Despite the current economic slump, nursing workforce experts say nurses are still the bulls in the current bear job market — and will continue to be in demand now and even more so in the future.
“If nurses were listed on the stock exchange, I would invest most of my money in them,” says Peter I. Buerhaus, RN, bottom left, PhD, FAAN, the Valere Potter Distinguished Professor of Nursing and director for the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies in the Institute for Medicine and Public Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “Healthcare [in general] is the only sector of the economy that is still growing and adding jobs.”Peter Buerhaus, RN
The future holds promise for nurses in emerging roles driven by consumer need. Nurses who specialize in geriatrics, cancer care, and chronic conditions will be needed to care for the aging baby-boomer population. There will especially be high demand in non-acute settings, such as long-term care, clinics, hospice, and home care, according to Buerhaus.
Opportunities also will continue to bloom in nursing informatics, genetics, and in specialties driven by trends in the demands of healthcare consumers. This includes people who want healthcare to help them be fit and healthy and live longer, says Pesut.
“Nurses are insulated from recessions and downturns because the need will always be there,” says nurse futurist Daniel J. Pesut, RN, PhD, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, who is also a professor and associate dean for graduate programs at Indiana University School of Nursing in Indianapolis.Susan Ottenfeld, RN
But that does not mean that hospitals are not feeling the effects of the downturn. According to a November 2008 survey from the American Hospital Association, hospitals are treating fewer patients, and more of the patients who do seek care can’t pay for services. Hospital investment incomes are in the red, and more than a third of survey respondents reported they are delaying purchase of clinical and information technologies. At the same time, 56% of hospitals are putting expansion plans on hold.
Currently, nursing jobs may not be as easy to come by in some areas as they have in the past. The national nursing shortage has eased up from a national rate of about 13% just a few years ago to less than 6.5%, Buerhaus says. This is due in part to a trend in which nurses are coming out of retirement or increasing their hours to help make ends meet when spouses are laid off. Plus, some healthcare organizations have instituted hiring freezes.
“But the upside for nurses downstream is very positive,” says Buerhaus. “The supply of nurses is still unlikely to meet the demand in the future, and employment opportunities will be unlimited.”
To remain viable in a competitive job market and take advantage of future prospects, nurses need to get savvy about emerging trends and pursue additional education in emerging, high-demand roles and specialties. “The future happens at the intersection of knowledge and service,” says Pesut. “If you have the knowledge, you can provide the service.”
One example is the movement toward the doctor of nursing practice degree for APNs. Proponents of the degree say it is needed to prepare APNs to fully implement emerging nursing science and practice innovations, according to Pesut.
From Reactive to Proactive
President Barack Obama has laid out a healthcare reform plan, which, it is anticipated, will usher in a host of new nursing jobs. His strategy is to change the nation’s “disease-care system” to one with additional focus on prevention and public health. If passed, the plan could open countless opportunities for nurses who are prepared to step into those roles.
Prevention and public health go hand in hand with caring for underserved populations. RNs, NPs, and CNMs of the Visiting Nurse Association of Central New Jersey provide a safety net for the state’s vulnerable and underserved populations. Nurses also are filling needs in expanding roles in community health centers, HIV programs, and prisons, and are providing primary care services in schools. “There are always uninsured and underinsured people who need us,” says Eileen Toughill, RN, APN, vice president of research and quality for the VNA of Central New Jersey.
The public health umbrella also encompasses the fields of emerging infections, global health, and disaster management.
“If it’s a world away, it can be here in our country after a single plane trip,” says Ethel Ragland, RN, MN, EdD, chair of the department of nursing and health, School of Education and Health Science, Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. “Emerging infections are a serious global health concern.”
To prepare nurses for many of the high-demand public health roles of the 21st century, Benedictine, like many schools, is offering online graduate degree programs. These include a master of public health degree with concentrations in disaster management, health policy, administration, and education.
In an era of ongoing terrorist threats and natural mega-disasters, nurses who specialize in disaster management also will be highly sought-after, as will nurse educators and nurse leaders. “We expect a huge void in the area of nursing leadership, because about 75% of chief nursing officers and other nurse leaders in the U.S. will be retiring in the next five to 10 years,” says Donna Herrin, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, FACHE, 2009 president of the American Organization of Nurse Executives.
In the Know
Both today and in the future, direct-care staff RNs have an edge if they have highly developed critical thinking skills and know how to access and incorporate evidence to shape practice, according to Herrin. Key to this is earning a BSN and specialty certification and being actively involved in professional organizations. “Nurses used to be expected to remember everything and apply it to practice,” says Herrin. “Today everything changes so rapidly, so accessing information becomes a critical skill.”
Research will be another key facet in the future, according to Toby Adelman, RN, PhD, associate professor at the San Jose State (Calif) University School of Nursing. Adelman is preparing her undergraduate students for the future nursing roles by offering them an opportunity to coauthor a pilot research study in the developing field of electronic documentation.
She is teaming up with Rochelle McDuffie, RN-license pending, BSN, BA, and Meghan Luoma, RN-license pending, BSN, to head-up a study at a local family shelter. Their goal is to better address the challenges faced by homeless families, and they will be studying the effectiveness of the electronic Omaha System to manage documentation and analyze needs and outcome data to do so.
“These students will enter nursing with a foot into research,” says Adelman.