4 Health Care Trends That Will Affect American Nurses

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By ANA Career Center staff — November 2015


As baby boomers age and the number of people entering the health care system increases, nursing will become increasingly more complex, and nurses will be expected to do more with fewer resources than ever before. At the same time, health care facilities around the country will face a shortage of nurses as older employees retire, and technology will start to play a bigger role in providing patient care.


As we approach the end of 2015, we wanted to take a look at the health care trends that will affect American nurses in 2016 and beyond. Read on to learn more about four that stand out.

Nursing Shortages Offer Opportunities

One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the massive wave of retirement breaking around the country. More than half of working nurses are over 50, which means there will be a lot of empty positions to fill in the coming years as they retire, says Susan Yox, EdD, RN, director of editorial content at Medscape. 


At the same time, millennials, or those born approximately between 1982 and 2000, are going to make up the majority of the workforce within the next two decades, filling many of the jobs retiring nurses are going to leave behind. This new group of nurses is going to be more ethnically diverse and tech-savvy than the group preceding it, which will be an advantage for the younger group.

“There’s this whole demographic change in the country,” says Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, chief executive officer of the National League for Nursing. “We have to prepare for different cultures, religions and languages.”  

Job Opportunities Expand Outside the Hospital

Traditionally, nurses seek employment in hospitals, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act and a growing desire for older people to stay in their homes as long as possible, nurses will play a much bigger role in communities outside hospitals and other health care facilities.


Hospitals are opening up separate facilities, such as assisted living and rehab centers, Malone says. “Schools are going to have to make sure all the programs have an opportunity for the student to have community experience and understand how to work within a community.” And employment opportunities for nurses won’t just be in hospital settings. “We are going to need nurses in chronic care, geriatrics, palliative and hospice care. The education programs are going to have to prepare nurses for a variety of roles.”


Care coordination has long been part of a nurse’s job description, but with the overhaul of the nation’s health care system fully underway, a nurse’s role in overseeing patient care is only going to increase. After all, care coordination is seen as a way to fix some of the nation’s health care problems, including high costs, uneven quality and disappointing outcomes. And the value of nurses in care coordination roles has already been demonstrated by a reduction in emergency department visits, decreases in medical costs and, most importantly, a significant increase in survival rates with fewer readmissions.


Nurses will continue to play an integral role in making sure the patient’s needs and preferences are met and at the same time ensuring the correct care is being delivered and that the family and patient leave the hospital fully aware of what he or she needs to recover and stay healthy. 

Technology Will Play a Larger Role

Nurses are already using technology in the workplace, but advances will require nurses to become even more tech-savvy and able to learn to use new tools as they’re introduced into health care facilities.


And it will start in training. Malone says more and more nurses will be exposed to simulators in school settings so they can practice before seeing a real patient face-to-face. For instance, simulations can be implemented in cardiac surgery training or in stations to give nurses practice with cases like septic shock or acute respiratory distress syndrome. The simulations will also be used to assess nursing students’ skills.


However, this shift won’t stop with training.  The adoption of electronic health records has driven dramatic change in the health care industry.  Increasingly, EHR systems are going mobile, which means nurses will be able to pull up records at the point of care rather than back at the nursing station.  Data is also becoming increasingly important to health care facilities of all sizes, driven by the ease with which written and oral communications can be digitized.

Nurses Will Collaborate More With Other Health Care Providers

One of the byproducts of the Affordable Care Act is that the way hospitals get paid for services is changing, with hospital reimbursements based more on how the patient flows through the episode, says Peggy Crabtree, MBA, RN, vice president of The Camden Group. As a result, nurses will have a bigger say in how care is provided to their patients. That change will offer more opportunities for nurses to collaborate with doctors to ensure the patient is getting the best care — and at the same time, make certain money and resources aren’t being wasted. It’s a natural extension for nurses, who know more than anyone where the waste is happening and what is and isn’t working for patients, Crabtree says.

When provider shortages occur, nurses are going to play a larger role in making sure patients take care of themselves after they are released from the hospital or another health care facility. Because chronic diseases are costing the nation a fortune, nurses increasingly will be tasked with making sure patients stay healthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases were responsible for 7 of 10 deaths in 2010, and treating people with chronic diseases accounted for 86 percent of the nation’s health care costs.