Health care is constantly evolving, and the field of nursing is no exception. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, doctors often treated nurses more like assistants or order takers than essential parts of the medical team. Modern-day nurses not only play a crucial role in delivering care but also have a lot more autonomy than they did in the past. Nurses monitor patient health, advocate for patient care, and help patients and their families understand the varied emotional and physical experiences that patients may undergo during illness and treatment.
Nurse training and technology have also evolved over time. Whereas training used to be rudimentary, today, the qualifications to become a licensed registered nurse (RN) are specific and rigorous. The days of meticulous paper-and-pencil charting are also behind us, as electronic record keeping and filing are now the norm.
If you’re considering a career as an RN, you should remain up to date on the most recent nursing trends that continue to shape the profession. Below are some of the trends in nursing that you should know if you decide to pursue a nursing education.
The rise in telehealth nursing
Trends in telemedicine have shifted dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) increased flexibility around the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for practitioners who want to use everyday technology, such as cellphones, tablets, and computers, to conduct patient visits. As part of this policy, health care providers are now permitted to deliver telehealth using nonpublic-facing applications, such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and Messenger. As long as the application only allows the intended parties, such as the patient and the provider, to participate, HIPAA regulations allow practitioners to use them.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also implemented various changes:
● Medicare is now paying physicians and nurse practitioners (NPs) the same rate for telehealth services as it pays for in-person visits.
● Physicians and NPs no longer need to have existing relationships with patients to see them.
● Medical practitioners are now permitted to conduct telehealth visits with patients in different states.
Telehealth nursing’s impact on the nursing shortage
One of the most profound impacts of the telehealth nursing trend has been its positive impact on the nursing shortage. For example, a May 2020 white paper published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that telehealth was beneficial for specific uses and patient populations, adding that research has shown that clinical outcomes for telehealth patients are as good as, if not better than, in-person care. The agency also noted that research supports the use of telehealth for effective remote monitoring for patients with chronic conditions, such as congestive heart failure, and the delivery of psychotherapy for behavioral health patients.
Teladoc Health provides a secure online platform for practitioners to communicate with patients and believes that telehealth can ease the impact of the nursing shortage. According to the virtual health care company’s research, telehealth is helping in the following ways:
● Telehealth nurses spend less time traveling from site to site, allowing them to spend more time with their patients.
● It fosters more meaningful contact between nurses and their patients, as disruptions or intrusions are less likely to impact patient visits.
● It helps nurses be more accessible to their patients, creating opportunities for adequate care by fewer RNs.
Other benefits of telehealth nursing
Telenursing visits are also beneficial for patients in the following ways:
● Telenursing visits are often less costly. A study by JeffConnect Telehealth found that patients who used telehealth to receive nonemergency care, as opposed to visiting an emergency department, garnered cost savings between $309 and $1,500.
● Telenursing expands patient access. JeffConnect Telehealth also found that increased access to telehealth led to increased use of services. Roughly 16% of patients surveyed said that had they not opted for a telemedicine visit, they would’ve “done nothing.”
● Telenursing visits save time. Whereas traveling to an in-person visit often requires patients to take time off from work, telehealth visits can be conducted from anywhere patients have an internet connection.
● Telenursing helps patients in remote areas to access their practitioners. The National Rural Health Association (NHRA) found that 98 rural hospitals closed between 2010 and 2019, adding that roughly 700 additional rural hospitals were “financially vulnerable and at a high risk of closure.” Telehealth nursing also allows NPs to deliver care remotely and serve larger areas, including places where access to in-person consultations is limited.
Self-care in nursing
The nursing profession can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and self-care is one of the most productive recent trends in nursing to be aware of. Staffing shortages, long hours, and voluminous workloads are among the many stressors that RNs face on the job. Consequently, if professionals in this field don’t engage in self-care, they may experience burnout. In fact, a study article published by JAMA Open Network found that of the more than 400,000 RNs who left the profession in 2018, roughly one-third cited burnout as the reason for quitting.
