Today’s landscape shows that adversity can result in positive transformation for industry, including healthcare. Nursing is facing a new and exciting change in how outcomes are achieved. Though twists and turns are expected, knowing that such a diverse and knowledgeable population of clinicians from different generations and cultures is coming together brings great optimism. All nurses—from veterans to those newly entered into the workforce—must complement and support one another to benefit from better technology and the experiences gained in the wake of drastic healthcare change.
The Current Setting for Nurses
Today’s clinician lives in the most rapidly changing and challenging healthcare environment. Nurses are expected to perform faster and better, but with fewer resources available for use—and in a setting that includes swift changes to healthcare systems overall.
The trials that began in early 2020 put healthcare systems into a whirlpool with supply, staff, and hospital bed shortages. The increase in patients (in addition to those in the rapidly aging population) and health risks also expanded government directives, regulations, and care costs. So much strain inevitably contributed to the decline in nurses as many left or were discouraged from pursuing the field, leading to an even greater number of adverse patient outcomes.
Many clinicians leaving the healthcare workforce resulted in a significant nursing shortage. The physical and emotional fatigue within the nation’s healthcare organizations led to a 95.7% increase in RN turnover in the past 5 years.1
Staff shortages also placed an insurmountable strain on the healthcare system’s financials.
The pandemic-driven decline in the clinical workforce has impacted care and cost the healthcare industry millions. The average U.S. hospital lost $7.1 million in 2021 alone and continues to lose up to $9 million annually from RN turnover.2
“COVID-19 has spotlighted the critical role nurses play in providing needed patient care. But it has also shown how much the healthcare system will lose if the current nursing shortage continues. Clinical training doesn’t keep pace with nursing today,” said Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, Chief Nurse of Health Learning, Research and Practice, Wolters Kluwer. “… survey findings are a wake-up call for hospitals and nurse leaders whose workforces are transforming rapidly, leaving knowledge and training gaps in their wake.”3
Additionally, the adverse effect on clinicians in the throes of working in healthcare organizations that are under strain can present itself in each individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. A work-life imbalance can also adversely involve patients.
“Maintaining nurses’ work-life balance is critical in improving healthcare organizations’ productivity, delivering quality patient care, and ensuring positive clinical outcomes.”4
Who Is Today’s Clinician?
“Today’s nursing workforce is rich with diversity that benefits healthcare. However, challenges exist as various groups learn to collaborate and work through differences. Through conversation, previous generations—baby boomers, generation X, and generation Y (millennials)—have learned how the economy, society, and culture influence their behaviors and attitudes. Now, generation Z is entering the nursing workforce. This digital native generation has unique characteristics warrant consideration as they’ll impact the nursing profession and healthcare.”5
Present-day nurses live in the post-epidemic era and experience more diversity between generations than ever before. From the not-yet fully retired baby boomers who may do it the way it’s always been done to the newest group of nurses from an individualistic-focused and fully digital world, there has never been such a wide landscape of generational differences in the healthcare setting. A willingness and ability to work well together are crucial for clinical and patient success. Advanced technology and big data analytics are critical to bridging the gap in generations working together in the clinical setting.
The Next Generation of Nurses
Wolters Kluwer’s report, “Next-Generation Nurses: Empowered + Engaged,” closely examines the next-generation nurse, defined as one who has practiced for less than 10 years and is positioned to influence the following 2 to 3 decades of healthcare. The report “explores the differences in attitudes and mindsets of this nursing cohort compared to their more experienced counterparts based on an independent survey of more than 350 U.S. nurses. The report, commissioned by Wolters Kluwer, focuses on the current trends impacting the national healthcare system and nursing workforce. It is the latest installment of the Mending Healthcare in America series produced by Wolters Kluwer.”
Six distinct characteristics of next-generation nurses revealed in the data include:
- Champions of consistency: 89% believe they would see better outcomes if there was more consistency in care practice.
- Proponents of value: 71% report that value-based care models are having a positive impact on treatment.
- Care equalizers: A top 5 nursing priority is social determinants of health (SDoH); these nurses advocate for more patient data so they can deliver first-class care for all
- ‘Tuned in’ to the medication crisis: 80% report it is likely there would be a drop in the use of incorrect medications if providers could tackle variability challenges.
- Tech savvy by nature: 84% believe specialized systems that provide treatment recommendations and integrate with EHRs improve care delivery.
- Patient’s advocate: 72% say we must do better to involve patients so that they become more empowered to participate in their care.iii
Embracing the Future
Even before the global pandemic, surveyed next-gen nurses reported that interdisciplinary healthcare was the key to treating and caring for patients based on ongoing evidence. Newer nurses were shown to be willing to step outside the box and buck tradition if data indicated that a new method or piece of technology could benefit patients. Care consistency, new care models, and point-of-care decision support were crucial to best meeting patient needs.
“The responses reveal those nurses’ confidence and social savvy—qualities that are certainly helping them navigate the pandemic’s perils and making them the best poised to navigate changing care models. The results paint a picture of a generation that is rewriting the rules on nurse expectations.” -Julie Stegman, Vice President, Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Segment, Health Learning, Research & Practice6
The view is the same, and although preventative care and interprofessional teams are still seen as central components of care, technology has become more prevalent post-pandemic when so many clinicians have left their field. More must be done with fewer resources. Tech-savvy nurses are increasingly the norm in healthcare settings.
“In 2023, we expect to see more widespread use of smart technology and big data analytics in healthcare. This includes monitoring vitals, reviewing electronic patient health records, and automating simple medical tasks. As a result, nurses can offer richer, more personalized care to their patients.”7
The National Academy of Medicine reports on the path of nursing in advancing health equity. The framework they developed identifies the primary areas that need attention for real change to occur:
- Acting now to improve the health and well-being of the nation
- Lifting barriers to expand the contributions of nursing
- Designing better payment models
- Strengthening nursing education
- Valuing community and public health nursing
- Fostering nurses’ roles as leaders and advocates
- Preparing nurses to respond to disasters
- Supporting the health and well-being of nurses
Nurse educators and preceptors will continue to be essential for helping to ensure a sustainable workforce is in place in healthcare. Retaining graduate nurses will also be a focus as multiple generations work together and learn from each other based on each group’s strengths.
Add to that confidence level placed on incoming and new clinicians, as identified in Wolters Kluwer’s six characteristics of next-gen nurses: “Resilient. Confident. Ready for Change.” And the future of nursing and healthcare as a whole looks optimistic.