The future of nursing

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Over the next 20 years, as our population ages and people with serious illnesses live longer, the healthcare system is going to face some serious challenges. We’ve all seen the way that acute service provision has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Other areas are going to have to expand and adapt to avoid being similarly overwhelmed. Nurses are going to be needed like never before, and the role they play is likely to undergo some changes. This article addresses some of the big questions about what shape the future of nursing is likely to take.

Who will be working as a nurse?

For a long time, the stereotypical image of a nurse has been a white woman, but that’s changing. Around 45% of new nurses are now people of color. More men are entering the profession, too, as old stereotypes that discourage men from being caregivers begin to break down. As some of the physical aspects of the job get less demanding and people remain in good health for longer, we may also see nurses choosing not to retire until later in life. This has big benefits for patients who often feel more comfortable when they can talk to staff whom they find it easier to identify with. It also means that there’s a bigger talent pool to draw from, so the overall quality of nursing can be expected to rise.

How will nursing roles change?

The aging population means that we can expect to see a major increase in demand for nurses experienced in geriatric care and in other areas which primarily affect older people, such as cardiology. This will apply across the community as well as in hospital settings. We’ll also see changes in how nursing work is done. The growth of telemedicine during the pandemic has set an important precedent but we’re still in the early days of finding out what these technologies can do. In future, it’s likely that nurses will routinely carry out consultations through video calls, enabling them to provide better support to housebound patients and those in remote locations who struggle to travel to appointments.

Can technology make nursing jobs easier?

Technology is also likely to make a difference to nursing in hospital settings. Helper robots are gradually being introduced to do some of the heavy lifting involved in the job, and it’s expected that they will be able to lift patients around safely and comfortably in due course. They are also being deployed to carry out routine tasks such as checking pulses and temperatures, meaning that nurses have to spend less time on their feet. This means that nurses will be less frequently exhausted, enabling them to make better decisions. They will also be free to spend more time doing the vital work of talking to patients, forming a human connection with them, and helping them to feel safe.

How will nurses fit into the healthcare system?

As nurses are needed less for mundane tasks, they are needed more and more in leadership roles, enabling care provision to expand and support more people. This means that continuing education for nurses is more important than ever. As well as highly-trained individuals who can run departments and agencies and supervise hospital teams, more doctors of nursing are needed to research the changing needs of patients, identify new ways of delivering care and facilitate ongoing changes in the industry. The days when nurses simply followed the instructions of doctors are long gone and, in the future, we can expect to see nursing expertise valued far more highly as patients come to appreciate the importance of holistic care.

How will healthcare priorities change?

As the population ages, it becomes more important than ever to focus on preventative care and on looking after the general well-being of patients with a focus on keeping them out of hospital as much as possible. The impact of the pandemic on senior care homes has added to the impetus for change of this sort, with older people more anxious than ever to retain their independence. This means that nurses will increasingly be needed in community roles, doing outreach, and educating patients about everything from healthy diet and exercise to better management of chronic conditions. This will have benefits not only for individuals but for the whole of society.

This changing environment offers exciting opportunities for ambitious young nurses keen to enhance their skills and for those who are considering entering the profession for the first time. Our whole approach to healthcare is changing, and if you’re at the forefront of it, you could help people to live much longer, healthier, happier lives.

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