If you’re interested in a profession with the potential for career growth, look no further than nursing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has estimated a 45% growth in employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners between 2020 and 2030. Even before COVID-19 entered the picture, nurses were in demand; in the wake of a pandemic that has shaken our healthcare system, nurses are needed like never before.
But the demand for nurses is only one of many nursing trends influencing nurses’ careers. The effects of technology and the wealth of new avenues through which nurses can offer care also are adding dimensions to the profession. The field of nursing is evolving in ways that were unforeseen just a few years ago.
If you’ve been considering pursuing an online Master of Science in Nursing degree, it’s important to learn about the trends in nursing that will affect the profession and your career trajectory.
Nursing Trends That Have Recently Evolved
The growing demand for nurses has been well publicized, but a bright employment outlook is only one of several developments that are reshaping the profession. A growth in telehealth, an increase in online nursing education, expanding nurse practitioner ranks, the movement of nurses into nonclinical careers, growing practice authority, and technological advances are all changing the face of nursing.
1. Increasing Job Demand
The BLS projects that approximately 194,500 openings for registered nurses will be available each year until 2030. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the shortage of registered nurses will only grow as our population continues to age and demand for healthcare expands. The AACN notes that a shortage of nursing school faculty and more nurses reaching retirement age also are exacerbating the issue.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the demand for nurses as well. A 2020 report in Kaiser Health News found that healthcare organizations across the country have increased nurses’ salaries, sometimes quite significantly, in an attempt to lure nurses and keep the organizations functioning properly. According to a 2021 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the shortage of nurses is particularly acute in rural areas, where it’s difficult to compete with the compensation that urban areas offer.
The nursing shortage won’t be solved overnight, but each new nurse who enters the profession will likely have a range of employment options with competitive salaries and job security.
2. Growth of Telehealth
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of telehealth had already been growing. Nurses are providing virtual care through video sessions or telephone calls at an increasing rate. Providing telehealth helps in making workflows more efficient and enables patients who do not need urgent care to stay home and still receive healthcare.
The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey published in the Journal of Nursing Regulation found that nearly half of nurses were engaged in providing telehealth services at least a portion of the time, and that between 2015 and 2020, nurses who reported providing telehealth more than 75% of their time grew by 4.2%.
The survey took place in 2020 just as more healthcare organizations were moving to virtual care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the report noted that the time nurses spend providing telehealth was expected to increase. The report also noted that, because most nurses work in inpatient settings, the growth in telehealth may be most associated with nurses who have advanced practice degrees and work in primary care and ambulatory settings.
3. Growth in Online Nursing Education
One of the biggest trends in nursing education is online learning. More nursing programs are recognizing the advantages that online learning offers. For example, according to the AACN:
- In 2015, 47.1% of post-entry master’s nursing programs offered more than half of their curricula online; by 2019, 60.4% of those programs offered more than half of their curricula online.
- In 2015, 65.9% of post-entry master’s nursing program students were enrolled in programs that offered more than half of their curricula online; by 2019, 79.6% of those students were enrolled in programs that offered more than half of their curricula online.
The AACN notes that, as the expansion in online learning continues, students’ access to nursing education will also expand.
A 2021 study in the journal Teaching and Learning in Nursing found that moving clinical education from clinical settings to an online environment at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in instructors spending more time with students. In addition, when students participated in the online simulations as a group, it helped to foster favorable outcomes in terms of group reflection and peer support and observation.
4. Expanding Advanced Practitioner Roles
The ranks of nurse practitioners continue to grow. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the population of licensed nurse practitioners was more than 290,000 in December 2019. One year later, in December 2020, it had grown to more than 325,000.
Almost 90% of nurse practitioners are certified in primary care, and about 70% of all nurse practitioners provide primary care, according to the AANP. A 2020 report in the journal Nursing Forum noted that nurse practitioners represented the fastest‐growing category of primary care healthcare professionals. The report also noted that:
- Nurse practitioners can be found caring for diverse populations of patients and are more likely than physicians to treat patients in medically underserved and rural areas.
- Research indicates that nurse practitioners are providing care that is equivalent to or of higher quality than physicians.