Self-care in nursing involves caring for one’s mental, physical, emotional, social, and personal health. When nurses make time to care for themselves, whether that involves exercising, traveling, or treating themselves to a nice meal, this can help them destress and decompress. Nurses are being encouraged to check in with themselves, ask how they’re doing, and respond to the signals their bodies are giving them. Practicing self-care may not only reduce burnout but also reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and improve the immune system.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) recommends the following self-care tips for nurses:
● Schedule a time each week to focus on yourself.
● Take up a hobby.
● Unplug and turn off all your electronic devices, including televisions, cellphones, and tablets.
● Don’t be afraid to say no to taking on additional responsibilities.
● Do yoga.
● Try meditation.
● Focus on nutrition.
● Go outside.
Increased specialization options
Another nursing trend is increased specialization in the profession. Today’s nurses can choose to specialize in various fields, such as cardiac, pediatric, and geriatric nursing. Specialization not only allows RNs to focus their careers in a specific direction but can also lead to greater autonomy, more responsibility, and increased earning potential.
For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual wage for RNs was $75,330 as of May 2020. During that same period, the BLS also found that the median annual wage for nurse anesthetists was $183,580, whereas the median annual wage for nurse-midwives and NPs was between $111,130 and $111,680.
Specialization requires additional education, training, and certification. For example, RNs can pursue certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) in the following areas:
● Ambulatory care nursing
● Cardiac vascular nursing
● Gerontological nursing
● Informatics nursing
● Medical-surgical nursing
● Nurse executive
● Nursing case management
● Nursing professional development
● Pain management nursing
● Pediatric nursing
● Psychiatric-mental health nursing
To become certified, candidates must be licensed RNs, meet other eligibility requirements (which vary based on the certificate they’re interested in), and pass a licensing exam. Most credentials are valid for five years, Candidates must also complete continuing education requirements before applying for renewal.
Specialization as an advanced practice registered nurse
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree holders who are interested in becoming advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and plan to enroll in Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs or BSN to DNP programs can also choose from various specializations. Popular APRN specializations include the following:
In addition to completing an advanced degree, APRNs must pass a credentialing exam and meet continuing education requirements to maintain their certification. Credentialing, examination, and continuing education requirements vary by specialty.
The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses notes that certification benefits not only RNs but also patients and their families, as it demonstrates that a nurse has advanced knowledge and experience in a chosen field.
One of the recent popular trends in nursing is travel nursing. RNs are still in high demand, and with travel nursing, licensed RNs can opt to take short-term assignments at hospitals throughout the U.S. From small rural health care centers to teaching hospitals at urban universities, travel nursing opportunities can be varied and accessible.
According to an article published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nursing shortage can vary greatly based on region. Although the greatest shortages are expected in parts of the West and Mountain regions, an expanded need for nurses is also being seen in areas that have large retired populations. Travel nurses can play an important role in addressing and filling these gaps.
Travel nurses get to choose not only their location but also their start date and stipulate how much time they want to have off. According to American Traveler, a staffing agency that specializes in matching travel nurses with hospitals that need them, annual earnings for travel RNs can be as high as $110,000, much higher than the BLS median of $75,330.
Other perks of travel nursing may include the following:
● Cost of moving reimbursement
● Scrubs reimbursement
● License fee reimbursement for nurses who need to pay to get licensed in a new state
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing expects that the nursing shortage will intensify alongside the aging baby boomer population, and the American Journal of Medical Quality projects that the shortage of RNs will persist through at least 2030. Consequently, the demand for travel nurses will likely remain strong.
Bilingual nurses are increasingly valued
As the number of U.S. residents who speak English as their second language grows, the need for bilingual nurses is growing in tandem, meaning that being bilingual is a current nursing trend. For example, a study by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) found that approximately 67 million people in the U.S. spoke a foreign language at home as of 2018. To put this further into perspective, the CIS further noted that the number of English as a second language (ESL) homes in the country more than doubled since 1990.
