A nurse educator talks with students
A nurse educator talks with students

The Future of Nursing Education

From dealing with the repercussions of a global pandemic to addressing the needs of a changing population, nursing education has shifted in recent years. And the future of nursing education promises even more changes as the profession grapples with staff shortages and digital transformations.

The evolving landscape for the nursing profession — and the people and programs that prepare people for it — is occurring even as demand for nurses surges. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the nation will add about 203,200 jobs for registered nurses (RNs) alone between 2021 and 2031. 

Programs that train nurse educators, such as those awarding a master’s in nursing education, are adapting to the ever-changing world of nursing. They’re equipping students with the knowledge, skills and clinical experience to help ensure that the in-demand next generation of nurses is ready to tackle the profession’s many developing trends.

Why Is Nursing Education Important?

Nursing education takes place at colleges and universities and in hospitals. Nurses can earn a variety of credentials, including certificates and degrees. For example, RNs, who provide and coordinate patient-centered care, typically have a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing or a credential from a nursing program.

The role of the nurse educator at colleges and universities is to lead classes for nursing students. These nurse educators work didactically in the classroom and clinical settings to prepare students to provide high-quality, safe care. 

At healthcare systems, nurse educators instruct nurses in a specific patient specialty, identifying skills that need improvement and managing ongoing training. They also train a variety of staff on current standards of care, new equipment and procedures and any emerging educational needs.  In any setting, nursing education plays an important role in ensuring high-quality patient care now and in the future. 

Developing Nurses’ Skills

Effective nursing education is vital in developing the competencies of current and future nursing professionals. Education that emphasizes strengths and skills in interdisciplinary collaboration, critical thinking and professional judgment is a critical component in preparing nurses for their day-to-day roles. 

Unfortunately, these critical skills have become less common. Researchers have noted that COVID-19-related disruptions in nursing education exacerbated a decline in new RN competencies. Such declines make master’s-level nurse educators vital.

Addressing Nursing Shortages

Nursing education is critical as the nation struggles with a shortage of nurses. A 2021 Health Affairs workforce analysis revealed that the number of RNs decreased by more than 100,000 between 2020 and 2021. That drop was the largest in 40 years.

To fill this care gap and educate aspiring nurses will require an increase in nurse educators. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that, in the 2021–2022 academic year, U.S. nursing schools turned away 91,938 qualified applicants, in part because there weren’t enough nurse educators.

Adapting to Health Care Changes

From advancements in technology to new approaches to treatment, health care is undergoing tremendous change. Nursing education helps nurses stay current in the profession as it expands its emphasis on holistic care and tools that allow for remote monitoring and treatment.

Hospital nurse educators, for example, ensure that their departments’ nurses stay up to date on participating in professional development and maintaining educational requirements for nursing certifications and licensure.

What Are Recent Trends in Nursing Education

Nursing education from a century ago aimed to prepare nurses to serve as “doctors’ assistants.” Recent decades have seen a shift, however, with trends in nursing education emphasizing leadership in areas such as problem-solving, patient safety and health care quality. These changes are paving the way for a future in nursing education that continues to evolve in teaching about clinical practices and patient needs.

Nursing Responsibilities

Nursing education today must prepare nurses to tackle the increasingly collaborative and technically focused role they now hold in health care. To properly equip students and nurses for today’s health care environment, nurse educators emphasize topics and learning approaches such as:

  • Evidence-based practice — Applying the latest research in day-to-day care and decision-making
  • Leadership development — Preparing nurses to take on elevated roles in care teams
  • Concept-focused instruction — Using activities to teach concepts and skills
  • Health informatics — Ensuring that nurses can effectively collect, review and protect patient data

Credential Pathways

Nursing education is increasingly awarding certifications to help nurses show their expertise and experience in specific types of care. Electronic badges in a personnel file or resume, for example, can exhibit this proficiency. In some cases, combining several types of badges can sometimes fulfill a broader educational requirement — allowing students to earn credentials while they continue to pursue nursing degrees. 

