Opportunities to build and expand the nursing workforce of the future
In recent years, the demand for nurses has been steadily increasing for a myriad of environmental and socio-economic reasons. These reasons, while varied and complex, highlight the crucial role that nurses play in healthcare systems. Building a nursing workforce that can effectively provide the health care that communities need will require a substantial increase in the numbers and types of nurses working today, as well as an education system that can prepare and support them.
It is imperative to understand the factors driving the demand for nurses to effectively address the emerging needs and challenges within the nursing profession. This knowledge will allow policymakers, healthcare administrators, and educators to make informed decisions regarding the allocation of resources, such as funding, staffing, and educational programs. Furthermore, it enables the development of targeted recruitment and retention initiatives, helps mitigate potential public health issues, and helps identify areas for improvement and innovation.
The diverse reasons contributing to the rising demand for nurses include everything from an aging population, significant increase in healthcare access, impending nurse retirements, as well as an expanded scope of nursing practice, among many others. The purpose of this article is to examine the key factors that are contributing to the increasing demand for nurses so that we can ensure a robust and resilient nursing workforce capable of meeting the diverse and evolving needs of patients and communities. This article lays out an easy-to-follow list of the factors driving more demand for nurses, as well as a job outlook for individuals interested in becoming a nurse. Click here to learn how to become a Registered Nurse, and can get more information on nursing duties, responsibilities, and education requirements.
Nurse Job Outlook
What is the Job Outlook for Nurses?
According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for registered nurses (RNs) and practical nurses is projected to grow 6 percent in the next decade. With their advanced education and training, Nurse practitioners (NPs), however, are projected to have the best job opportunities among the different levels of nursing, with a projected growth rate of 40 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
Obtaining an advanced degree in nursing provides nurses with the opportunity to specialize in areas such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist, which typically have high demand and greater earning potential. As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, nurses with advanced education and specialized skills will be well-positioned to meet the demands of a changing healthcare landscape.
Why is the Demand for Nurses Growing?
The demand for nurses is growing rapidly, driven by a multitude of factors that reflect the evolving and increasing needs of patients. It’s important to note that none of these factors occur in isolation. They are inextricably connected, often with overlapping causations. Below are the top 12 reasons why the demand for nurses is growing.
1. Aging Population
The global demographic shift towards an aging population is a significant trend that has profound implications for healthcare. This shift, while primarily driven by improved life expectancy, also brings with it the increased development of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and respiratory disorders.
Nurses are well suited to address the aging population because their training and experience includes collaborating with interdisciplinary teams, including physicians, social workers, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, to ensure comprehensive and coordinated care. In addition, nurses with specialized training, such as geriatric nurses or gerontological nurse practitioners, possess specific knowledge and skills to address the unique needs of older adults. They are also trained to manage complex geriatric conditions, promote healthy aging, and provide end-of-life care when necessary.
2. Nursing Shortages
The ongoing nursing shortage is a significant challenge with profound impacts on the quality and accessibility of healthcare. One of the primary reasons is the increase in the aging population who need services, which we described above. But another aspect is the retirement of aging nurses themselves, who make up a substantial portion of the nursing workforce. As they retire, there is a loss of experienced professionals from the workforce, creating a gap that is difficult to fill. Other contributing factors include insufficient nursing school enrollment, a shortage in nursing educators, nurse burnout, staffing ratios, and uneven distribution of access to training, making rural settings less likely to get the nursing professionals they need to serve their communities.
The consequences of nursing shortages on patient care and healthcare delivery are significant and often cascade into a series of deleterious outcomes. For example, shortages can lead to increased workloads for existing nurses, which results in physical and emotional exhaustion, which can compromise the quality of patient care. This leads to delays, inadequate monitoring, and an increased risk of medical errors. Additionally, with fewer nurses available, healthcare facilities may struggle to meet the growing demand for services, resulting in longer wait times for patients seeking care. This can lead to delayed treatments, reduced access to primary care, and increased healthcare costs.
Addressing the nursing shortage crisis requires a multifaceted approach, including increasing nursing school enrollment capacity, attracting and retaining nurses through competitive salaries and benefits, improving working conditions, and creating opportunities for professional development. Additionally, strategies to support and mentor new nurses and promote nursing as a rewarding and fulfilling career choice are crucial.
3. Increased Healthcare Access
Access to quality health care encompasses the ability to gain entry into the health care system through health insurance, geographic availability, and access to a health care provider. The Affordable Care Act was one of the largest expansions in health coverage in U.S. history and made it easier for 20 million more individuals to gain access to care. This drastically increased the need for nurses and other healthcare professionals to deliver healthcare services.
Similarly, patients with more access to healthcare means more opportunities for nurses to provide primary care and community health services to more people. They can be key contributors in underserved areas and marginalized communities where the lack of a primary care physician is more prevalent. In primary care settings, nurses can provide health assessments, disease prevention, health promotion, medication management, and chronic disease management. In community health settings they work in mobile clinics, schools, and other outreach programs to deliver healthcare services directly to individuals who may face barriers to accessing traditional healthcare facilities.
