By Anne Dabrow Woods
Nurses are the largest and most trusted group of healthcare professionals in the world today. Individually and collectively, they play a greater role in care delivery than ever before. As this group of professionals support and care for people during some of the most significant moments in their lives, nurses constantly endeavor to bridge the gap between science and art to positively impact patient outcomes.
In tandem with their elevated standing in the industry, nurses also face a growing landscape of challenges that require nursing leaders to recognize evolving industry trends and utilize the proper strategies and tools to address them. To better understand nursing in the context of healthcare, seven macro trends have been identified to illustrate where the profession sits today, as well as where it may be headed.
1. Learning from our past strengthens our future
During the 1850s, Florence Nightingale changed the face of nursing while caring for British soldiers during the Crimean War. Realizing that soldiers weren’t simply casualties of war but were also dying of infection and disease, she took the lead to change those dynamics by properly nourishing and hydrating soldiers and cleaning up the facility. Most importantly, she taught her nursing staff how to appropriately tend to and care for wounds.
Because of the work Nightingale did, nurses today have more autonomy than ever before. In addition, other nursing pioneers such as Clara Barton, Mary Eliza Mahoney, Dorothy Dix and Virginia Henderson took nursing from an occupation that follows the orders of a physician to one that is in complete control of its own practice. Nurses today can continue that trend by taking what we learn from all aspects of the healthcare continuum to better educate and inform our entire body of practice.
2. The concept of healthcare is changing — resources make all the difference
The pressure to deliver quality care is at an all-time high due to growing demand for healthcare services and the proportion of higher-acuity patients. To give patients the best treatment, resources must be readily available to all nurses when and where they need it.
For instance, when healthcare institutions and professionals implement evidence, they also need to consider their priorities and utilize strategies to minimize variations in care. Healthcare models continue to shift toward wellness, which means nurses must have access to key patient data such as social determinants of health to proactively help people better manage their conditions.
3. The nursing shortage will increase due to many factors
There are nearly 4 million registered nurses in the United States. Yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a current worldwide shortage of more than 7 million nurses, a number that is expected to jump to 12.9 million by 2035. Factors contributing to this shortfall include population growth, longer lifespans, burnout, a retiring workforce and a lack of nursing faculty and clinical sites to deliver enough new graduates.
High nurse turnover rates also impact the shortage. It is common for some nurses to leave the profession within a year because they didn’t receive the proper orientation or the support they needed to be successful in their position. The result is high costs for healthcare organizations: NSI reports that the average hospital loses $6.6 million per year in replacing nurses due to high turnover.
4. Opportunities for higher-qualified nurses will grow to meet the changing needs of healthcare
U.S. healthcare is shifting to a wellness model of care, which means more highly qualified nurses are needed in the specialties of population health, prevention and wellness. This is the perfect opportunity for nurses to obtain higher degrees to learn how to better meet the healthcare needs of people. Consequently, almost 30,000 bedside nurses each year head back to school to obtain an advanced practice degree, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). While this is a good thing for advanced practice, it leaves a significant impact on the number of nurses at the bedside.
5. Decreasing care variability improves patient outcomes
Care variability can notably impact patient outcomes and costs. The best way to decrease the frequency of care variability is to standardize policies, procedures and technologies so that a patient who has a heart attack can expect the same high-quality care whether he/she is in Philadelphia or Seattle, New York or Sydney. All healthcare professionals, especially nurses, need anytime-anywhere access to the latest healthcare information to provide the highest quality, evidence-based care.
6. Technology is changing how we access evidence-based information and approach healthcare
Documents are no longer stored on paper. Instead, they have been replaced with electronic healthcare records (EHRs), now the standard in U.S. and many other countries. While EHRs automatically update a patient’s status to supply a clinician with real-time information, they still require that a chunk of time be dedicated to reviewing or updating the patient record, cutting into the time nurses could be spending with patients. To help ease this burden, information specialists are evaluating ways technology can decrease documentation burden and evolve how healthcare information is used during workflow such as:
7. The changing culture is changing to improve the patient experience
- Point of Care: Information needed to support a clinical decision before, during or after a patient encounter
- Point of Reference: Often found in a journal article or summary report to help inform future clinical decisions while supporting research and quality improvement projects
- Point of Learning: Point of learning in practice focuses on professional development and may involve simulation or learning activities; point of learning in education relies more on information derived from textbooks, articles and simulation and real-life experiences
Patient-centered care starts with a culture of safety and caring, and nurses are central to this mission. Workplace culture is the responsibility of every working professional in every institution to establish and maintain a culture of safety, query, learning, and innovation, as well as insuring patient-focused care remains at the forefront. Many hospital systems are undergoing renovations to improve the overall patient experience. Nurses need to have a voice in redesign of patient care units and departments since they are the primary care givers for the patients.
Being a nurse has never been and never will be an easy job. That’s especially true today, where nurses must keep up with the current trends while keeping pace with the constant changes in healthcare. In order to provide the highest quality care for patients, individual nurses need to maintain their lifelong quest for continuing professional development and be the voice of reason and experience in how care is delivered today and in the future.
About the author: Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN is the chief nurse of Health, Learning, Research and Practice, a division of Wolters Kluwer. She is also a critical care nurse practitioner at Penn Medicine, Chester County Hospital and she is adjunct faculty for Drexel University, College of Nursing and Health Professions.