At the time of the study, languages spoken by over 1 million people in their households included the following:
Although nurses who speak both Spanish and English are in the highest demand, especially in states such as Texas, California, and Arizona, nurses who speak other languages are needed as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, bilingual and multilingual nurses are becoming increasingly valued because they can communicate with patients in a language they understand.
The number of male nurses will continue to rise
Trends in nursing are also impacting RN school enrollment. Whereas women have been making inroads into male-dominated professions for years, men have been less likely to pursue roles in female-dominated professions. However, this is starting to change, and demographic shifts in the nursing profession have begun to emerge. For example, the nursing workforce consisted of roughly 9.5% male nurses in 2018. This reflects a big jump from 1970 when approximately 2.7% of RNs were men.
Numerous factors are driving this shift, including changing norms in gender roles, industries’ increased demand for candidates with college degrees, and the nationwide nursing shortage.
For example, in an interview with The New York Times in 2018, a former handyman turned nurse told the reporters that he changed careers because nursing is a good profession that will always have demand for qualified professionals, adding that nurses’ job duties can’t be outsourced or automated. Another male RN interviewed for the article said he entered the profession because it’s “not just a job” and his career gives him a sense of purpose.
More states are authorizing nurse practitioners to practice independently
The shortage of primary care physicians has also impacted trends in nursing, as a growing number of state legislatures are passing bills that allow NPs to practice without doctor oversight. NPs with full practice authority are permitted to diagnose conditions, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, and initiate and manage treatment plans. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the following states and territories provide NPs with full practice authority:
● District of Columbia
● New Hampshire
● New Mexico
● North Dakota
● Northern Mariana Islands
● Rhode Island
● South Dakota
Other states, including California and Florida, have begun to advance legislation allowing NPs to work on their own. The caveat, according to various news reports, is that before gaining full practice autonomy, NPs must practice under the supervision of a physician for a minimum number of years. Supervised practice requirements vary widely by state.
The impact of the nursing shortage has spurred unprecedented job growth
The aging population, persistent nursing shortage, and number of retiring baby boomers who are nurses are among the many factors driving job growth in this field. In fact, the BLS projects the employment of RNs to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than what’s projected for the average occupation. The BLS expects that RNs will be needed to care for and educate patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, dementia, and heart disease. BLS data also suggests that nurses with certification in a specialty, such as ambulatory care or gerontological nursing, are likely to have the best job prospects.
Job growth for APRNs, including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and NPs, is also projected to be favorable. The BLS further notes that the employment of APRNs is projected to grow by a staggering 45%, significantly faster than what’s projected for the average occupation. As more states push to give APRNs greater autonomy in their scope of practice, opportunities for APRNs are likely to be excellent, especially in medically underserved areas, such as rural areas and inner cities.
Master’s in nurse education online programs
Master’s in nurse education online programs have become increasingly popular, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to allowing RNs to continue their education in a flexible, remote environment, online education opportunities have also benefited nurses who live in rural areas.
In an article published by the Dayton Business Journal in May 2020, Megan Brunson, president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, said that online learning environments offered a “quick path and the flexibility nurses demand.” This is especially true for RNs who want to advance their education while still working full time.
Although the time it takes to complete an online master’s in nurse education program can vary, most full-time students find they can complete their MSN within 24 months.
Choosing a career in nursing
Trends in nursing are constantly changing, but the demand for qualified, experienced professionals remains strong. Regardless of whether you’re interested in starting your nursing career by completing a BSN or earning an MSN, DNP, or BSN to DNP to gain increased autonomy, you could have various career paths and specializations to choose from. Understanding where your interests lie can help you take your next step.
Explore our recommendation engine to find out more about nurse specializations and whether the career path is right for you.