Nursing Trends: #9 More States to 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 United States, 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 (ex. RN, NP etc.)
- Definitions of the kinds of care nurses can provide
- Consequences for violations of nursing law
The Nurse Practice Act varies by jurisdiction. For example, in some states nurse practitioners can open their own practices, and 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, allowing nurses to practice freely wherever the compact has been adopted.
Thus far, 32 states have adopted this legislation, and in two others (New Jersey and Indiana) it has already been passed and awaits implementation.
Nursing trends like the eNLC look to continue, with legislation pending in seven more jurisdictions (Washington, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Alaska and Guam).
Nursing Trends: #10 More Male Nurses
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 instance, in 1960, just 2% of nurses were male. Today, that number is up to 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 male.
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.
Nursing Trends: #11 Telehealth Services on the Rise
The American Hospital Association found that 76% of hospitals had a computerized telehealth system as part of their services.
This percentage continues to grow, especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which shows a need for telehealth services during social distancing.
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. It has also gradually been adopted for patients whose mobility issues make in-person hospital visits challenging.
One reason nursing trends like telehealth have not 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 nurse practitioners 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.
Nursing Trends: #12 Elder-Care Specialists in High Demand
Among nursing trends, this immediately reflects our nation’s proceeding demographic changes. Today, roughly 15% of Americans (nearly 50 million) are over the age of 65.
As more people enter this aging demographic, the demand for health services grows. Elderly patients are in need of routine healthcare visits, more complex treatment plans, and more frequent preventative care.
In turn, more nursing professionals with a focus in gerontological care are needed. In fact, some retirement communities and nursing homes now employ full-time nurse practitioners in lieu of a staff physician.
Aspiring nurse practitioners who wish to specialize with elderly populations can pursue an MSN-NP Adult-Gerontology degree to develop their skills.
Nursing Trends: #13 Nurses Are Becoming More Educated
Another positive in today’s nursing trends, our current workforce of nursing professionals is more rigorously trained than ever before.
The latest workforce survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN) shows that roughly 64.2% of nurses hold either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Additionally, the nation’s Magnet hospitals have required all RNs to hold at least a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
Higher education has been linked to better patient outcomes. In fact, a 10% increase in the number of Michigan RNs with BSN degrees reduced patient mortality by 10.9%.
Advanced nursing degrees are becoming a more frequent standard for entry-level nursing positions and are also correlated with higher wages.
Nursing Trends: #14 Addressing Nursing Faculty Shortages
Despite the need for more working nurses, over 75,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools in 2018. In the past decade, an average of 30,000 were also denied each year.
The U.S. is facing a nursing faculty shortage with more than 1,700 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, Maryland and Colorado are among several that are exploring issuing tax credits to nurses who serve as preceptors.
Nurse educators shape the next generation of nurses who will contribute to an essential workforce. For those interested in teaching others, consider earning a Master’s in Nursing Education.
Nursing Trends: #15 More Nurses 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:
- Lower tuition compared to on-campus programs
- No additional commutes or relocation 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.
Some states, such as New York, have required RNs to receive at least a bachelor’s degree within 10 years of licensure. This has put pressure on many nurses who are juggling heavy workloads on top of other commitments.
Thankfully, the flexibility of online learning has opened doors for many nurses. Busy professionals can also explore other creative ways to find balance between work and school.
Uniquely Designed for Working Nurses
Spring Arbor University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree programs offer accessible pathways to advanced learning for the modern-day 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 Spring Arbor’s online MSN program include:
- A flexible 7-1-7 model offering a week off in between courses, allowing time to recharge
- Engaged faculty who are invested in your holistic growth through faith-based learning
- A dedicated Student Success Coach who will 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 primary care. Contact us today to discuss which MSN degree option is best for you.
See Spring Arbor University Online's top nursing blog posts below.