While dramatic changes were happening in healthcare before the pandemic, COVID-19 caused these changes to occur more quickly. These changes have helped address stresses placed on the healthcare system.
We spoke with two seasoned nursing leaders about the trends in healthcare expected in 2022. We discuss those trends and offer insight into how healthcare delivery is evolving.
10 Nursing Trends We Expect to See in the Coming Years
The last of the baby boomer generation will retire in 2030. This means changes in how healthcare is delivered will be necessary to meet more complex medical needs. Nursing leaders expect to see these ten trending patterns in the coming year. They will affect how nursing care is managed and delivered.
1. Job Growth for Nurses Will Continue to Rise
The world is in the middle of a critical nursing shortage. Many factors have contributed to the current situation:
- Increased demand for care during the pandemic
- Retiring nurse educators mean a falling number of nursing faculty
- Nurse burnout from the pandemic
- An aging population with complex medical needs
- Nursing staff reaching retirement
- Greater shortage in rural areas
Job growth is a function of supply and demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job growth for registered nurses (RNs) through 2030 to be 9%, as fast as average. They also estimate job growth for advanced practice nurses through 2030 to be 45%.
2. Home Health Will Increase in Popularity
Demand for home healthcare nurses will grow as the population ages. However, COVID-19 prompted an unexpected rise in need for these services. Home health benefits are a lifeline for vulnerable patients who are at increased risk of medical complications. This includes infectious illnesses like COVID-19.
In response, a new bill called the Choose Home Care Act was introduced to the Senate in July 2021 and to the U.S. House of Representatives in October 2021. If passed, it would expand the benefits provided by Medicare for home healthcare services. It would also open the door to more remote monitoring and telehealth nursing services for seniors. Seniors could choose to go home rather than a skilled nursing facility after hospitalization.
As home healthcare expands, experts are calling for greater standardization in the industry. They point out that license requirements are not uniform across states, making applications at the federal level next to impossible. Industry leaders are calling for standard onboarding and vetting procedures. It would include background checks, experience, certification, and social security verification.
3. Care Models Will Experience a Necessary Shift
Anne Dabrow Woods, chief nurse at Wolters Kluwer Health, anticipates a necessary shift in how nursing care models are applied due to COVID-19. For instance, the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System carried out a vigorous model of nursing care during the pandemic.
There are two key components to how care is delivered:
- The mode of delivery
- The skills of nurses on the hospital unit
“Healthcare models must migrate from traditional nurse-to-patient staffing models to a more agile one in times of crisis, that facilitates flexibility and supports the best care for patients,” Dabrow Woods explains.
While staffing must be based on patients’ care level and staff competency, Dabrow Woods proposes an improved model during crisis management: team-based with an increase in floating nurses.
This system would allow hospitals to address hardships caused by future public health events or insufficient staffing, not unlike what we face now with COVID-19. Dabrow Woods stresses the need to be flexible. A care model should always support an organization and a nurse’s ability to deliver excellent patient care.
4. Virtual Simulation and Technology Will Transform Nursing School
Advances in technology have improved online learning within nursing schools. This has been essential in addressing worldwide nursing shortages.
“Technology can eliminate traditional roadblocks such as a lack of physical training sites as well as potentially staffing challenges with flexible solutions for faculty,” Dabrow Woods explains.
Covid-19 affected nursing program changes that will impact 2022. Colleges and universities moved to online classes to help reduce the spread of infectious diseases. Similarly, the National League for Nursing worked with Laerdal Medical and Wolters Kluwer Health to develop vSim.
vSim is a virtual simulation program to help prepare nurses for practice. The program uses guided questions and interactive scenarios. Dabrow Woods believes this program can also help nursing students prepare for the National Council Licensure Examination and improve clinical judgment. The program is designed to help students practice nursing skills like clinical decision-making while exposing them to a diverse patient population and practice setting.
5. Healthcare Staff Well-being Will Be a Top Priority
Earl Dalton is the chief nursing officer at Health Carousel, a workforce management solution company. He believes the mental health of nurses and healthcare staff is a top priority and trend in 2022.
“The pandemic has acted as a wake-up call for health systems and providers to center nurse well-being in our practice and leadership,” Dalton says.
