The profession of nursing has evolved much more than many professions already. From the standard white uniform and cap to less advanced wound care of decades past, nursing already looks and feels much different today than it did even 50 years ago. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the evolution of nursing will continue, and possibly even escalate, with the growing number of new technologies used in healthcare and nursing, the aging U.S. population, changes in access to and priorities of healthcare in general, globalization of society, and even new trends not yet encountered.
Evolution of Nursing Responsibilities and Patient Care Settings
It doesn’t take a lot of research into nursing to realize that nursing roles and responsibilities are changing. New fields and specialties, like nursing informatics, are emerging and growing. Fewer RNs are working in the traditional hospital bedside role. Advanced practice RNs are handling more primary care and being given more autonomy in some states. More RNs are expected to have Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees or to go back to school within a certain timeframe to get their BSN. All of these factors could significantly affect future employment of RNs even just a decade or so from now.
Examination of the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (conducted by the HRSA through 2008) and the National Workforce Survey of Registered Nurses (conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and the Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers in 2013) shows a decreasing trend of the proportion of RNs who work in hospitals. In 1980, 66% of all employed RNs worked in hospitals, decreasing to 62% in 2008 and 57% in 2013.
Although the Affordable Care Act has made healthcare accessible to millions more Americans, acute care (hospital) stays are increasingly being shortened. More procedures are being handled in outpatient clinics. The number of retail clinics is increasing rapidly, and physician assistants and nurse practitioners often handle the primary care within these clinics. The aging population and other factors have increased demand for in-home healthcare and long-term rehabilitation care. All of this points to greater demand for RNs outside of the traditional hospital setting.
Aging U.S Population and RN Workforce
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the population aged 65 and over will nearly double from 43.1 million in 2012 to 83.7 million in 2050. In fact, the population 65 years and over is projected to become larger than the population under 18 years of age in 2056. Proportionally, seniors age 65 and over make up about 14 percent of the total US population today (US Census Bureau, 2012 estimate), but will increase to 22 percent in less than 50 years (2060).
Improved treatment options mean that Americans are living longer with chronic diseases and conditions. The aging population and management of these chronic conditions are driving factors for the medical focus shifting away from acute care, as discussed briefly above. All medical professionals, including nurses, need to adjust to this shift and continue to learn to better care for our senior population.
Additionally, the RN workforce is also aging and delaying retirement, in some ways mirroring what is happening with the general population. Before the recession, there were widespread concerns within the healthcare industry that many members of the aging RN workforce would be retiring. At the time, the nursing education system was not keeping pace with this anticipated increase in demand on top of an already increasing need for RNs. But the number of new graduates entering the RN workforce more than doubled from 2001 to 2012, increasing from 68,000 to 150,000 nationally. In the meantime, expected increased RN retirement levels did not materialize. RNs delayed retirement, re-entered the workforce because of the recession, or simply switched to less physically taxing roles away from bedside care.
Technology Trends and Their Potential Impact on Nursing
Wearables like smart watches and fitness trackers are quickly increasing in popularity and available functions. A recent study designed by TechnologyAdvice Research and conducted by Google Consumer Insights shows that about 25 percent of US adults either use a wearable fitness tracker (11 percent) or use a smartphone application to track their fitness (14 percent). Some companies even offer a fitness tracking device to employees as part of their wellness plans and initiatives.
Many within the healthcare industry see potential in using such devices to monitor and maintain chronic conditions. In fact, technology improvements have already been added to many devices used for chronic health conditions, such as wearable sensors, transmitters, and receivers with an LCD display for continuous glucose monitoring and an added sound chip that gives audio cues to a patient or caregiver to help with the proper use of epinephrine auto-injectors.
We haven’t quite made it to the flying cars and robotic maids featured in The Jetsons, but robotics are indeed making advances lately as well. While robots aren’t likely to replace complex human jobs like nursing anytime soon, they could help with basic functions like carrying and delivering food, medications, medical records and other items from one area of a hospital or other medical facility to another.
Video chats are now prevalent enough that they are used to connect us to doctors and other medical personnel via applications like Doctor on Demand. It doesn’t take much speculation to wonder how soon video screens will replace call buttons and voice-only technology in hospital rooms or even retirement residences.
In all likelihood, there will be technology advances shaping the future of nursing 50 years from now that we would have trouble imagining today. After all, even George Jetson didn’t carry his video phone around in his pocket.
Globalization and Diversity of Society
The 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa taught us a great deal about how the US healthcare system needs to be better prepared for diseases that can spread more easily in a world connected by direct flights. Diversity in nursing specifically and in the US population in general continues to increase. Nursing education and research will need to become more internationally and multi-culturally focused due to increased globalization and diversity.
While this list includes only some of the contributing factors, the evolution of nursing will continue into the foreseeable future. If you are ready to consider this exciting, evolving career, contact us about our accelerated nursing programs today.