21 Nursing Trends We Expect to See in 2021 (Updated)

Smiling female family nurse practitioner, 2021
Smiling female family nurse practitioner, 2021

Updated 19 May 2021.

Learn more about Carson-Newman's online FNP programs.

If you’re looking for information about nursing trends in 2021, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve put together a list of top nursing trends we expect to see in 2021 and beyond based on the latest data and insights from American Nurse Today, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, and other sources.

The medical field, particularly nursing, was already undergoing dramatic changes before the pandemic. As the current field of nurses becomes more educated, they have an opportunity to take on expanded roles and fill a drastic need in the years to come. Read on to learn what to expect in the ever-changing world of nursing in 2021.

Nurse in pink scrubs researching nursing trends in 2021 on her laptop

1. Online education programs will increase in popularity.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) appointed the Committee on the Future of Nursing to put together recommendations for an action-oriented response to some of the challenges being faced by nurses.

One of their key recommendations was to increase the percentage of workers holding a BSN degree from 50 to 80% by 2020. In 2018, New York became the first state to pass a law requiring nurses to earn a BSN within 10 years of becoming licensed. Many other states have plans to adopt similar legislation.

In light of these changes, and in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the motivation for nurses to pursue higher education is stronger than ever. Online nursing degree programs provide a way for nurses to obtain a degree while continuing to work full-time, opening the door to higher education without the need to sacrifice work-related responsibilities or family obligations.

We predict the popularity of online MSN-FNP and online Post-Master’s FNP Certificate programs to increase in 2021, especially while COVID-19 limits in-person learning.

Confident female nurse practitioner reviewing patient notes in hospital hallway

2. The shortage of primary care physicians will create an even greater demand for Family Nurse Practitioners.

Recent research from the Association of American Medical Colleges found that the United States could face a shortage of up to 55,200 primary care physicians by 2032, due in part to a growing, aging population.

Without enough primary care physicians to care for the population, the demand for Family Nurse Practitioners will be high, especially in those states where FNPs have full practice authority. In March 2020, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reported that the number of Nurse Practitioners reached an all-time high of 290,000. We expect this number to continue to grow.

Another factor in the increasing demand for FNPs is the closure of rural hospitals, which significantly impacts healthcare. Between 2010 and January 1, 2020, 7% (120 in total) of all rural hospitals closed their doors. A study reported in Forbes found that another 453 rural hospitals are vulnerable and may also close.

Nearly 20% of the United States population, or 60 million people, live in rural areas, and are already finding it challenging to obtain health care. Another issue impacting residents in these areas is the insufficiency of doctors. FNPs can perform check-ups, physicals, etc. for patients who might otherwise be stuck waiting extended periods for an appointment with a doctor.

Confident African American female nurse practitioner

3. A greater number of states will grant Nurse Practitioners full practice authority.

As a further response to the primary care physician shortage, more states should begin to grant Nurse Practitioners the authority to practice independently. Currently, 26 states and U.S. territories grant nurse practitioners full practice authority, while other states require collaborative agreement with a supervising physician or have restrictions on practice.

Given the pressing need for primary care providers and the fact that both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing recommend that states provide NPs full practice authority, there are increasing pressures on the remaining states to follow suit.

Read our blog on how COVID-19 has impacted NP practice authority.

Two nurses in a hospital wearing scrubs and face masks

4. We will see unprecedented job growth for nurses in 2021.

The numbers are clear: both in the U.S. and globally, there is a shortage of Registered Nurses that is expected to intensify as the Baby Boomer population ages, the need for care providers grows and health care workers continue to combat COVID-19.

The nursing shortage has only intensified due to the COVID-19 pandemic as hospitals and other health care environments struggle under unprecedented patient loads.

Even pre-COVID, the Bureau of Labor Statistics had projected Registered Nursing to be one of the top occupations for job growth through 2028, expected to grow by 12% (much faster than average), and reported 371,500 new RN jobs will be added by the year 2028.

This demand stems from the fact that the United States has an aging population. By 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau states 20% of the population will be of retirement age. And by 2034, there will be more people above 65 than below 18. It is expected that there will be a 55,000 plus shortage of primary care physicians by 2032 with many of today’s doctors retiring. An aging population will need access to medical professionals and FNPs are equipped to help fill this void. 

The lack of nurse educators is another issue. An American Association of Colleges of Nursing report explains, ”More than 75,000 qualified applicants to bachelor and graduate nursing programs were turned away last year due to factors like insufficient faculty, clinical sites or classroom space, as well as budget constraints.”

