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The two years since COVID-19 was first detected in America have introduced a profound change in all public-facing industries. Education, commerce, and even restaurants have changed business models and delivery systems to support social distancing and hands-free processes. Healthcare, too, has embraced changes, like increasing the use of telehealth when possible.
At the same time, nursing during COVID-19 was pushed to the limits with overcrowded hospitals, unprecedented death rates, lack of PPE, mandated overtime, staff shortages, and a perceived lack of support from administration.
The crisis pushed nursing into the spotlight, bringing plenty of praise but not enough change to a profession already in crisis. Nursing today may very well make 2022 the year of change needed to address systemic issues that have affected nursing since before the pandemic and the new problems that resulted from it.
Here are a few of the issues to watch in nursing 2022 and some tips for nurses.
Continued Job Growth
Already deep in a nursing shortage that was predicted to worsen before COVID-19 even became a factor, the current staffing crisis shows no sign of slowing down. Before the pandemic, a shortage of nursing faculty, an aging population, and large numbers of nurses reaching retirement age were factors worsening the nursing shortage. 2022 is adding to the number of nurses burned out from the pandemic. A recent report by McKinsey & Company found that nearly one-third of registered nurses are considering leaving their patient-care roles. There will be no shortage of jobs looking ahead.
Increase in Home Health
The aging baby boomer population could increase the number of older Americans needing nursing home care by 75%. Still, many are opting to age in place, increasing the need for home health nurses. And again, COVID further increased the need. The demand will increase even more if the Choose Home Care Act of 2021 passes, greatly expanding Medicare patients’ access to home health services.
Increase in Online Education
One of the nursing trends accelerated by the pandemic is the move to online education. Distance learning programs were already popular options for RN-to-BSN bridge programs; the pandemic expanded online learning to other programs to reduce the transmission of COVID. In addition, some research shows that online learning has benefits like better retention that support online or hybrid learning as a valid model post-pandemic.
Demand for Training and Higher Education
Better training makes better nurses and patient outcomes. An American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report found multiple studies tying decreased mortality to an increase in BSN-educated nurses. The same AACN report found most employers prefer BSN-educated nurses. As of 2021, more nurses were seeking bachelor’s degrees (or higher) than associate degrees to meet the growing demand. Furthermore, bachelor’s-educated nurses have more opportunities and higher salaries and are qualified for advanced roles like nurse manager.
Staff Support and Well-Being
One of the biggest failures throughout the pandemic was the unimaginable burden on medical staff. The stress, exhaustion, trauma, and lack of support are driving nurses to leave patient care in unprecedented numbers. According to an ebn report, 500k nurses will leave patient care this year, a number the pandemic accelerated by almost 20 years. The failures in staffing models, crisis readiness, and support for overwhelmed staff created a mental health crisis that went largely ignored during the pandemic. The number of nurses leaving patient care needs to be a wake-up call for health systems to prioritize the well-being of their staff.
COVID-19 surges prompted a wave of travel nursing that only grew as poor working conditions and frustration drove more nurses to leave their staff positions for lucrative travel assignments. Travel nursing grew by 35% in 2020 and is predicted to grow 40% more. The freedom to choose when and where to work, to take time off between assignments, and much higher wages are attractive to many nurses exhausted by the pandemic. With the number of nurses leaving bedside care in the next few years, travel nurses will continue to be in demand as healthcare systems struggle with the growing nursing shortage.
As is often the case, we need to look to the past to understand our future needs. The pandemic profoundly changed a healthcare system already in crisis—one that can’t survive without nurses. New nurses entering the workforce, and those who are not so new but are looking for a change, will have plenty of opportunities ahead. Education and self-advocacy are key in this job seekers market. There will also be opportunities to advocate for change in the profession as the healthcare industry struggles to move forward from the pandemic. Now is the time to raise our voices.