Factors that contribute to the nursing shortage include stress, traumatic experiences, and burnout. Organizations employing nurses must place the mental and physical well-being of its staff as a top priority.
Solutions may differ depending on the team and organization.
“We have a great opportunity right now to truly address healthcare tensions and enhance well-being for those who have committed their lives to serving others,” Dalton says.
Through fostering a healthy work environment, organizations can ensure that staff is operating at their best. This can result in positive patient outcomes and helps enable the organization to fulfill its mission to care for others.
6. Resilience Is Key to Retaining the Nursing Workforce
Cultivating resilience and supporting nurses’ mental health is an important strategy to help combat nurse burnout and protect patient safety. Resilience is the ability to face adversity while remaining focused and optimistic for the future. This is a vital characteristic for nurses who must function in a complex healthcare system under stressful situations.
Many experts have been promoting resilience to prevent burnout during the pandemic. However, it was a strategy promoted long before 2020. Nurses are especially prone to stress-related illnesses and burnout. Recovering and recuperating quickly helps reduce the risk of negative consequences.
“We knew there was a nursing shortage and that many nurses were already feeling stressed and overworked,” Dabrow Woods says. “COVID-19 has only brought this problem to the forefront.”
Nurses are exhausted, morally injured, and burnt out, with many considering leaving the profession earlier than they normally would, Dabrow Woods explains.
Dabrow Woods stresses how healthcare organizations must make efforts to foster resilience. A significant trend in 2022 will be to focus on restoring a safe work environment. Another focus will be developing staffing models based on patients’ care level and workforce competencies, she says.
7. The Nurse Shortage Will Lead to Several Unwanted Side Effects
The global nursing shortage has had a significant impact on patient care and an adverse impact on healthcare systems. The nursing shortage began well before the pandemic. But the stress on the system with COVID-19 raised the level of burnout and increased the number of nurses who left the profession early.
Dalton predicts this shortage could lead to a bidding war and price escalation for contingent nurse staff. During 2020, there has been a rise in the demand for travel nursing. Hospitals are raising temporary staff salaries and benefits to fill staffing needs.
“Qualified resources and strong relationships will be crucial for meeting hospitals’ needs at this time,” Dalton says.
It will be essential for hospitals and staffing companies to work together to provide the best contingent staff.
8. Short-term Solutions to the Nurse Shortage May Impact Patient Care
Dalton predicts that short-term solutions to the post-pandemic nursing shortage will have an impact on patient care. He calls this the experience-complexity gap. Essentially it means that, due to the shortage, hospitals and organizations will have to rely on unskilled or inexperienced labor to help meet patients’ needs.
For example, there will be a greater number of new graduate nurses as baby boomers reach retirement age. An older patient population means a greater number of individuals with complex conditions.
“These counter forces of limited experience and increased complexity require hospitals to remain deeply in tune with their staff makeup,” Dalton says.
Hospitals must then ensure that each new nurse is taught efficiently. Hospitals must also work to staff nurses with greater experience across each unit.
Dalton warns that it will require improved training and better leadership models to bridge this gap so it does not affect patient care or negatively impact staff well-being.
9. Training and Higher Education Increase in Demand
Healthcare professionals are experts in the care they provide. As organizations struggle through the nursing shortage, it is essential not to neglect staff training and education.
Dalton stresses that the appropriate training for each role remains non-negotiable when considering nurse placements. It is only through training and education of permanent employees, short-term nursing positions, and travel nurses that staff can stay up to date on skills. This helps increase the best care possible.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing promotes the preference for nurses who hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). About 82% of employers express a strong preference for these nurses.
Dalton says setting a high bar for education, skills, and motivation may help “dictate better patient outcomes, ensuring we in healthcare can spend each day improving lives.”
10. Online Education Programs Will Increase in Popularity
Experts are predicting that online nursing programs and RN-to-BSN nursing bridge programs will increase in popularity. During the pandemic, nursing colleges used online classes to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, expect the trend in online classes to continue past the pandemic.
COVID-19 has changed how education is delivered; research suggests that online learning may increase the retention of information. Data show it can take less time to learn and may lower overhead for colleges and universities. Even before COVID-19, the U.S. had invested billions in educational technology, including virtual tutoring, videoconferencing, and online learning software.
This investment has paid dividends in 2020 and will likely continue to offer opportunities for students in the years to come.