Nurse in blue scrubs looking up nursing trends in her office

5. Salaries for Registered Nurses will stay steady or increase.

Despite the fact that COVID-19 has had a terrible impact on hospital finances, nurses surveyed by the American Nurse Journal report that they have continued to receive salary increases. It comes as no surprise, then, that the U.S. News & World Report ranked RN as #13 (up from #19 in 2019) on its list of 100 Best Jobs of 2020, and ranked Nurse Practitioner as #5 (up from #7).

The rise in nurse's salaries is especially true for FNPs whose median annual pay in 2019 was $109,820 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This was $36,500 more than RN Nurses with a bachelor's degree. That trend continued a year later, according to a report by Nurse Practitioner that said “Salary is expected to grow by around 19% by 2020, again well above the national average.”

Medical facilities are also using other incentives to entice nurses. CNN reported that some facilities are offering nurses various perks and incentives such as “five-figure signing bonuses, free housing, college tuition for employees and their children.” They aim to both recruit and retain nurses.

Smiling Asian American female nurse in blue scrubs

6. Higher education degrees will become the norm.

Another 2021 nursing trend we expect to see is growth in the number of nurses pursuing higher education.

As mentioned above, the Institute of Medicine set a goal in 2010 of achieving an 80% BSN-holding nursing workforce by 2020. That same report also called to double the number of nurses with a doctoral degree by 2020.

Several indicators point to progress:

  • Between 2010 and 2018, the number of employed nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing increased by 8%.
  • The number of graduates from RN-to-BSN programs and doctoral programs rose every year from 2009 to 2018.
  • The number of employed nurses with a doctorate more than tripled from 2010 to 2018.

Several independent studies have shown that an increase in the number of RNs holding at least a BSN degree decreases the risk of patient mortality. With such strong evidence that more education leads to better patient outcomes and nursing degrees trending upward, expect higher education to become the norm for Registered Nurses moving into 2021 and beyond.

Close-up of stethoscope and patient forms on top of blue scrubs

7. More states will join the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact, making it easier for nurses to move across state lines.

The enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) was officially implemented on January 19, 2018. The compact, coordinated by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), makes it substantially easier for travel nurses to work across state lines.

In 2020, Indiana became the latest state to sign the compact’s provisions into law, bringing the total number of states that have enacted the eNLC to 34. New Jersey has approved partial implementation, and Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont all have legislation pending, so we expect at least a few more states to join the list of eNLC states in 2021.

Woman researching nursing trends on a laptop computer

8. Telehealth and chatbot services are making it easier for patients to access care.

Telehealth visits in March 2020 increased by 154% year-over-year. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the need for virtual health care. That’s why we predict telehealth and chatbot services will continue to be the norm in some aspects of the nurse’s role in 2021.

With telehealth technology, patients can manage certain aspects of their own health care by accessing an online portal to see their test results, schedule appointments and request prescription refills. Virtual appointments enable them to see their nurse or doctor via live video feed.

Similarly, chatbots can assist patients with things like booking appointments and reminding them to take certain medications. For example, Florence is a chatbot nurse that monitors patients’ health, gives instructions and reminders for taking pills, and helps them find specialists in their area.

 

In 2017, over three-quarters of American hospitals had implemented a telehealth system according to The American Hospital Association. Compare this to 2010 when the same organization had noted just 35% of hospitals offering such capabilities.

Telehealth has faced some legislative restrictions regarding Medicare payments in the past. As the rules related to payments and other regulations are eased, barriers to its growth will be lessened.

Relaxation of rules around reimbursement for telehealth visits in the wake of COVID-19 has shown health care providers and patients alike how well the systems can work.

Besides working for patients with minor complaints, telehealth visits are a boon for nurses, therapists and providers who can use the technology to manage patients with mobility challenges and/or who are at especially high risk if exposed to the coronavirus.

Read our blog to learn more about how FNPs use telehealth today.

Smiling nurse in blue scrubs, making notes

9. Bilingual nurses will be more valued.

The U.S. population is becoming increasingly diverse. A 2015 report by the U.S. Census Bureau reported that at least 350 languages are spoken in American homes.

Next to English, Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the United States. An estimated 40 million U.S. residents, or 13% of the population, speak Spanish at home.

Bilingualism is becoming increasingly valued as a skill for nurses to have. Nurses who speak a second language, especially Spanish, may be more attractive to employers than monolingual nurses in 2021.

Smiling female family nurse practitioner in office setting

10. More nurses will choose to specialize.

Nurses today are expected to specialize, and this is a trend that will only continue in 2021.

Nursing is a career where there is greater demand at higher levels of practice than the lower ones. Nurses who choose to specialize find that they are in higher demand and can often command higher salaries.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that Registered Nurses have a median salary of $73,300 and a projected job growth of 7% between 2019 and 2029. But Nurse Practitioners will enjoy even brighter prospects for employment and salary. According to BLS, they earn a median annual wage of $109,820 and their employment will grow by 52%.

