5 Current Trends in Nursing for 2015

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Some things in health care never seem to change. Health care costs continue to rise, and a nurse’s feet continue to ache at the end of a 12-hour shift. But there are also a number of significant shifts happening in health care that will impact nursing.

Here are the top five trends affecting nursing:

  1. Impact of chronic disease on health care
  2. Demand for degreed nurses
  3. More job opportunities for nurse educators
  4. Employment opportunities for nurses beyond hospitals
  5. Nurses adopting wearable technology

Not surprisingly, most of these trends are interrelated. The increase in chronic care patients requires a more educated nursing workforce, which in turn requires more nurse educators to teach these nursing students. And as hospitals change their patient care model to adapt to an aging population, there will be more opportunities for nurses in outpatient and other care facilities outside of hospitals.

Impact of chronic disease on health care

The patient care model will adapt to an aging population.The U.S. population is aging, and as a result there is a significant increase in the number of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease. According to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, almost half of all Americans (145 million people) live with a chronic condition, and many people with chronic conditions have multiple chronic conditions.

This flood of older adults with chronic diseases will strain hospitals as the health care system shifts its focus from treating acute illnesses to managing chronic diseases, according to an American Medical Association report. Nurses will play more of a role in educating patients and caregivers on how to manage and prevent chronic conditions.

Demand for degreed nurses

A report by the Institute of Medicine in 2011 called for 80 percent of nurses to have at a minimum a bachelor’s degree by the year 2020. This is a significant increase, given that only 50 percent of all nurses at that time had a baccalaureate degree or higher. But enrollment in nursing programs is growing, at a rate of 90,000 students (compared to 30,000 students a decade ago), according to a study conducted in 2012 by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

There has also been considerable growth in the numbers of registered nurses with a master’s degree in nursing. From 2007 to 2011, there was a 67 percent increase, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A contributing factor to the surge is the increased popularity of online nursing programs. Registered nurses working full time are more likely to be enrolled in a distance learning format because of the scheduling flexibility.

More job opportunities for nurse educators

In the next decade, there will be a greater demand for nurse educators across the country. There are a number of reasons for this need. An increased enrollment in nursing education programs signals the need for more nursing faculty.

In addition, many of the current nurse educators are nearing the age of retirement. The average age of nursing professors was 61, and the average age for associate professors was 57, according to an AACN study conducted in 2013. Many of these retiring Baby Boomers will provide more job openings for nursing instructors.

Employment opportunities for nurses beyond hospitals

Hospital hiring has been flat since 2009, but there are many other health care settings in need of qualified nurses. Technological advancements in noninvasive surgeries and the trend toward more outpatient treatments means additional nurses will be needed in ambulatory surgery centers.

More nurses may be required in skilled nursing facilities. Pending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to add more nurses to nursing homes across the country. If passed, the law would require a registered nurse to be present around the clock in all of the nearly 16,000 nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.

Home health agencies are also areas for growth. With the trend toward an aging population and encouraging senior citizens to remain in their homes, more nurses will be needed to provide postsurgical care, dispense medications or coordinate care with other health care providers.

Nurses adopting wearable technology

Hospitals around the country are piloting the use of Google Glass, including doctors at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. The doctors scan a QR code on the door outside the patient’s room and have immediate access to the patient’s entire health history. Other uses for Google Glass include recording surgeries to stream live and having consultations with remote specialists.

Nurses at a number of hospitals are already using tablets that connect with patients’ electronic medical records, and when Google Glass becomes more readily available, it will be a natural transition for nurses to use this hands-free device to access patient data.

Wearable technology can also help detect when nurses themselves are in need of care. A bracelet that monitors vital signs could alert a supervisor when a nurse is fatigued and in need of relief from his or her shift before an error occurs.

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