The one constant in nursing is change. Society’s expectations and demands change, as do the technology, tools, and best practices nurses use. In this type of environment, the role of nurse educators could not be more important. They are training and preparing the nurses of tomorrow to set them up for a long career. This article will explore and try to predict what changes are coming to healthcare in the future and how they will impact the extremely important work of nurse educators.
New ways to educate
The first area of change is the education process itself. Technology is the main driver here, and it is changing the way students receive their education in many ways. The first is through interactive, problem-based learning (PBL) rather than more conventional lectures. This approach welcomes critical thinking and teaches students to apply theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios.
While that change of approach is not really about technology itself, it has become a much better way to teach due to the technology available. Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), for example, are tools that can make an interactive educational session much more powerful.
Memorizing theoretical information is good, but it is when students try to put it into practice that they will discover just how much they know. Simulation training like this can be done without technology, but VR and AR can take it to a new level. Students can now put on a VR headset to simulate being in a hospital and dealing with a real patient. These technologies allow students to gain experience that is relatively close to the real thing, all without any patients being put in harm’s way.
Technology in healthcare
Beyond how students are taught, the technology used in healthcare in general is constantly changing too. As part of their curriculum, nurse educators will need to not only understand all these new technologies, but also train students so that they fully understand them.
One good example is telehealth. Even as recently as five years ago, telehealth wasn’t all that common, but today it is more relevant than ever. There will always be people who live far away from medical centers or those who are unable to make appointments for other reasons. Assuming this trend continues to grow, future nurses will need to communicate with patients remotely, navigate and diagnose computer and internet issues, and understand patient data privacy regulations.
Patient monitoring technologies are another good example, and this goes beyond simply looking at vital signs accurately. As the tech evolves, there could be hundreds of different wearable tracking devices that patients could use. Nurses will need to understand how they work, exactly what data is being recorded, and when intervention is required.
One other area lies in the way nurses think. With all this new technology, huge amounts of data are being created. Nurses need to think critically and have the skills to sort through data, removing the irrelevant information and focusing on the important information. This area can be a can of worms regarding ethical issues like balancing efficiency gains against potential risks related to privacy breaches.
Changing healthcare needs
As aforementioned, society has changing demands and expectations. New and emerging health issues are part of this, and nurse educators must always stay current on what the biggest challenges for patients are.
Chronic disease management is significant in this area. The complexities associated with long-term care require specialized knowledge and skills. Everything from ongoing medication regimes to lifestyle adjustments for patients must be considered. The specific types of chronic diseases may change too, and this would require further refinement of training processes.
Furthermore, mental health also falls in this bucket. It might be a stretch to say that the stigma around mental health is gone, but it is certainly treated much differently today than it was 10 to 15 years ago. As society learns more about mental health, important lessons will need to be embedded into nursing education. Nurses will need to know how to identify potential mental health problems in patients and what to do with this information.
Healthcare needs related to environmental health are also likely to rear their head in the future. For example, changes in air quality can impact respiratory diseases, and water pollution can lead to gastrointestinal illnesses. As the climate changes, it is reasonable to expect that environmental health will become a more important topic.
On a similar note, disaster response and emergency preparedness could become even more important. The COVID-19 pandemic created a steep learning curve, but more still needs to be learned. There is the potential for all kinds of different disasters that require a response. Nurses must be equipped to recognize and respond in these situations.
Leadership and advocacy
As well as training and preparing the nurses of the future, nurse educators are doing the same for the nurse leaders and advocates of the future. This entails going beyond clinical skills and focusing more on nurturing leadership abilities, promoting political and social advocacy in healthcare, and prioritizing ethical decision-making.
Nurse educators have a unique opportunity to serve as role models through political and social advocacy. They can inspire students by demonstrating how nurses can influence health policies or advocate for patient rights. In this capacity, they can instill in new nurses a sense of responsibility toward improving the overall system. They can inspire them not just to adapt to changes, but to also initiate them.
For roles in management and policy making, nurses will need strong organizational skills to transition from bedside care towards administrative duties or policy development roles. They will also need a strong understanding of health systems operations. Nurse educators are instrumental here. They can provide training on dealing with complex bureaucracies and how to get things done effectively.