From family health to psychiatry, there are many advanced specialties that nurses can choose to focus their career on in 2021.

African American male nurse wearing blue scrubs in hospital setting

11. The proportion of male nurses will rise.

Nursing remains a female-dominated profession, but slowly that is beginning to change. The American Association for Men in Nursing continues to advocate for greater numbers of men in nursing programs throughout the United States and the world.

Since 1960, there has been a clear trend toward increasing numbers of male nurses. The share of nurses who are male went up from 2.2% in 1960 to 12% in 2019. As stigma fades and more men realize the benefits of a career in nursing, we expect the proportion of male nurses to increase.

Learn more about men in nursing.

Female nurse practitioner meeting with her patient in office setting

12. More focus will be placed on holistic care.

Holistic care is a method for treating the whole patient. Holistic nurses recognize each patient’s unique physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and environmental strengths and weaknesses.

The global body of evidence about the benefits of holistic care is growing.

A 2017 study from Sweden found that patients of APRNs who provided holistic care were satisfied with the quality and accessibility. Similar results were shown in a 2020 study of patients with permanent colostomies in Hong Kong. Those who received holistic care intervention reported better outcomes than patients who received routine care.

Increasingly, U.S. hospitals and other health care facilities are emphasizing integrative and holistic health in their delivery models. At Carson-Newman, our online MSN-FNP program and online Post-Master's FNP Certificate programs place a major focus on holistic care.

Woman typing on laptop and researching nursing trends in 2021

13. Nurses will continue to be more technologically savvy.

Technology is ever-present in the modern world of health care, and the pace of reliance on technology has continued to increase during the pandemic in 2020. Nurses today use a wide range of technologically driven approaches to increase their efficiency, including Electronic Health Records to track health history and Smart Beds to optimize patient positioning.

Nurses’ use of mobile devices is also rising. Between 2017 and 2022, a Zebra Technologies study predicts that the percentage of bedside nurses who use mobile devices in their practice will increase from 65 to 97%. The same study shows that mobile technology can improve cost-savings, care quality and patient safety.

Technology in nursing is here to stay, and nurses will need to become confident and comfortable with it at an increasing pace.

Female nurse practitioner making notes on a tablet device

14. The field of health informatics will become more mainstream.

In response to the influx of health care technology, a brand new field has arisen: health informatics. This growing specialization uses data collected by information technology systems to create a more collaborative environment between a patient and his or her various health care providers.

One survey by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society found that respondents reported a direct positive impact on the quality of care patients received as a result of the work of informatics nurses. With a high average salary and a very good job outlook, this specialization should attract even more interest in 2021.

African American nurse wearing face mask and examining older Caucasian female

15. Patients are becoming more educated.

In the era of smart devices, more people are consuming more information at all times. This includes health-related information. Nurses can now expect to see patients who have already researched their conditions or symptoms online and may have an understanding of which medications might be right for them based on pharmaceutical advertisements they have seen.

Nurses in 2021, especially Nurse Practitioners, must be prepared to serve a more educated patient population by listening to the patient’s own views about their health condition and synthesizing this information with the nurse’s own professional knowledge and expertise.

Male doctor in hospital store room

16. We will see an increase in cost-effective urgent care clinics.

The lines between the retail and health care industries are blurring. Retail health clinic services offered by major players, such as Walgreens and CVS, provide an alternative channel for the provision of primary care. They are majorly disrupting the health care landscape.

Kalorma Information predicts that retail clinics will generate annual revenue of approximately $1.7 million by 2021. It also expects patient visits to increase to 300 weekly.

This is good news for Nurse Practitioners, as many NPs have already opted to open up their own clinics within such retail locations.

Smiling female nurse practitioner with notebook in bright office setting

17. Nursing faculty positions will become more attractive.

The demand for registered nurses may be growing, but paradoxically many institutes of higher education have been forced to turn away qualified applicants due to an ongoing nursing faculty shortage.

According to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report on Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, U.S. nursing schools had to turn away 64,067 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in recent years. The AACN identifies budget constraints, an aging faculty and increasing job competition from clinical sites as factors contributing to the faculty shortage.

As a response to this crisis, many initiatives are already underway to make nursing faculty positions more attractive to qualified nurses. One example of such an initiative is the Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program, which provides financial support to more than 1,000 scholars in all 50 states with the goal of expanding the pipeline of future nursing faculty.

