Nursing Trends to Watch in 2021

Two nurse practitioners wearing PPE
Two nurse practitioners wearing PPE

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If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the future is unpredictable.

Doctors, nurses, hospital experts—none of them could have foreseen the chaos that the healthcare industry has experienced over the past 12 months.

Still, there were some key things that remained the same, like nurses and our need for them.

Nurses, perhaps more than any other group, have been directly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. They’ve been strong and brave, kind and caring. If anyone could use a break from surprises in 2021, it’s them. In fact, the World Health Assembly designated 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers (YHCW), emphasizing the importance of addressing their challenges.

While we’re all a bit hesitant about predicting the future right now, we have identified some nursing trends to look for in the coming year.


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Nursing student typing on laptop

1. Online Nursing Programs Will Continue to Be Popular.

Over the years, online education has continued to grow in popularity. Students—especially working ones—enjoy the flexibility of online programs, along with other benefits. For many who live in rural areas, an online education has opened up learning opportunities that would have been unthinkable before the internet.

They’ve also become steadily more mainstream and have been regularly featured in articles from influential publishers touting the many benefits of virtual learning. The arrival of COVID-19 has made online learning even more relevant, with students and educators around the globe adapting to a new approach to education.

For nurses, online education should only increase in significance. Online programs have long been used to further education, create new opportunities, and advance careers, and the onset of COVID-19 has proven how important this type of information sharing has become.

2. Nurses Will Make More Money.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, nurses made a mean salary of $73,300 in 2019. In hospitals, registered nurses earned an even greater annual wage, taking home a mean salary of $79,400. Since that’s $2,000 more on average than nurses were making in 2018, there’s a good chance those numbers will continue to grow in 2021.

How do these figures compare to the national average? Across all occupations, the annual mean wage across all occupations is $53,000 a year, meaning nurses earn roughly $20,000 more than the average worker.

If the numbers don’t lie, it’s safe to say growing salaries will be a nursing trend of 2021.

3. The Nursing Shortage Will Increase.

America is in the middle of a nursing shortage, and the problem is continuing to get worse. Why? It’s a combination of things, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Nurses are reaching retirement age. Roughly one third of the current nursing population could retire in the next 10 to 15 years.
  • An aging population requires more care. The last of the Baby Boomers will reach retirement age in 2029, resulting in a 73% increase in Americans over 65.
  • Burnout. Nurses experience a high turnover rate, and the stress of COVID-19 could exacerbate the problem. (If you think you may be experiencing burnout, learn how to recognize the signs and process through it.)

Since none of these realities are going away anytime soon, high demand for caregivers should be a nursing trend in 2021.

4. Job Opportunities Will Be Plentiful.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects employment of RNs will grow 7% across the country through 2029, faster than the average occupation. Every year, nearly 200,000 openings will need to be filled over the next decade, so RNs having their pick of positions will be another nursing trend in 2021.

Marymount nursing graduate

5. More Nurses Will Earn a BSN.

As healthcare systems work to increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees, nurses seeking higher degrees through online nursing programs will remain a solidly popular nursing trend in 2021.

Why The Demand For More BSN Holders?

In 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published a report about the future of nursing, in which they recommended more nurses hold a higher degree than an associate’s. The original goal was for 80% of registered nurses to have a bachelor’s by 2020.

As we look toward the next decade, the revised hope is to meet that number by 2029—and maybe as soon as 2025—and the industry is taking it seriously. In 2018, New York made a bold move, passing a law that requires all nurses to earn a BSN within 10 years of becoming an RN. As more states consider similar laws, RNs seeking a BSN will be a nursing trend over the coming years.

Keep in mind, RNs with BSNs will have more options and better job prospects than those without, so starting toward that BSN should be on your 2021 New Year’s Resolution list, if it’s not already.

6. Accelerated Programs Will Gain in Popularity.

What’s an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing? An ABSN is a quick way to enter the nursing field. Usually intended for someone who holds a bachelor’s in an unrelated field, ABSN programs are perfect for those interested in starting a second career in nursing.

For those who qualify, the benefit of choosing an online ABSN program is a quick road to graduation. It’s an excellent option, especially for older students with no time to waste. We’re bound to see ABSN programs as a viable nursing trend.

Fair warning: accelerated programs require an intense workload. Be sure to get all the details and speak with an advisor before making a decision about the best way forward for you.

7. Telehealth Will Gain Wider Acceptance.

As recently as 2017, patients weren’t too keen on telehealth. A study found that the majority of patients preferred in-person visits, with only 18% saying they’d be more comfortable with a virtual one.

But with the onset of COVID-19, telehealth has grown in acceptance and relied upon more frequently. From March through early July, over 10 million Medicare users took advantage of telehealth services, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services. They even relaxed regulations to make this possible, allowing physicians to see patients via unusual platforms like FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, and even Facebook Messenger.

Are telehealth visits a nursing trend that’s here to stay? We think yes. The telehealth global market was recently projected to generate over $55 billion by 2025, more than doubling in size.

Don’t fret for your in-person visits—those aren’t going anywhere, either. We predict a combination of in-person and virtual patient care will be a nursing trend for years to come.