Ethical decision-making forms the backbone of any leadership role within healthcare, even without data-related issues making things more complex. Moral dilemmas often arise due to resource constraints or conflicting interests, and they need to be handled appropriately. The best way to achieve this is through promoting open discussion about ethics, so everybody in the healthcare setting can understand the issue rather than just doing something because they have been told to.
Encouraging entrepreneurial thinking could be a good thing to embed in nursing education too. Given the frequency with which things change and the constant stream of new technologies becoming available, there might be better ways to do things and entirely new businesses that could be built. Combined with the leadership skills budding nurses will learn, nurse educators could potentially create some new business leaders as well.
Engagement in research is another important area that will become even more so in relation to leadership and advocacy. A lot of important research in these fields is conducted outside of healthcare, so it could be easy for nurses to miss it. There could be strong new research in a different field that could help nurses become better leaders, or new findings that can be applied in a nursing context around advocacy.
Nurse educators and specialization
As nursing practice will change as society does, specializations will too. This applies to the types of specializations, as well as which are the most popular. Nurse educators will need to pay attention to this area and ensure that enough focus is being placed on the right specializations.
As the population gets older, gerontology will become even more key. Specialties like oncology and cardiology are likely to become even more important than they already are. These specialties require highly trained professionals with an extensive understanding of disease processes and treatments that are specific to each field. Nurse educators hold the responsibility of molding nurses capable of providing specialized advanced care.
Other areas that might grow include anesthetic and surgical nursing. These areas both present another realm where new technology will take center stage. Genetics is another field that is interesting. Specifically, genetic counseling is a rapidly growing medical field where nurses will need to get up to speed. Nurses must be able to handle sensitive conversations around genetic risks both compassionately and accurately, in addition to keeping up with the latest science.
Bridging the gaps in rural and other underserved populations will continue to be important. Telehealth cannot be the only strategy. Nursing education will need to drill down on the unique problems these communities are facing and how they can be addressed.
As well as new specializations and roles, different types of nurses may become more important. Advanced practice roles like that of Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are a good example. The role requires not only clinical skills but also leadership abilities, critical thinking prowess, and excellent communication skills. The guidance of nurse educators equips NPs, along with Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs) with the ability to work independently while still being an important part of a collaborative team.
Given the extensive skill set of FNPs, prospective nurses might wonder, “where can family nurse practitioners work?” The answer is that they can work in a lot of different settings. Increasing and changing specializations could see them becoming more in demand across the board. This is why the MSN-FNP course offered by Texas Woman’s University covers such a wide area of scope, to ensure that new NPs are ready for a potentially varied future. This is one of the nation’s top nursing graduate programs, with a high pass rate and the option to take it full-time or part time. It is ideal for Registered Nurses (RNs) looking to enhance their education while working, or other students who have already obtained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Texas Woman’s University can help these students secure clinical placement as part of the course too.
Growing competencies and improving evaluation
Much like how nurse educators educate nursing students will change, so will the way they evaluate them and grow their competence. As care itself changes, the skills needed will change with it. Nurse leaders must consider this and not simply evaluate students based on skills that were once important a decade ago.
Two key competencies in nursing practice that will always be important are critical thinking and decision-making. No matter what changes happen in healthcare, either in what patients need or the tools nurses use, being able to assess things critically and make good decisions will remain extremely important. This goes beyond knowing what to do. It is about understanding why certain steps should be taken and others avoided. Nurse educators must encourage analytical insight to prepare nurses for the complex and unpredictable clinical situations they will face.
Communication and empathy are other skills that will only become more key in the future. These soft skills can greatly influence patient outcomes, especially when factoring in changing demographics due to immigration, as nurses will come across more cultures and backgrounds than ever before. Communicating well with people from cultures they are not familiar with will be a must-have skill for nurses of the future. After all, a comforting word or an empathetic ear often provides much-needed solace for worried patients.
Striking the right balance between technical proficiency and holistic care evaluation will also be something nurse educators need to focus on. While in the past it may have been most important for nurses to possess hands-on experience, the nurses of today need to be able to understand the full picture. Patients are not just people who need medical procedures, but individuals who need an overall approach to managing their health.
Healthcare will continue changing. There is nothing more certain, and this means that nurse educators need to embrace it. If the role of nurses is crucial to the functioning of society, then the role of nurse educators is equally so. They will prepare nurses and get them ready to tackle society’s health challenges, and their transformative influence is undeniable.