13 Nurse Industry Trends to Watch in 2021


2021 Nursing Trends to Watch

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

As COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to climb and cases drop across the United States in the first half of 2021, many are hoping to soon see an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and a return to normal. Yet some changes in healthcare precipitated by the novel coronavirus will likely forever alter nursing.

“COVID-19 has completely changed the game for nursing and patient care,” said Lisa Doggett, MD, senior medical director at HGS Healthcare/AxisPoint Health in Lisle, Illinois. “Many frontline nurses are experiencing stress and burnout from treating severe cases.” 

These events have led to some changes and nursing trends in 2021 that could impact the future of nursing practice for months and years ahead.

13 key nursing trends in 2021

   1.  Lasting changes related to COVID

Future trends in nursing include changes to address the pandemic, which will continue when it ends. 

There will be a “greater emphasis on innovation, collaboration, respect and teamwork as nurses came together to support each other and meet the complex care needs of patients and families,” said Cindi Noe, MSN, RN, certification practice specialist at the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). She also indicates a “recognition that healthcare decision-making requires the best scientific evidence available.” 

Interest has grown in public health and emergency preparedness, reported Elaine Smith, EdD, MS, MBA, dean of the College of Nursing and Public Health at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. 

“Our students are incredibly enthusiastic,” Smith said. “It gives them a feeling of being validated in their decision [to choose nursing].” Many Adelphi students have taken nursing aide and personal care tech positions to help with COVID-19 patients. 

   2.  Increased demand for nurses and a shortage

The nursing shortage is not new, but it is getting worse, said Bonne Fuller, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, at the Purdue University Global School of Nursing, based in West Lafayette, Indiana. She considers the workforce shortage the top nurse industry trend, in large part due to burnout and exhaustion, which may cause nurses to leave the profession. 

“With all of the issues with the economy and healthcare system, I think the shortage will be more impactful,” Fuller added. 

Nurses remain in high demand. Some COVD-19 crisis travel nursing positions are paying $8,000 to $10,000 per week. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 7 percent growth in RN jobs from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average for other occupations.  

Some facilities and states have asked nurses to come out of retirement to help ease the shortage and care for COVID-19 patients, said Gregory A. Casalenuovo, PhD, APRN, FNP-BC, FNP-C, professor of nursing at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee. 

Increasing the number of nurses will need “robust funding of Nursing Workforce Development programs,” Noe said. 

   3.  With greater demand, more options

With nurses in high demand across the country, it offers opportunities and options to try new things or go new places. Travel nurses are in extremely high demand. 

Some nurses in California are joining the AMN Flex Team, which gives them the security of a full-time job with the flexibility offered with a temporary assignment. The Flex Team program represents a partnership between AMN Healthcare and Providence St. Joseph Health, and it allows nurses to receive a schedule with shifts at three Orange County, California, hospitals and develop relationships with permanent unit staff members. 

   4.  Increased interest in the nursing profession

Over the course of the past year, the pandemic has put the nursing profession and the care nurses provide on the nightly news, social media and in newspapers, leading to an increased interest in the career. While one might think that the difficulties nurses have endured would cause many to shy away from the field, that has not been the case.

Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and CEO of the National League for Nursing in Washington, D.C., reported the since the pandemic started, more people are wanting to be nurses, to jump right in and help.  

“With the display of what nurses do, it might attract more people to it,” Fuller added. 

Most currently licensed nurses, 85 percent, still would become a nurse if they could do over their career choice, even with 56 percent saying workloads have increased, according to the American Nurse Journal’s fourth annual Nursing Trends and Salary Survey in 2020. Only 2 percent plan to leave the profession.  

   5.  Greater respect for nurse self-care

The pandemic has called attention to the need for nurses to take care of themselves as they cope with extraordinary workloads, moral distress and burnout.

“It’s putting a lot of stress on nurses,” Fuller said. “Nurses are getting hit from all sides. The need to have time for self-care is needed, so they can be there to care for others.”

Staff and travel nurses should have access to an employee assistance program and other benefits. 

   6.  Online and simulation will aid in education

Across the country, the pandemic has forced education to transition to online courses and simulated care. Adelphi University’ nursing program immediately responded and changed its processes. Virtual simulation with high-fidelity manikins replaced some of the clinical component of the students’ education. Smith expects a blended education environment will be a 2021 nursing trend.

“The pandemic has shown nurses can get high-quality education in an online environment,” Fuller said.  

Malone hopes some of the distant learning persists, because it allows nursing students to learn on manikins rather than live patients. Therefore, students are better prepared before they actually care for real patients.  

   7.  Greater interest in management, BSN and advanced degrees

“Skills-driven learning is on the rise,” said Julie DeLoia, PhD, chief academic officer at Dignity Health Global Education in Toronto. “We are noting a marked increase in healthcare workers who are interested in flexible and affordable short-form online courses. Programs that promote leadership and provide fundamentals of business and management skills, which many RNs didn’t study in school, are of particular interest.”

