Face-mask-wearing nursing putting on latex gloves
HealthMarch 11, 2021

Evolving nursing trends: online and specialty programs, nursing shortages

By: Heather Swift, MSN, RN
Nursing education is a constant realm of evolution.

To stay on top of the curve, we have to intentionally dig into the research, look at the trends, analyze the data, be willing to learn new concepts, ideas, or methodologies, and lastly, make the change. An evolution in nursing is not an obstacle but an exciting challenge to accept and something to learn from while leading by example to our colleagues and students.

If we resist change, we set our new nurses up to also be resistant to change, and that is something we want to avoid since that will negatively affect patient outcomes.

Let’s dig in and look at some of the topmost essential concepts evolving in nursing education (please note this is not an exclusive list):

Online nursing programs

It’s known to educators that the goal initiated by the National Academy of Medicine in 2010 was to have a 30% increase in the number of nurses that hold a BSN by the year 2020. While we did not make the 30% increase, we did increase the national percentage by 7%. Many states have now made laws stating that nurses must achieve their BSN within 10 years of graduation from an associate’s program. Add the Covid-19 pandemic, nursing shortages, second victims, moral injuries, and nurses’ overall burnout, the surge for continuing education to a higher degree has never been higher.

The need for well-established, reputable, accredited online programs for nurses to obtain a higher degree while working and balancing home life is a must in academia’s realm to succeed in the future. An online BSN program opens the door to endless possibilities that were once seen as impossible for a working adult.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has severely limited in-person learning, colleges and universities alike should be looking at what’s been benefiting the students, faculty, and staff in the online realm and look to make some of these changes permanent in the form of hybrid classes, new programs, and degree offerings, or changing a course from a traditional in-seat to distance learning. As life-shattering as it’s been, the pandemic has opened the door to new delivery methods in academia and an increase in the need for online programs; a blind eye should not be taken to what is working!

Specialty options for the BSN track

Earning a BSN certainly opens the door to career advancement for nurses, required advancement or not. It is often assumed that all it does is give way to leadership and management roles such as unit manager or educator. However, a BSN program student may elect to specialize in pediatrics, public health, geriatrics, or case management, to list a few examples. As the population nurses care for are living longer with more illness or disabilities, it is vital to be well versed in the population you serve. Not all BSN programs have specialty tracks, but it certainly is becoming more and more popular and something to take note of as an educator. One I would pay close attention to is a specialty in geriatric case/care management.

Nursing shortage… no end in sight

The number of nurses leaving the workforce has doubled from 2010 to 2020, nearing 80,000. Add in the insufficient amount of nursing faculty, which restricts enrollment, the number of nurses nearing retirement, the inadequate staffing at the bedside leads to high turnover rates or leaving the profession in general. How do we fix this from the academic world? Well, we start by setting up our students for real-world nursing instead of ivory tower nursing. We need to hone in on critical thinking and applying concepts to enable a new graduate to perform the daily duties safely, confidently, and competently, such as prioritization, clinical judgment calls, decision making, and delegation, to name a few.

On the flip side, getting rid of lateral violence in the workplace is key in academia to retain faculty. Sadly, the occupations that experience the highest frequency of bullying behaviors were academia, social services, and nursing.

Why do professions with the sole foundation on caring for others struggle when it comes to caring for our co-workers?

I entered nursing education after completing 10 years at the bedside. I was both a participant and receiver of incivility in the workplace at some point, few and far between. Entering academia was an exciting time and a professional goal of mine, but I was unprepared for the amount of bullying and incivility that knowingly took and takes place. Off the top of my head, I can think about clinical/class load comparisons, office hour selections, degree comparisons, place of education, and superior behaviors in staff meeting discussions. This was something I was not prepared for and greatly affected my workplace happiness.

As nurses working in academia, we are held to a professional standard. If you come across lateral violence either as a witness, recipient, or are finding yourself “dishing it out,” hold yourself and your colleagues accountable by pursuing civility in all cases. Aim to find common ground to build upon (e.g., both nurses, both faculty members, both love hiking). Whatever the commonality, maybe focus on it and do so with respect. Don’t sweep it under the rug; address it and embrace it to change it.

Heather Swift, MSN, RN
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
Lippincott RN to BSN Online
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Lippincott® Nursing Education
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