The Future of Nursing — Opportunities and Challenges
Nurses make up the largest sector of the nation’s health care field, so what does the future of nursing look like? This vital portion of the medical field is composed of almost 4 million professionals and will continue to provide a greater number of available positions between now and 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field will grow at a rate of 15%, which is faster than all other professions. This degree of growth and employment demand presents both opportunities and challenges for the future of nursing.
An Aging Population and a Retiring Medical Workforce
The number of people in the U.S. over the age of 65 is at an all-time high. This creates a greater demand for health care services. In fact, many members of today’s older generation have multiple medical conditions that require care. Additionally, a number of diseases once considered terminal are now survivable with long-term and specialized care.
Many of today’s nurses are either approaching retirement age or are actively retiring. This is also taking place in nursing education. There is a decrease in nursing faculty, which may leave some new students fewer opportunities to obtain the education required for their degrees and certifications.
Regional Nursing Challenges and Opportunities
Local staffing challenges, regional shortages and increased demands are adding to the field’s employment opportunities. Nurses living in areas facing shortages or who are willing to travel can benefit from higher pay rates. They will also have more job options to choose from. The Western and Mountain regions of the U.S. appear to have the fastest future growth for nurses. This is also true for areas with more retirees. Overall, all 50 states predict a demand increase of no less than 11%.
These shifts have created a need for travel nurses. Being a travel nurse comes with its own benefits. In addition to higher pay, they have more chances to see the country while working in various locations.
Nurse-To-Patient Staffing Ratios
Nurse-to-patient ratios can be unbalanced. This inequality creates a challenge for the nursing industry. When patient workload is too high, there is a greater chance for errors, turnover and burnout. The concern over these ratios is being treated by some states as a legislative issue. Illinois House Bill 2604, the Safe Patient Limits Act, was introduced earlier this year. This bill would place a limit on the number of patients a registered nurse can be assigned. If passed into law, the bill would also require both permanent and temporary nursing staff to receive the same type and degree of training.
The proposed Illinois bill is similar to a 2004 California law that provides for mandated patient-to-nurse ratios. Data shows that patient outcomes can improve when facilities keep safe patient-to-nurse ratios. This also affects the health and well-being of nurses. Based on a 2015 study, the California law resulted in at least a 50% decrease in job-related illnesses and injuries per 10,000 registered nurses. When safe staffing levels were upheld, everyone benefitted. At this time, no similar bills exist on the federal level.
Technology and Nursing
Advances in technology are changing the way nurses talk with and care for their patients. New home blood tests and user-friendly medical devices help nurses monitor their patients and track their progress more efficiently. Some facilities are even embracing remote monitoring and electronic medical records maintenance. These changes can help decrease some staffing challenges. However, technology can alter the basic way patient care is delivered. Seasoned veterans may have to adopt entirely new ways of doing things.
Employee Engagement and Reducing Turnover
Another top challenge in nursing is keeping employees engaged. When nurses feel they have a voice in their organization, performance and job satisfaction increase. A workplace culture promoting recognition and support also goes a long way toward reducing turnover.
The Future of Travel Nursing
The future demand for travel nurses will increase as the aging population grows faster than the number of available nurses. Health care facilities experiencing nursing shortages will be looking to travel nurses to meet their needs. Nurses who are both flexible and willing to travel will find both higher pay and a variety of rewarding ways to grow as an individual.
The future of nursing looks bright all across the country. Demands will continue to grow and so will pay. If you have ever considered becoming a nurse, now is the time!