Everywhere you look, it seems like everything is on a fast track to change. Our cars are starting to drive themselves. The phones in our pockets shoot big-screen-quality video and have as much processing power as our laptops. The way we consume information has changed beyond our wildest dreams.
In short, everything is changing quickly. And this is happening on both an academic and professional level as well as in our personal lives.
Today, we want to talk about how nursing is changing and is going to continue to change.
The lab coat world is, of course, no stranger to change. Always pushing the envelope, health sciences, medicine, and nursing are always working to move to the top of the game, breaking boundaries and innovating.
With all of the change happening around us now, it might be difficult to know what to expect from a nursing program that’s bound to change and evolve—even as you move through it. Should you apply to nursing school? What is the field even going to look like once you get your license?
These are very important questions that can even come to be scary if not properly thought about now. Let’s take a look at some of the major change that has been happening in nursing, as well as some things we can expect to change in the near future.
It seems that the required level of education needed for many different professions has risen. In many fields, where only an undergraduate degree was necessary once upon a time, a master’s is now required. And where a master’s was more than sufficient, a doctorate is now preferred. Everyone is more educated and the workforce in general is more prepared. Nursing is no different.
Campaign of Action market evaluations noted an increase of BSN-prepared and employed nurses from 49% in 2010 up to 56% in 2017. And some regions are advancing faster than others. Hawaii, for example, is floating around 72% (wow)! A push for more (and better) education is happening thanks to public and private initiatives, too. In 2018, New York passed a law requiring all newly licensed nurses to obtain a BSN-degree within 10 years of having obtained their license.
Education norms have increased, and the trend of greater education required (and obtained) among nurses has the look of continuing into the future. This, of course, translates to a more rigorous and academically-demanding process for soon-to-be-students considering becoming a nurse. Apart from more a more rigorous education in general, these pushes have also included an increase in doctorate degrees among nurses. White coat professions have become much more academic across the board, and will continue to do so.
The fact that education standards for nurses are increasing does not mean that education for nurses was poor before, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. From schooling days to field-experience, nurses are often the most versatile white coats in the room.
It seems counterintuitive, then, that nurses have historically been barred from performing to the fullest extents of their training, education, and abilities. Recently, thank goodness, this has been changing—and for the better of patient treatments and outcomes.
Specifically, there have been a lot of pushes and widespread support movements to allow nurses to apply their knowledge to the fullest extent, taking better advantage of all of the necessary training and education.
22 states in the United States, for example, have already come to allow nurse practitioners to practice to the fullest extent of their training, and similar pushes are being made around the world.
This, of course, means that the responsibilities that nurses carry have increased as well, and will continue to increase. Anyone interested in pursuing a career in nursing should keep this in mind—the profession is constantly evolving and may very well change or have already changed into something that differs in four years from what you’re imagining today. The amplified roles of a nurse will surely be an attractive point for someone thinking about earning that nurse lab coat.
Another exciting development in the profession has been the evolution of the role a nurse plays in hospital and clinic settings, and the of the perception of the profession in general.
In the past, nurses have been seen as the physician’s medical sous-chef, someone who simply took and carried out orders. Fortunately (and rightfully), the profession has moved away from this and has evolved into its own, distinct, well-defined and properly-understood profession. Rather than simply carrying out orders, nurses have come to be recognized as key healthcare providers for patients and as activists for patient care in general, including on a global scale.
Along with having a more well defined (and understood) identity, nurses have collectively and increasingly been making moves towards leadership roles, both locally in hospitals as well as on various medical body boards, panels and other commissions.
Better and more widespread representation in leadership can only bring benefits and help to better shape the profession both in the present and in the future.
Before, nursing was seen as more of a role with responsibilities handed out by doctors. The profession has finally—and will continue to—become more independent and better recognized, welcoming to individuals with strong leadership skills.
The push for greater diversity in nursing has been strong and present for some time, with an especially strong upswing now. There is, of course, still plenty of room for progress.
The nursing field is still largely dominated by white women. There have been improvements to the perception that nursing is a “women’s job” in recent years with a higher percentage of males in nursing programs, not to mention a higher number of minorities present in nursing programs. There has, however, still been widespread support for more diversity in nursing, and pushes are being made. A better representation of all individuals is sure to come in the near future.
Technology is, perhaps, the biggest game changer—in nursing and medicine in general. The extent of our ability to provide quality healthcare is, without a doubt, directly tied to the level of technology we have available to us today. From portable monitors to wearable devices and telehealth, technology has completely revolutionized the profession and will absolutely continue to do so.
There are innumerable examples of technology that has disrupted nursing norms already, and even more that are in development—any of which could completely change how nurses do what they do. Some of the revolutions can simply improve routine processes, but in a compounding way.
