Nurses continue to adjust to the fast-paced changes within their profession. These challenges include increased longevity among patients, a medical technological revolution and an ongoing labour shortage. Health care reform will impact nurses as well. Leaders in the nursing field are keeping a hopeful watch as their profession evolves.
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Life expectancies have increased. The National League for Nursing reports that 20 per cent of the U.S. population will be older than age 65 in the next decade and that people 85 years and older will continue to represent one of the fastest-growing age groups. This rising number of older patients places a strain on the existing nursing pool because nurses now must be prepared to deal with more chronic and acute conditions. Nurses also are handling more palliative and terminally ill cases, in addition to the changing ethical and societal perceptions of ageing and dying.
Technology is another challenge that drives changes into the nursing profession. Nurses must be savvy enough to use new systems and equipment and to stay abreast of changes. Nurses now access medical records electronically, allowing medical staff and patients greater access to personalised information. Consumers expect more online services and medical transactions. Nanotechnology has revolutionised the diagnosis and treatment of many conditions. Distance learning allows nurses to undergo continuous training, including watching simulations of the latest medical innovations.
Nurses are getting older, just like their patients, and baby boomers are starting to retire. This generational exodus comes at a time when job opportunities for nurses are rapidly expanding beyond the traditional hospital and physician office settings. Their skills are in demand in nursing homes, pharmaceutical and biotechnical companies and outpatient treatment facilities, as well as in management roles. Nursing schools have intensified this nursing shortage by turning away good candidates because the educational facilities do not have adequate classroom space or faculty members. Also, nursing once focused its recruiting energies on women, who today have many more career choices beyond nursing.
Health care reform and stimulus packages in 2010 represented a flicker of hope for some leaders in the nursing field. More Americans will have access to medical care, which will shift greater workloads onto already busy health care workers. One caveat to maintaining quality within the industry is Congress' commitment to keeping patient ratios at manageable levels so that medical providers are not overwhelmed with too many cases. The government has channelled money to nursing schools in the late 2000s to keep up with the intense demand for nurses. Recruiting tactics focus on both men and minorities, who historically have been underrepresented in the field. Also, nurses are trying to change the perceptions of their vocation so that nursing is viewed as being a profession, not a trade.
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