Younger hands clasping older hands

18. The demand for geriatric specialists will rise.

America is aging. The Congressional Budget Office calculates that by 2050, one-fifth of the U.S. population will be 65 or older. And yet a paper from the National Academy of Medicine reports that “Fewer than 1% of registered nurses and fewer than 3% of advanced practice registered nurses are certified in geriatrics.”

More geriatric nurses will be required to deal with an aging and ailing population of Baby Boomers. New nurses entering the field in 2021 may wish to be at the forefront of this highly sought-after specialty by becoming certified in Geriatric Care Management.

Female nurse wearing face mask and surgical gear in operating room

19. More awareness will be given to common issues being faced by nurses.

Nurses faced unprecedented challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

In the 2020 Nursing Trends and Salary Survey administered by American Nurse Journal, nurses reported the following issues:

  • Limited supplies
  • Higher stress levels
  • Elevated risk of personal illness
  • More bullying among coworkers
  • Increased workload
  • Lack of organizational preparation for the sudden influx of patients

But there is some good news. First, 85% of the nurses surveyed said the pandemic hasn’t changed their career plans. They’re still committed to the field of nursing.

Second, the awareness of nursing issues has grown this past year. More organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, are emphasizing the importance of self-care to guard nurses against the effects of job-related stressors.

Read our blog on how to self-care as a nurse during COVID-19.

Smiling mature female nurse practitioner in bright office setting

20. Nurses are retiring later.

While the U.S. is indeed facing a nursing shortage, older nurses are delaying retirement. The number of nurses ages 65 and over increased between 2013 and 2017. That’s according to the latest National Nursing Workforce Study conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Instead of retiring, many full-time nurses are shifting to part-time work. In 2018, the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis reported that 37.5% of nurses ages 65 to 69 worked part-time. The percentage nearly doubles for nurses over age 70 (71.3%).

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, some retired nurses have started working again. In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urged states to re-license retired health care workers so that they can quickly re-enter the workforce.

The trend toward later retirement is expected to continue in 2021. What does this mean for new nurses entering the field? While job opportunities will still be plentiful, they may be limited mainly to hospital settings because older RNs tend to move to non-hospital environments.

Confident female nurse practitioner reading from a tablet device in her office

21. Nurse practitioners will play an important role in the ongoing management of COVID-19.

FNPs and other nurse practitioners will remain key players in the battle against COVID-19 in 2021. The pandemic forced the full or partial relaxation of practice restrictions in 21 states on a temporary basis, providing a boost to the numbers of care providers available.

NPs will continue to provide critical services, including the following.

Patient Education

NPs provide education and counseling that help patients identify COVID-19 symptoms and protect themselves and others from getting the virus. They also improve patients’ overall well-being through disease prevention and the promotion of healthy lifestyle choices.

Patient Care

NPs will remain on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, you can expect NPs to provide a full range of primary, acute and specialty health care services in a variety of settings.

Research

NPs will also be involved in conducting coronavirus-related research and applying findings to their clinical practice.

Mature female nurse practitioner wearing a stethoscope and white lab coat

Stay Ahead of Nursing Trends

As a family nurse practitioner, you can bridge gaps in primary care. At Carson-Newman University, you’ll experience a transformative education through our online Master of Science in Nursing- Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) program or online Post-Master’s FNP Certificate.

Our FNP students benefit from these distinctive Carson-Newman advantages:

  • Flexible, online coursework with no mandatory login times, so you can continue working full-time or part-time as you study
  • Small-sized classrooms to accommodate your learning needs
  • Ongoing clinical placement services, so you can focus on your studies and maintain work-study-life balance
  • A dedicated Student Success Advisor who will support you from start to finish

Ranked #4 in Best Healthcare Jobs by U.S. News in 2020, as an FNP you’ll empower your career as a holistic leader in primary care.

Learn more about our online MSN-FNP program or Post-Master's FNP Certificate program.

 

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About Carson-Newman’s Online FNP Programs

Founded in 1851, Carson-Newman is a nationally ranked Christian liberal arts university. An online, yet personal, learning environment connects you with fellow students, faculty, and staff. Faith and learning are combined to create evidence-based online graduate nursing programs designed to transform you into a more autonomous caregiver.

Through its online program and student-centric curriculum, Carson-Newman provides a life-changing education where students come first. Designed for working nurses, Carson-Newman’s affordable FNP programs feature 100% online coursework with no mandatory log-in times, clinical placement service, and exceptional individualized support that prepare graduates to pass the FNP licensure exam.

If you’re ready for the next step in your nursing career, consider the online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner offered by Carson-Newman University and accredited by the CCNE.

For those who already hold an MSN degree, consider pursuing a Post-Master’s FNP Certificate to enjoy all the leadership opportunities, job satisfaction and autonomy of a family primary care provider. For more information, visit onlinenursing.cn.edu.