- Patients who see nurse practitioners rather than physicians are more likely to receive recommended health education and counseling services.
- Nurse practitioners can provide cost‐effective healthcare in an array of settings, providing that care at a cost that is 29% less than that provided by primary care physicians.
5. Growth in Nonclinical Nursing Careers
Nurses moving into nonclinical roles is one of the most interesting nursing trends the profession is experiencing. The versatility of nursing degree programs — especially advanced programs — combined with newly available positions means that many graduates who would have previously taken part in clinical practice are instead exploring alternative career paths. New Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) grads are becoming hospital administrators, health policymakers, bioinformatics analysts, and college educators.
The COVID-19 pandemic also has motivated nurses to seek roles in nonclinical settings. Nurses are reevaluating their personal and professional objectives and finding that they have a wealth of experience, expertise, and insights that they can put to use in nonclinical leadership roles. These roles may be less well-known than those in traditional nursing careers, but they are in high demand. Examples of nonclinical roles that nurses can pursue include positions in:
- Healthcare settings. Nurses can work as chief wellness officers, as chief operating officers, in community relations positions, or in human resources and recruiting positions.
- Healthcare corporations. Nurses can work in positions in product development, marketing, or sales.
- Nonprofit organizations. Nurses can serve in executive leadership positions or as board members of nonprofit organizations.
- Consulting. Nurses can use their skills to consult in areas such as employee wellness and community engagement.
- Academia. Nurses can help train the next generation of nurses by serving as faculty or adjunct faculty for nursing schools.
6. Increased Practice Authority
An ongoing trend in recent years has been a push to grant nurse practitioners greater clinical authority. A looming physician shortage has made nurse practitioners viable alternative primary and preventive care providers. Factors such as the aging baby boomer population, an increased emphasis on preventive care, and new physicians opting to pursue specializations instead of general practice are prime movers behind this deficit.
It’s important to understand that nurse practitioners’ ability to treat patients depends on the state where they practice. The AANP categorizes states into three groups:
- Full practice states: These states allow nurse practitioners to evaluate and diagnose patients, order and interpret tests, and manage patient treatment. In these states, nurse practitioners’ licenses also allow them to prescribe medication.
- Reduced practice states: These states require nurse practitioners either to have collaborative agreements with other healthcare providers or limit the setting of one or more elements of their practice.
- Restricted practice states: These states require nurse practitioners to have career-long supervision or be managed by another healthcare provider.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting patients’ ability to obtain healthcare, several states temporarily loosened restrictions on nurse practitioners’ authority, and in some cases they even gave nurse practitioners full practice authority for a limited time. If those changes are made permanent, it could bring about transformative change in healthcare and help to address issues in access to healthcare.
7. Advances in Technology
Technology is causing paradigm shifts in several industries, and healthcare is no exception. Innovations such as portable medical devices and robotic aids are poised to create a more efficient healthcare experience.
Individuals pursuing a career as a nurse can expect to take on a number of technologically sophisticated roles in this new treatment landscape. They can also expect greater and more seamless integration of electronic health records into patient care, including predictive bioinformatics.
Some of the technological advances being developed have the potential to make some aspects of the nursing profession easier. For example, a 2021 report in HealthTech cited the following technological innovations that are affecting nursing:
- Telesitting technologies that enable nurses to monitor multiple patients using live audio and video
- Telehealth technologies that allow nurses to visually assess more patients in remote locations
- Blockchain credentialing that can make the process for receiving approval to work more efficient for nurses who work at multiple locations
- Mobile staffing apps that enable nurses to adjust staffing numbers based on the number of patients and the severity of their health issues
- Artificial intelligence that can analyze clinical data to better identify trends or risk factors, for example, a patient’s fall risk
Prepare Your Nursing Career for the Future
Although a number of nursing trends are influencing the future of the profession, nurses still have the fundamental goal of delivering high-quality care that improves patient outcomes. If you aspire to be at the forefront of the nursing profession, explore Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program. The program offers rigorous coursework while still allowing you the flexibility to fit your studies around your busy schedule. Take the first step toward advancing your career in nursing today.