“Nurses have seen how critical these nonclinical skills are to healthcare and know that to continue to meet challenges, they’ll need new skills that allow them to succeed in the business of healthcare,” she continued.

With hospitals seeking or maintaining ANCC Magnet status, a great interest has developed in nurses continuing their educations, such as earning a bachelor of science in nursing degree. Some hospitals prefer hiring BSN-degreed nurses. And many schools of nursing have articulation agreements to make it easier to transition from an associate degree to a baccalaureate, with RN-to-BS or BSN programs in certain parts of the country. 

Smith also noted increased interest, even by undergraduates, to pursue graduate degrees to become advanced practice nurses. 

“Higher education will become the norm,” Casalenuovo added. 

Master’s and doctoral preparation offer the opportunity to enter academia and advanced practice opportunities, Smith said. 

   8.  Specialization, certification and micro-credentialing 

More nurses are specializing and that should continue as a future trend in nursing. 

Among the growing specialties are healthcare informatics, gerontology, ambulatory care and telehealth, Smith said, adding, “I expect that to continue in 2021.”  

AMN Flex Team nurses work on units within their specialties, so even though they may go to several hospitals, it will always be on a unit within their skill set. 

Micro-credentialing is an emerging trend in specialization. It validates the nurse’s knowledge in a specific skill or area of practice. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses has pioneered micro-credentialing and developed a micro-credential “COVID-19 Pulmonary and Ventilator Care” for nurses and other medical professionals who provide direct care for critically ill COVID-19 patients. 

“The AACN COVID-19 Pulmonary and Ventilator Care Micro-credential met a crucial need,” Noe said. “It provided nurses and direct-care providers a mechanism to validate their knowledge in the care needs of these patients. It provided another tool for nurse leaders and employers when addressing the need for temporary qualified staff. Micro-credentials are a new concept in healthcare.”

Nursing triage hotlines are just one industry trend for 2021   9.  Nurse triage hotline opportunities

Many health systems have created nurse triage hotlines, which are often outsourced, creating opportunities for nurses looking for a different way to practice nursing. 

“In 2021, the industry should expect to see a continued rise of nurse triage hotline solutions, which can ease burdens on critical nursing staff and can quickly provide remote consultations to patients,” Doggett said. “In fact, adoption has already been exploding – during the first month of COVID-19, HGS Healthcare’s nurse triage service saw a 300 percent increase in calls from one healthcare organization alone.”

   10.  Nurse entrepreneurs emerging

Another future trend in nursing is the desire for nurses to become entrepreneurs, said Fuller. They want to own their own business and use their healthcare knowledge and skills to help people in new ways. 

“Nurse navigators can help the elderly,” Fuller explained. “There is an opportunity to be in an advocacy role.” 

Teri Dreher, RN, is one of those. After working for years as a critical care nurse, she founded a patient advocacy businesses NShore Patient Advocates and Seniors Alone in Chicago. Services include care management, resolving billing disputes, talking with physicians and helping people navigate the healthcare system. 

“Our focus is to bring the patient back to the center of the model of healthcare,” Dreher said.

   11.  Care moves to the community

More nursing care will take place in the home and ambulatory settings. And care coordination and disease management will be required for smooth transitions and ongoing relationships to achieve best outcomes, Smith said. 

“In the future, more of the healthcare will be given outside of hospital walls,” Dreher said. 

Jennifer Flynn, a risk manager at Nurses Service Organization in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, reported that their data shows home healthcare including hospice and palliative care claims are rapidly growing, due to more acutely ill patients being cared for at home and more nurses working in home health. 

“Nurses are in the most contact with the patient and family,” Flynn said. “They need to recognize emergent situations.” She recommended that nurses maintain their core competencies, work within their scope of practice, communicate clearly and document accurately the care provided. 

   12.  Telehealth is a future trend in nursing

“We now have been forced to recognize the value of telehealth,” Fuller said. “There will be more opportunities for all healthcare providers, and particularly nurses, to be involved in using telehealth.”

That might include contacting patients virtually or sitting with a patient while he or she consults with a specialist or primary care provider.

Remote patient monitoring and robots are part of this 2021 nursing trend.

   13.  More interest in diversifying nursing

Most nurses still are women, but future trends in nursing suggest the number of men entering the profession has been increasing. 

“The proportion of male nurses will rise,” Casalenuovo said. “We need more diversity in mindset and ways of thinking. Males and females don’t always think the same and that gives us better patient care.”

The Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies reported in 2017 that not only are the number of full-time male RNs increasing, but the relative proportion of minority male RNs is higher than with female RNs. 

The pandemic has also called attention to health disparities in the country, and many health systems and universities are hiring diversity officers and working toward a more equitable healthcare system. Malone indicated there is an increasing emphasis on diversity and inclusion and unconscious bias as nurses and others strive for health equity. 

Which Nursing Specialties Will Be in Demand in 2021?


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