Nurses with more education or an interest in working with older patients or a willingness to work in certain regions of the country are more likely to benefit from 2016 employment trends, experts say.

Not only do nurses belong to the most trusted profession; it is also one of the hottest. More than half a million positions for Registered Nurses are projected to open up between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During that period, the RN workforce is positioned to grow from 2.7 million to 3.2 million—an increase of 19%. Employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is expected to grow 31%. Overall, an additional 525,000 nurses will need to replace retiring nurses, which means more than 1 million new openings by 2022.

Where The Need Is

“As our economy improves . . . we’re going to see the hiring of nurses,” says Kathy Kump, RN, MSN, MHSA, CWOCN, FNP-C, director of nursing at Ottawa University. “We will see more hospitals hiring more nurses, but a lot of the trends will continue to be in the outpatient arena because that’s where the need continues to grow.” Extended care faculties, hospice care, and even dialysis clinics will need nurses as the outpatient sector continues to grow as health care and hospitals continue to decrease the length of stay for the acute care setting, Kump says.

It may not be exactly 2016, but in two or three years many more jobs will open up in the community, says Jane H. White, BSN, MSN, Ph.D, associate dean of the College of Nursing and Public Health at Adelphi University. “A lot of the care that we give in hospitals today will be moved to physician offices and we will have a lot more people insured who will need care [as well as] the aging population. I think the outlook is great.”

Nursing jobs are changing with the expansion of health care and an aging population, nursing experts say. There is more focus on the extended care settings as baby boomers continue to age. “I believe that nurses need to have more education with the geriatric population,” says Kump.

For nurses broadening their education and certification, they will find expanded opportunities in advanced practice nursing areas. “There will be an increased need for nurse practitioners to care for the geriatric population,” Kump adds.

Challenges for New Nurses

Still, the employment picture is not upbeat for all nurses. Shortages will continue to occur depending on geographic location and other factors such as hiring freezes, understaffing, and competition. While opportunities for nurses are expected to be excellent with significant growth rates expected for positions in offices of physicians and home health care services in 2016, “this will vary by geographical location,” says Nancy Brook, MSN, RN, a nurse practitioner at Stanford Hospital and Clinics. “Areas that are saturated by new graduates may find new nurses facing fierce competition for entry level positions in acute care facilities. Positions in home health care are expected to increase, however, across the country to meet the needs of patients who require in-home care, as well as those who do not meet the criteria for hospital stays, yet who require complex procedures or wound care.  Further, there are projected needs for nurses in long-term residential facilities for Alzheimer patients, stroke, and those elderly with serious long term illnesses.”

New RNs seeking employment will fare better in 2016 compared to previous years, nursing experts say. As the economy continues to recover, more mature nurses will either decrease their working hours or end up retiring as planned. “So the new nurses will start to find positions again in the acute care hospital settings,” explains Kump. “Right now we are still trending from the recovery. You are beginning to see new nursing graduates now obtaining the nurse position in the hospital setting versus what was happening two or three years ago. As this trending is coming to fruition, they will continue to maybe get the most job opportunities outside of hospitals, in outpatient acute care facilities. The more mature or experienced nurses will have the greatest opportunity right now; those are the nurses that hospitals are heavily recruiting.”

The Role of Higher Education

For new nurses entering the workforce, universities and colleges can play a significant role before graduation to improve their job prospects. “One factor we are jumping on right now is an easier transition from their educational role to practice,” says White.  Strategies include mentor programs and nurse residencies.

Another job-related issue universities must address is the nursing faculty shortage. “We can train as many nurses we need, but universities are sometimes constrained when they are run by the state and there aren’t state positions for nursing faculty, or there aren’t nurses who are prepared to be faculty. So if you don’t have the faculty you can’t prepare the nurses. Even though, we say all of the nurses are needed, the universities now have the task of how to prepare them and what strategies we need to use to contribute to this workforce need,” White says.

“Yes, there are jobs out there, but we need to get busy and prepare nurses in a streamlined way so the jobs are out there sooner,” she adds. To do so, Adelphi stays attuned to regional demands and collaborates with area health systems, which opens the door to some of the nurses teaching on the faculty and placing some of the student nurses in the clinical setting part-time during the week.

Using simulation labs with high-fidelity manikins programmed to have specific symptoms is another way to work around the faculty shortage. “That is great because we won’t need as many faculty hours taking students to a clinical agency when learning can take place in the lab,” White says. “We’ve increased our labs by more than 200%. Simulation is a way we are moving forward to help educate students and the faculty shortage.”

Other efforts include offsite programs to help time-crunched nurses, more distance-learning, scholarships, a huge doctoral grant to prepare faculty, and a variety of diverse pipeline programs “where we discuss nursing as a career in the community.” Emphasizing community health makes sense as that is where the jobs will be, says White, adding she is looking forward to more nurse practitioner-run clinics this year.

Employment Trends

As far as in-demand positions for 2016, “it goes back to outpatient opportunities, such as advanced practice nursing roles, geriatric specialties, any type of position in geriatric nursing, clinical informatics, and case management experience,” says Kump. “Certainly, with all of the dynamics of the ACA and all that brings with reimbursement, someone who has a good working understanding of case management and insurance reimbursement is very valuable at this point and time.”

Another trending position is a nurse navigator, who deals with the increased geriatric population, the increased morbidity of patients, and the increased incidence of chronic illnesses. This person guides the patients’ care internally and externally, experts say. “They deal with patients who have very complex chronic illnesses like cancer or congestive heart failure,” Kump explains. “Their role is kind of case management, but even to a higher level. They are patient advocates, but they also help the patient navigate through the system.”

For instance, an oncology patient may have different specialized doctors on his or her case, such as an oncologist, surgeon, and radiologist. “The nurse navigator is really kind of the captain . . . that helps with what is needed as far as appointments, knowing what type of equipment they will need in the home setting, [and] what type of outpatient procedures they will need. They serve as the point of contact for the whole team, and they navigate the patient case through the complicated system that we are now in in medicine.”

Another position that will always be in demand lacks a fancy title, according to experts. “There is still that need for the bedside nurse, the staff nurse,” says Kump. “There is still that need in the hospital setting as well. That need is not going to go away; you’re just potentially going to see some variances in whether or not hospitals are going to start opening up recruitment for new grads versus the experienced nurse.”

Robin Farmer

Robin Farmer covers health, business, and education as a freelance journalist. Visit her online at www.RobinFarmerWrites.com.

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