The Future of Nursing After 2020

The healthcare industry is becoming more complex. The needs of an aging patient population, advances in technology and the demands brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic call for a highly skilled and well-educated workforce. In the face of a very real nursing shortage, healthcare professionals need to be prepared to take on the varying needs of their patients.

In a report titled The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) — known as the National Academy of Medicine since 2015 — announced a goal in 2010 for 80% of the U.S. nursing workforce to hold Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees by 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) even dubbed 2020 the "Year of the Nurse and the Midwife."

However, 2018 research from an organization called The Campaign for Action placed the proportion of nurses with a bachelor's degree or higher at approximately 57%.

As the nursing shortage prevails, the 2020 year has come and gone — with just over half of nurses holding BSN degrees. The future of nursing depends on the availability of both nursing educators to teach potential nurses as well as healthcare professionals with the knowledge, experience and skills to care for greater numbers of patients with more complex conditions.

Retiring Patients and Nurses

A large portion of the U.S. population will soon reach retirement age. From a health perspective, this translates to an increased risk of complications and a greater need for care. According to recent data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the last of the Baby Boomer generation will retire by 2029 and be older than 65 years of age – causing a 73% increase in elderly Americans nationwide.

Furthermore, the current nursing workforce is approaching retirement at a high rate. The same NCBI report projects that one-third of the workforce could reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years. This figure includes nursing educators, which means there are fewer teaching professionals to grow the ranks of nurses coming up the pipeline.

Nursing Burnout

Nursing is a stressful and exhausting profession overall, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this reality. The national average for nursing turnover rates is between 8.8% and 37%, depending on location and specialty. Recent surveys and data on nurses' health during the pandemic specifically suggest the problem is worsening, with 24% of nurses reporting their general health was fair to poor, according to one report.

Why Get a BSN?

There is significant research to suggest that a BSN-educated workforce improves patient care and a facility's overall operations.

According to the 2010 Future of Nursing report, BSN-prepared nurses are well-versed in key areas such as health policy, healthcare financing, community and public health, leadership, quality improvement and systems thinking. Nurses trained at the BSN level are valuable, as their skills allow them to practice in a variety of settings.

Call for More BSNs

While it's possible to become a registered nurse (RN) with only an Associate Degree in Nursing, it's worth noting that more than 88% of healthcare employers strongly prefer BSN-prepared applicants when hiring, according to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing research brief.

Even though the IOM directive to increase the proportion of BSN nurses to 80% by 2020 was not met, the healthcare field still prioritizes bachelor's-educated professionals. Not only will an RN to BSN degree program give you an edge on your peers in the job market, but you will also be making a positive difference for the future of nursing, helping fill the shortage and striving toward quality care.

Learn more about the University of Rhode Island RN to BS in Nursing online program.


Institute of Medicine: The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

Nursing Center: U.S. Nurses in 2020: Who We Are and Where We Work

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Nursing Shortage

Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing: The Exacerbation of Burnout During COVID-19: A Major Concern for Nurse Safety

World Health Organization: Year of the Nurse and the Midwife 2020

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses

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