8. More Nurses Will Specialize.

You already know that registered nurses can work in hospitals and clinics, but that’s only the beginning of available job options. By specializing in a specific area, even more doors can open for nurses, as well as potentially higher salaries.

What kind of specialties are available? Here are a few possibilities, taken from this list of 31 Best Specialty Career Choices for Nurses:

  • Nurse Midwife
  • Nurse Case Manager
  • Nurse Researcher
  • Endocrinology Pediatric Nurse

We expect increased interest in programs that qualify nurses to enter advanced nursing roles to be a nursing trend in 2021.

9. Awareness of a Nurse’s Mental Health Will Increase.

Nurses are known for working long hours and pulling double-shifts, all without complaining. But a lot of healthcare workers experience compassion fatigue, an additional hardship of the job that isn’t often talked about.

What is compassion fatigue? It’s similar to workplace burnout, but with an additional numbness, or “hardening of the emotions,” according to one researcher. Feeling overworked, anxious, and unable to relax are often signs of compassion fatigue.

COVID-19 has put an even greater burden—both mental and physical—on nurses, leading to “unprecedented stress” and overall exhaustion. For some, the pressures have gotten so enormous that quitting has felt like the only option. The National Center for PTSD expects many in the healthcare industry to experience some Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a post-pandemic world, and it’s important we know how to respond.

In the months and years to come, having open, honest, helpful conversations about the mental burden carried by nurses will be imperative. Health leaders will need to provide nurses with the resource and tools they need to care for patients without sacrificing their own health along the way. COVID-19 has brought this issue into the spotlight, so expect increased awareness to be a nursing trend.

10. Nursing School Could Become More Competitive.

While more and more colleges and universities have online programs and degrees, it’s possible that they will have to limit class sizes. Clinical placement is a crucial part of earning a nursing degree—hands-on experience can’t be replaced—and clinics can only host so many students. COVID-19 has made that all the more complicated.

Marymount offers free clinical placement services for online students. We want to make sure our online nursing students can focus on working and studying while a team of professionals secures an appropriate clinical placement and preceptor for them.

Following your dreams is a nursing trend we can get behind.

Nurse wearing PPE with patient wearing face mask

11. More Nurses Will Seek an MSN-FNP.

America isn’t only experiencing a nursing shortage, we’re also in great need of physicians. According to a recent report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the US will experience a shortage of “between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033.” The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified the issue.

To help alleviate that problem, more nurses are seeking to become nurse practitioners. What might tempt working nurses to go back to school? A few things:

  • First, many states now allow family nurse practitioners full practice authority, which appeals to a lot of advanced practice nurses looking to gain independence.
  • Second, FNPs get paid significantly more than RNs, making an FNP well worth the time and effort.
  • Third, online programs like ours are low residency, making it possible for busy professionals to go back to school without quitting their jobs.

12. DNPs Will Rise in Popularity.

Over the coming years, we predict that more and more nurses will consider earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice as the need for nurse leaders increases.

Why choose a DNP? Practically speaking, the long-term payout is significant, since a DNP earns more than an MSN.

But there are more than monetary reasons. DNPs offer greater job options, more leadership opportunities, and a chance to be an expert in your field. Nurses who hold this degree can conduct research, direct healthcare organizations, serve as consultants, and teach the next generation of nurses as a nurse educator.

There’s also a possibility that a DNP could be required in the near future, with the National Organization of Nurse Practitioners Faculties encouraging new NPs to work toward a DNP.

And there’s one more good reason: a lack of nurse educators is actually making the nursing shortage worse. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, over 80,000 potential students were rejected—not because the applicants were unqualified, but because the schools were at capacity. Insufficient faculty was a “top reason” for turning away students.

To decrease the nursing shortage, more nurses seeking DNPs will be a nursing trend over the next decade.

Discover more fast facts about DNPS from this infographic.

13. Post Master’s Certificates Will Become More Common.

Not all nurses with an MSN are advanced practice nurses—their degree could have been focused on management, education, or administration. But sometimes these MSN holders miss working directly with patients, so they decide it’s time for a change.

Enter: an FNP certificate.

These post master’s certificates were created especially for circumstances like these. They’re a quick, simple way for experienced and educated nurses to make a change in their career. Similarly, for MSNs who originally specialized in one field and are now looking to broaden their scope of practice, a post master’s certificate is an ideal solution.

Nurses shouldn’t feel stuck in one area. A post master’s certificate opens new options and allows for fresh growth.

As the physicians shortage continues, we’re betting one nursing trend will include more MSN holders looking to get back into patient care or serve a wider group of patients through our online FNP certification program.

Marymount nursing student grads

14. Marymount Will Continue To Educate Caring, Compassionate, Committed Nurses.

One nursing trend we can promise: we’ll be here, providing our nursing students with a quality education direct from the nation’s capital. We love nothing more than empowering our students, equipping them with tools they need to make a difference on a local, national, and international level.

Whether you’re looking to make a career change through our ABSN program, earn an advanced degree such as the MSN-FNP, MSN-DNP, DNP-FNP, or Post Master’s Certificate FNP, Marymount is ready to provide you with a values-based education focused on holistic care and servant leadership.

We need nurses like you to be the trendsetters in the industry, so if you’re ready to learn how, get more information about our online nursing programs. Then contact us to discuss a program that is just right for your career goals.


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