What does the future of the nursing industry look like?

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Male nurse practitioner in blue coat with stethoscope around the neck reading patient's records

The nursing industry is changing at a rapid rate. With shifting technology, an aging patient population and new challenges brought on by federal legislation, the nursing industry is being forced to evolve to ensure that hospitals and other organizations are able to continue to provide the best possible care.

As a nursing professional, you ensure that patient care keeps pace with changes in the field. Part of that responsibility requires staying abreast of industry developments to make sure that you are up to date with the latest and greatest in clinical practice. Following are six trends that are changing the future of nursing.

1. Shifting demographics

Historically, U.S. nursing demographics have been fairly uniform along racial and gender lines. However, the industry’s makeup is changing. In 1930, only 2 percent of nurses were male, according to the study “Counting Nurses: The Power of Historical Census Data.” As of 2015, the ratio of women to men in nursing was about 9.5 to 1, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

This diversifying trend also is apparent in the industry’s racial makeup. A 2015 report by American Nurses Association economist Peter McMenamin, Ph.D., showed that 77 percent of the registered nurses over the age of 70 were white, but among nurses younger than 40 years old, about 65 percent identified as white. In the future, this trend toward diversity likely will continue to shape the nursing industry.

2. Increasing leadership opportunities

Nurses have long been an integral part of the health care system, but in recent years, nursing professionals have seen increased opportunities for leadership. In the U.S., nurses are being called on to meet the growing health care needs of patients and organizations. Some job titles that fall into this category include clinical nurse leader, nurse manager, nurse executive and nurse administrator.

These increased leadership opportunities also include roles that require advanced degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners — positions known as advanced practice nurses — is expected to increase by 31 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding about 53,400 jobs to the market.

This trend is in line with the goals set forth by the Institute of Medicine for the future of nursing: “As we build a culture of health within our communities, we also want to support nurses in their leadership roles, wherever they work, and shift the culture so they see themselves as the true leaders they are,” Susan Hassmiller, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior adviser for nursing and Campaign for Action director, said in an interview with NURSE.com. “Nurses know how to keep people healthy, and we want them to have a deep appreciation of their own value and importance in all health care settings.”

3. Growing role of informatics

As technology advances, so does the amount of health care data that is collected through information technology such as electronic health records, patient portals and wearable devices. The information is analyzed and leveraged to make appropriate changes to existing procedures and clinical strategies. This trend is having a significant impact on nursing practice in hospitals and other U.S.-based care organizations. Informatics’ growing role is changing the way that nurses record and communicate patient information, how care is coordinated and the development of evidence-based practices.

In addition to affecting nurses’ day-to-date work, the increased use of informatics is creating positions for professionals who want to focus entirely on the intersection of nursing and data. Some specific jobs titles pursued by nursing professionals include the following:

  • Clinical informatics specialist
  • Nursing informatics specialist
  • Clinical analyst
  • Clinical informatics manage
  • Clinical informatics coordinator
  • Nursing informatics analyst

Even nurses who do not pursue a full-time data-related role likely will become more involved in the practice of informatics as health information technology continues to grow in popularity.

A female nurse talks to a woman in a wheelchair in a nursing home.

4. Increasing emphasis on population health

Population health is a broad care approach that focuses on the health outcomes of an entire group of people. While strategies vary by context, they usually involve community wide initiatives, such as educating school children on the importance of healthy eating or encouraging a city’s seniors to get vaccinated for the flu.

According to a report by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), some of the goals of population health include:

  • Increase physical activity
  • Decrease work days lost to illness
  • Decrease infant mortality and preterm births
  • Decrease cases of diabetes

These strategies not only are meant to improve health outcomes but also to help save money for patients and health care organizations by preventing medical problems before more expensive interventions are required.

HRSA reported that nurses can bring great value to this health care model with the expert care they provide helping the health care system as a whole respond to patient needs on both the individual and population level. Nurses are well-placed to identify problems that need to be addressed on a wide scale and connect patients with specific services that are provided in communities.

5. Different settings

Though the hospital typically is viewed as the most traditional workplace for nurses, the setting is far from being the only place where these professionals are needed. Nurses can work in ambulatory care centers, clinics and private practices to name a few. As health care evolves so will the settings in which nursing professionals are employed.

Today, nurses are working with patients who are not present physically. With telehealth technology, nurses and other health care providers are able to advise and care for people who cannot travel to an appointment in person. As this technology becomes more widespread, an increasing number of nurses likely will find remote consultations added to their list of responsibilities.

6. Growing need for education

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine released its “Future of Nursing Report.” One of the plan’s major goals was to increase nursing education, resulting in a nursing workforce in which 80 percent of professionals holds a bachelor’s degree. However, this push toward increased nursing education does not apply only to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) — it also is true of higher degrees. Doctoral degrees have seen a particular push from many nursing organizations, including the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

“To maximize the potential value of their additional education, nurses should be encouraged to pursue [doctoral] degrees early in their careers,” IOM committee members wrote in the report. “Ph.D. and DNP programs should offer coursework that prepares students to serve as faculty, including preparing them to teach in an evolving health care system that is less focused on acute care than has previously been the case.”

If you are ready to take the next step in your own nursing career, consider enrolling in Bradley University’s online DNP degree program. In the program, you will have the opportunity to develop skills that can help you shape the future of the nursing field and improving patient care.


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Six Health Care Trends to Watch

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Bradley University Online Nursing Programs