One of these nursing-specific examples of technology is the vein finding tool. This is a tool that quickly and easily projects an image of the patient’s veins over the patient’s skin in real time. Missing a vein or sticking it poorly can hold up an entire procedure, so this device can help streamline the process by minimizing the risk of lost time thanks to a hard-to-find vein. The device can also provide information about the quality of the vein, bearing in mind that there is more than meets the eye when selecting the appropriate vein to stick. Not only should this technology make medical procedures faster and easier, it will also leave the patient feeling more comfortable.
Smart stethoscopes have recently come into play, also, and are another example of technology that can absolutely revolutionize standard medical practices. Initially, this might seem like extra technology added where it might not be necessary—but the utility might surprise you.
For one, a smart stethoscope has the ability to employ artificial intelligence to better measure a patient’s vitals and even to help give further input on diagnoses. Apart from this, a smart stethoscope can also share and receive findings to and from the medical community in live time, meaning that it can detect trends better than our less than perfect human senses by immediately learning from other cases, doctors, nurses and patients from around the globe.
3D printing is another technology that is already shattering yesteryear’s limitations. There are boundless examples of how 3D printing has already helped many patients and of how it will soon help many, many more.
In patient Scott Summit’s case, for example, a relatively inexpensive cast was printed, which then allowed him to shower without covering the cast with loads of plastic bags—and then later allowed his doctor to open up the cast without removing pressure from his wrist (all it took was about $50 and a few hours).
Prosthetics and splints can also be printed using this technology. In one case, the top part of a young woman’s skull was completely replaced by a 3D printed design. 3D printing technology has also moved towards eventually being able to create synthetic blood vessels and even synthetic skin that can be used as transplants for burn victims or patients with similar skin issues.
Organs, of course, have been a popular and already successful focus of 3D printing. Even printed drugs designed to dissolve and act faster have been printed and approved by the FDA. Truly, 3D printing completely redefines what it means for a health procedure to be impossible.
The use of smartphones and mobile devices in general is also expected to increase greatly in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Notifications, alarms, and alerts coming from the sundry equipment monitoring patients will be sent to smart devices, ensuring more efficient responses by devices and medical teams.
Both patient and general medical information will be much more readily available via devices, too. Communications will be much more concrete and revisit-able, which is projected to diminish the amount of preventable medical errors caused by a breakdown in communication. Devices, ultimately, offer a great advantage in patient care that cannot (and certainly won’t) go ignored.
The future of nursing is undoubtedly technological. Today’s and tomorrow’s nurses will have to be more comfortable using and interacting with technology than ever before, a trend that is certainly not unique to medicine by any means. This has already taken some concrete effects in the design of modern lab coats. Custom and designer lab coats have come to be optimized in many ways for the integration of technology—many lab coats for nurses, specifically, even include pockets made for smartphones or tablets.
A subset of technology—but truly an immense topic on its own—is the introduction of telehealth and telemedicine into the healthcare industry. At a glance, telehealth is a service that allows healthcare to be provided to patients, even at a distance. Services already in place take the forms of phone and tablet applications today, which are then used to communicate with nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals to help diagnose and even treat conditions, all without the patient ever needing to enter a hospital.
This is a powerful disruption to the way healthcare has been limited before, and is useful for a variety of reasons. Elderly patients, or patients who have a difficult time with transportation in general for example, no longer need to risk the trip to the hospital to receive care. Patients who aren’t in adequate shape to leave their houses can also receive quality healthcare in this manner.
Another especially useful and important application of this technology is to provide care to isolated communities. Small towns with no nearby hospital or healthcare facility can still receive quality healthcare services without having to travel great distances to find the nearest medical professional. Of course, most technical procedures will still require a professional, but diagnoses, prescriptions, and general medical advice is now all accessible at the swipe of a finger.
Telehealth nurses, then, in a completely unprecedented manner, now have to be able to diagnose and treat patients without even making physical contact with them. This task could seem daunting, but coupled with the aforementioned improvements in medical technology—specifically devices geared toward remote health—the reaches of healthcare both geographically and scientifically quickly become something previously imagined only in science fiction.
So, who should apply to nursing school? According to these trends, candidates will need to be prepared to receive more rigorous education and training, and be ready too to take on more responsibilities than prior generations of nurses.
Today’s nursing candidates will need to be more comfortable and capable with technology than ever before. Candidates will also need to be more comfortable with leadership roles. And, no matter what generation a nurse belongs to, candidates have always been and will continue to be passionate about providing quality healthcare to those in need, and proud to put on their nursing white coats in the process.