Concern about the impending nursing shortage has been growing for years. More than half of the nursing field is 50 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and within 15 years, 1 million nurses will reach retirement age. A 2017 National Center for Health Workforce Analysis report predicts that at least seven states will face nursing shortages by 2030. Four of those states will need more than 10,000 new nurses.
These numbers highlight a disturbing trend across the healthcare industry—but there is a silver lining. Nursing job opportunities are plentiful for competent nurses ready to enter the field.
The state of the industry.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the nursing profession will grow 15 percent over the next decade. Factors for this growth, the agency says, include an increased emphasis on preventive care; growing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity; and demand for healthcare services for an aging baby-boomer population leading longer and more active lives.
But the American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that nursing schools are struggling to meet this rising demand. Enrollment in entry-level bachelor’s degree programs increased only 3.7 percent in 2018. That increase isn't enough to meet the projected demand.
The demographics of patient care are changing, too. As baby boomers age, they require more care. The incidence of cancer and chronic disease increases with age, as does the rate of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Clearly, more patients means a need for more nurses.
As the nursing field evolves, new job opportunities will arise. For those fresh out of nursing school, these changes offer a chance to secure a fulfilling career and make an impact in the healthcare field.
Opportunities to specialize.
Several nursing specialties will grow in the coming years, creating a higher demand for nurses to provide care in those areas:
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's report 2018-2019 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 75,000 qualified applicants in 2018 because of insufficient funds, facility, or faculty. As more students enter the field to fill open positions, nursing will need more nurse educators to train them. These professionals give new nurses the academic tools and hands-on training they need to succeed in the field. Without teachers to educate the next generation of nurses, the nursing shortage is bound to linger.
Nursing schools typically require their adjunct and faculty nurse educators to have a master's degree in nursing education.
As healthcare continues to develop and rely upon data, informatics nurses will be at the forefront of improving healthcare, and there is a broad range of opportunities for nurses considering an informatics career.
According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), informatics nurses use the electronic health record in their work for a myriad of purposes. They can recognize healthcare gaps and find transformative ways to guide practice, lead initiatives that improve patient well-being, maximize the use of mobile technology to bring healthcare to the homeless, and use advanced analytics skills to quantify the true value of the work clinicians do each day.
Informatics nurses work in a variety of settings, including transitional and subacute care, clinics, consulting and staffing firms, and state and national government agencies.
Cardiac nurses care for patients who have heart conditions and diseases; patients might be living with coronary artery disease or heart failure, or they might be recovering from bypass surgery. Cardiac nursing requires specialized knowledge; cardiac nurses need to know how to interpret EKG readouts and anticipate and react to emergencies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that over 610,000 people die from heart disease each year. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and is attributed to 1 in every 4 deaths.
Oncology nurses care for cancer patients or patients who are at risk of getting cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer risk increases with age; the median age for cancer diagnosis is 66 years old. Twenty-nine percent of Americans are 55 or older, according to data from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and that percentage has been rising since 2008, largely due to aging baby boomers. Nurses trained in oncology will be needed to care for this generation as they continue to age and potentially develop cancer, and as nurses in this generation retire.
Caring for a geriatric population requires specialized knowledge, because as the body ages, it reacts differently to disease and treatment. Chronic diseases, management of multiple medications, and mental health concerns are all under the purview of geriatric nurses. They typically work in hospitals, senior living facilities, or outpatient care centers.
Psychiatric and mental health nurse.
According to the World Health Organization, 450 million people worldwide live with a psychiatric disorder, 275 million of them have, or are at risk for, a substance use disorder, and they need nurses to advocate for them and provide the unique care they need. As baby boomers age, their risk of developing psychiatric disorders associated with old age, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease, increases, making the need for mental health nurses more urgent. Nurses who care for these patients need to be well versed in psychoactive medications and side effects, as well as therapeutic communication and de-escalation techniques.
As healthcare adapts to changing populations and their healthcare needs, effective leaders will be essential for improving healthcare in facilities and clinics. According to RegisteredNursing.org, a nurse manager directs, supervises, and leads the nursing staff of a hospital or medical facility. It’s a fast-paced, multi-dimensional role that requires organization and critical thinking, and is vital to patient care since they oversee the nurses who provide direct care. Nurse managers must have excellent nursing and business-related skills, including coordinating schedules, managing budgets, and handling personnel matters.
The time is now.
The avenues for specialization in nursing are seemingly endless; the areas above are just a few of the ones in need of talented nurses. If you're thinking of starting a career in nursing, there's no better time than now.