Nursing trends have changed over time as a result of 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 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: No. 1 — Nurse Retirement Pushing Systemic Changes
Among 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 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.
- A survey of nurses conducted in November 2021 found that 32% said they may leave their direct patient care role, a 10% increase in just 10 months.
- Only 3 out of 5 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 preventive care mean more nurses are needed.
These shortages show a clear demand for a trained nursing workforce.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that 276,800 RNs will be hired between 2020 and 2030 alone.
Nursing Trends: No. 2 — High Number of Nurse Practitioners
The rise 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 2020 and 2030, the number of NPs will grow by 52%, 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.
The increasing prominence of NPs is reflected in the U.S. News & World Report 2022 job rankings. NPs rose in all three rankings, including the following:
- Best Healthcare Jobs: 1
- Best STEM Jobs: 2
- 100 Best Jobs (Overall): 2
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 with physicians.
In fact, NPs ranked higher than physicians in each of the magazine’s categories except salary.
Nursing Trends: No. 3 — Nurse Practitioners Addressing Primary Care Provider Shortages
The NP role evolved in response to a shortage of physicians half a century ago, and now they’re 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 37,800 to 124,000 doctors by 2034.
Primary care is a major area of need with as many as 55,000 primary care physician positions going unfilled by 2023. Fortunately, fully 87% of new NPs entered primary care programs.
Currently, 24 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have granted NPs full practice authority.
NPs 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 NPs 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 nurses are the most trusted profession in the U.S. NP quality of care is comparable to that of physicians, and their focus on holistic care has been associated with positive patient outcomes.
Nursing Trends: No. 4 — High Demand 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.
More experienced RNs can earn still higher wages, and there’ve 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 2020, they earned a median annual wage of $111,680, with the best-paid 25% in the profession earning as much as $130,240.
As we discussed, nursing trends show a need for qualified NPs nationwide. RNs with an interest in more autonomy and higher earning potential can start the path to becoming an NP.
Nursing Trends: No. 5 — Hiring Bonuses 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.
Nursing Trends: No. 6 — Awareness to Reduce Burnout
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, the topic of burnout has become a topic of 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 nurse burnout are:
- 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, before 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.
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.
Nursing Trends: No. 7 — More States to Begin Regulating Staffing Ratios
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.
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
- If hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania adopted California’s nurse staffing ratios, they’d have fewer patient deaths, by 13.9% and 10.6%, respectively.
- Lower staffing ratios reduce preventable medical errors, avoidable complications, falls and injuries.
- They also reduce the length of patient stays and the number of readmissions while improving nurses’ job satisfaction and reducing burnout rates.
- Safe RN-to-patient staffing levels reduce nurse turnover and save hospitals money by reducing the need for temporary RNs and overtime pay.
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.
Nursing Trends: No. 8 — Hospitals Experiment With Scheduling and Perks
Just as hiring bonuses have become emergent 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.
Nursing Trends: No. 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 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, 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, 36 states have adopted this legislation, and in nine others it’s either pending (Alaska, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Washington) or it’s already been passed and awaits implementation (Ohio and Pennsylvania).
Nursing Trends: No. 10 — More Male Nurses
From the days of Florence Nightingale to the present, nursing has predominantly been occupied by women.
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.
Nursing Trends: No. 11 — Telehealth Services 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 infections 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 nonemergency circumstances.
Telehealth services have risen particularly in remote areas, such as Native American communities. It’s also gradually been adopted for patients whose mobility issues make in-person hospital visits challenging.
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.
Nursing Trends: No. 12 — Eldercare Specialists 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 grows. Elderly 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 in gerontological care are needed. In fact, some retirement communities and nursing homes now employ full-time NPs in lieu of a staff physician.
Aspiring NPs who wish to specialize in treating elderly patients can pursue an MSN-NP Adult-Gerontology degree to develop their skills.
Nursing Trends: No. 13 — Nurses Are Becoming More Educated
Another positive in today’s nursing trends 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.
Additionally, the nation’s Magnet hospitals have required all RNs to hold at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
Higher education has been linked to better patient outcomes. In fact, a 10% increase in the number of 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: No. 14 — Addressing Nursing Faculty Shortages
Despite the need for more working nurses, over 80,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools in 2019.
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.
Nursing Trends: No. 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 the following:
- Lower tuition compared with 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.
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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 Spring Arbor’s online RN to MSN-FNP program are:
- A flexible 7-1-7 model offering a week off in between courses, allowing time to recharge
- Engaged faculty members who are invested in your holistic growth through faith-based learning
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Join a supportive community of nurses who also want to broaden their impact in family care. Contact us today to discuss which degree option is best for you.
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