COVID-19 Challenges

Online instruction was an established method of nursing education prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 restrictions have made online learning even more prevalent. Today’s nursing education is pivoting to embrace remote training not only for classroom activities but also in simulated clinical experiences.

The pandemic also has left many students and nurses struggling with their physical and mental health. Educators have served as a source of support and mentorship for those who need to connect with services to support their well-being. 

Additionally, inequities in health care quality and access have been noteworthy, so nursing education is also focusing on ways to address health care inequalities and promote better health among all populations.

What Is the Future of Nursing Education

To ensure that current and future nurses provide outstanding care amid the shifting health care landscape, nursing education is making some adjustments of its own. Nursing education’s future is primed to build on recent trends, accommodating changes associated with patient demographics, medical technology and standardized testing.

Changing Population

Increasing life expectancy and a greater emphasis on staying active while aging have led to a greater demand for health care overall. These shifts have exacerbated nursing shortages, which in turn have led to a greater need for educators who can train students to meet this demand. A 2022 report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) shows, for example, that the number of RNs in the United States has fallen to 62.4 per 1,000 people age 65 and older, compared with 68.9 per 1,000 in 2003. 

Additionally, the American population is becoming more diverse, with a 2021 Brookings report noting that all of the nation’s population growth between 2010 and 2020 is among people of color. Efforts to ensure diversity among nurse educators — to reflect that of students, nurses and their patients — are shaping up to be a key aspect of the future of nursing education.

Person-Centered Care

Another way to ensure that nurses can meet the needs of a diverse population, including those from groups traditionally underrepresented in accessing health care, is by teaching nursing professionals to practice person-centered care. This holistic approach takes into account the many factors affecting individuals’ physical and mental health, including those termed social determinants of health (SDOH). Among these are:

  • Housing quality
  • Racism and discrimination
  • Education level
  • Air and water quality
  • Language skills

Person-centered care is an individualized approach that considers each patient’s unique background and concerns. Nurse educators emphasizing person-centered care teach about treating each individual with dignity, encouraging patients to draw on their own strengths and facilitating the support needed to achieve good health.

Digital Landscape

Nursing education’s future also must adapt to technological trends, both in teaching and patient care. Today’s nurses are increasingly relying on technological advances such as:

  • Using artificial intelligence (AI) to collect data that informs approaches to care
  • Relying on smart technology to monitor patients’ health
  • Maintaining electronic health records (EHR) to simplify patient data sharing
  • Offering telemedicine options for medical appointments

Education that prepares nurses for the future equips them to effectively use these technologies. It also increasingly relies on digital tools that facilitate online learning, providing broader access to classroom and clinical experiences.

NCLEX Updates

An updated version of the National Council Licensure Examination, known as the Next Generation NCLEX, is now available. Nursing education is working now to ensure that students are prepared for changes to the test, which is required for becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or RN.

The nursing community expects changes to the test to focus on questions that better measure nurses’ clinical judgment and decision-making. The future of nursing education must emphasize the decision-making models, as well as competency-based education, that will help nurses prepare for the updated test, with steps that progress through developing hypotheses, making judgments and forming decisions.

Educate Nurses for Careers of the Future

High-quality nurse educators play a critical role in preparing nurses to provide the highest level of care in an ever-changing medical landscape. Their work also helps to ensure that skilled nurses are available to meet the staffing needs associated with an ongoing nursing shortage. If you’re ready to put your nursing expertise to work educating nurses for careers of the future, explore the Walsh University Online Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator degree program.

The program provides an excellent opportunity to prepare for a nurse educator career. It offers 100% online coursework, the opportunity to complete the program in as little as three semesters and fee discounts available for those pursuing the degree. Discover how Walsh University Online’s MSN: Nurse Educator degree can help you achieve your career goals.

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