More access to healthcare means nursing professionals have more opportunities to be at the forefront of dismantling systemic contributors to inequality in healthcare. They are uniquely positioned to help lead the creation of new norms and competencies.
4. Technological Advancements
Advancements in healthcare technology have revolutionized the way healthcare is delivered, improving efficiency, patient outcomes, and access to care. Several key technological innovations, such as electronic health records (EHRs), telehealth, and medical devices, have had a profound impact on healthcare delivery and increased the demand for nurses with specialized skills.
The integration of healthcare technologies into nursing practice requires nurses to possess specialized skills and knowledge. Nurses need to be proficient in using EHR systems, understanding interoperability standards, and adhering to privacy and security protocols. They also need to be trained in telehealth technologies, including conducting virtual assessments, utilizing remote monitoring devices, and communicating effectively through digital platforms.
Moreover, nurses must stay updated on the latest advancements in medical devices and technologies to ensure optimal utilization and patient safety. They play a critical role in educating patients about technology-enabled healthcare services, addressing any concerns or barriers, and ensuring patient comfort and understanding during virtual interactions.
5. Complex Care Needs
The healthcare landscape is becoming increasingly complex, primarily due to the rise in chronic diseases, mental health issues, and comorbidities among the population. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory conditions, are on the rise and have led to a greater demand for nurses who can effectively manage care for patients with complex conditions.
Nurses are well-positioned to address the multifaceted needs of patients with complex care needs and comorbidities. They provide education, medication adherence, lifestyle modifications, and self-care practices, as well as collaborate with other providers to develop care plans, monitor patient progress, and adjust treatment regimens.
Additionally, the demand for specialized nursing roles reflects the need to meet the growing complexity of healthcare needs and ensure that patients receive the appropriate level of care and expertise. These roles contribute to a comprehensive and collaborative approach to patient care, aligning with the shift towards more personalized and patient-centered healthcare.
6. Preventive Care and Health Promotion
In recent years, there has been a significant shift in healthcare systems towards preventive care and health promotion strategies. The emphasis on preventive care in healthcare systems increases the demand for nurses in community health, public health, and wellness settings. For example, they play a pivotal role in promoting health literacy, educating individuals and communities about healthy lifestyle choices, disease prevention measures, and the importance of regular screenings and vaccinations.
Community health nurses act as advocates, resources, and educators to help individuals make positive health choices and access necessary healthcare services. Public health nurses focus on population health and work to improve the health outcomes of entire communities. Nurses in wellness settings educate individuals about healthy lifestyle choices, conduct health screenings, and develop personalized wellness plans.
As healthcare providers and policymakers prioritize prevention and wellness, the need for nursing professionals who can effectively deliver health promotion strategies, engage with communities, and support individuals in maintaining their health becomes paramount.
7. Nurse-to-Patient Ratios
Research and evidence consistently support the need for adequate staffing levels, as they have a significant impact on patient outcomes, nurse job satisfaction, and healthcare system efficiency. Adequate nurse staffing reduces the risk of adverse events, lowers patient mortality rates, and improves patient satisfaction.
When nurses are assigned an appropriate number of patients, they can provide more attentive and individualized care, closely monitor patients’ conditions, and promptly respond to their needs. Insufficient nurse staffing, on the other hand, can lead to burnout, fatigue, and increased stress among nurses, which can negatively affect job satisfaction, nurse retention rates, and overall healthcare quality.
To ensure optimal nurse staffing, many healthcare organizations have implemented nurse staffing regulations and policies. However, while these regulations can create a greater demand for nurses if the supply of nursing professionals does not keep pace with the mandated staffing requirements, healthcare organizations may face difficulties in finding and hiring an adequate number of qualified nurses.
8. Retirement of Baby Boomers
The impending retirement of the baby boomer generation, which includes a significant portion of the nursing workforce, has significant implications for the demand for nurses and the need for replacements. As mentioned earlier, Baby Boomers represent a substantial portion of the current nursing workforce and are reaching retirement age in large numbers.
This demographic shift exacerbates the existing nursing shortage mentioned earlier and increases the demand for new nurses to maintain adequate staffing levels in healthcare facilities. The demand for nurses is expected to grow as the aging population requires more healthcare services and as healthcare systems strive to meet the increasing complexity of patient care needs.
By implementing recruitment campaigns, providing educational incentives, fostering mentorship programs, and improving work environments, we can begin to address the impact of this demographic shift. Additionally, healthcare organizations that embrace technology and advocate for supportive and inclusive policies, will recruit the brightest minds in nursing, which will help them build a robust and resilient nursing workforce for the future.
9. Global Health Challenges
Global health challenges, including infectious diseases, pandemics, and natural disasters, have a profound impact on communities and healthcare systems worldwide, as we witnessed with the Covid-19 pandemic. In the face of these challenges, nurses play a critical role in disaster response, public health initiatives, and infectious disease management.
During natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods, nurses are often at the forefront of providing immediate and essential healthcare services. Nurses are instrumental in managing infectious disease outbreaks, adept at implementing infection control measures, and educating the public on prevention strategies. Nurses also play a crucial role in public health initiatives aimed at promoting disease prevention and improving population health, acting as advocates for public health policies, and working collaboratively with other healthcare professionals.
The complexity and scale of global health challenges necessitate the presence of nursing professionals who can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, make sound clinical judgments, and provide compassionate care under challenging conditions. The demand for nurses with specialized skills in crisis management and public health is heightened as healthcare systems strive to strengthen their capacity to respond effectively to global health threats.
10. Advancing Scope of Practice
The scope of practice for nurses has been expanding in recent years, granting them increased autonomy and authority in healthcare decision-making. This shift acknowledges the valuable contribution of nurses to the healthcare system and recognizes their ability to provide specialized care and fill gaps in healthcare delivery.
Advanced practice nurses (APNs), for example, play a pivotal role in the expanding scope of nurse practice. APNs, including nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists, have advanced education and training that enables them to deliver a wide range of healthcare services. They have the authority to diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and provide comprehensive patient care.
The evolving scope of practice for nurses contributes to the increasing demand for nursing professionals in several ways. It enhances healthcare delivery by allowing nurses to provide a broader range of services, fills healthcare workforce gaps, and significantly addresses healthcare disparities. By increasing the availability of nurses with an expanded scope of practice, healthcare disparities can be reduced, and health equity can be promoted.
11. Increased Focus on Mental Health
The growing recognition of mental health issues and the need for comprehensive care has brought attention to the crucial role of psychiatric and mental health nurses. These nurses are specialized nursing professionals who focus on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and management of mental health disorders. They play a vital role in providing holistic care to individuals with mental health conditions, promoting recovery, and supporting overall mental well-being.
The demand for psychiatric and mental health nurses has been on the rise due to several factors, such as the significant shift in societal attitudes towards mental health. There is now increased recognition of the importance of early intervention, prevention, and comprehensive care. The integration of mental health into primary care ensures a more comprehensive and holistic approach to healthcare.
Nurses are uniquely qualified to address mental healthcare needs because they are trained to consider the physical, psychological, social, and environmental factors that contribute to an individual’s overall well-being. They are skilled in assessment techniques to recognize signs and symptoms, conduct mental health screenings, and implement appropriate interventions. As the importance of mental health continues to be prioritized, the demand for psychiatric and mental health nurses is expected to continue to rise.
12. Rural Healthcare Needs
Rural areas often face significant challenges in healthcare disparities. Several factors contribute to these challenges, including geographic barriers, workforce shortages in rural areas, limited resources and uneven distribution of healthcare professionals—making it challenging to recruit and retain nurses in rural areas. Lastly, there is often limited healthcare infrastructure, which makes it difficult for residents to access the full spectrum of healthcare services in their local communities.
There is tremendous demand and opportunity for nurses to play a vital role in healthcare delivery in rural areas. For example, APNs can assess, diagnose, treat common illnesses, and manage chronic conditions, which fills gaps in settings that have less access to physicians. Nurses can conduct virtual consultations, monitor patients’ conditions, provide education and counseling. By providing community-based education, nurses contribute to health literacy and promote healthier lifestyles.
Through their expertise in primary care, telehealth, community outreach, care coordination, and advocacy, nurses contribute to addressing healthcare needs, reducing disparities, and improving health outcomes in rural areas. The unique skills and capabilities of nurses make them essential in bridging the healthcare divide and ensuring that rural residents have access to quality healthcare services.
Start Your Career as a Nurse
The main focus of this article was on identifying the challenges the nursing workforce will experience due to an increase in demand for nurses. It simultaneously examined ways to overcome these challenges by offering solutions. However, our collective success in addressing these challenges will depend on leveraging the capacity and strengths of the current nursing workforce and making serious investments in nursing education and equity. This article explored 12 factors that are influencing the growing demand for nurses in healthcare—from an aging population, nursing shortages, access to healthcare, and technological advancements to an increase in complex care needs, nurse-to-patient ratios, or the retirement of baby boomers, and more. It goes without saying that the demand for nurses is unequivocally growing. If we are going to adequately address this demand, then we must fully understand the impact that these factors (and others) are going to have on the shifting patient landscape. It will take a proactive approach by all healthcare stakeholders, as well as funding, collaboration, and uniform plans to strategically chart a course for increasing the number, types, and distribution of nurses. Lastly, we must work towards improving their access to the knowledge and skills they need to address these gaps.
If you want to take advantage of the multitude of nursing opportunities on the horizon, now is the time to invest in your future. Consider careers in nursing, which offers rewarding opportunities to make a meaningful impact in the world. Learn more on how to become a Registered Nurse, and explore Brookline’s nursing programs, such as our Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, our Practical Nursing Program, and our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program Track. In addition, explore the highest paying nursing jobs, as well as discover different types of nursing careers, nursing responsibilities, requirements, salary*, and job outlook.