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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 ways the nursing field is changing

Changes in nursing

Nurses a generation ago often had different goals than those in the profession today. “Back when I first started out in 1980, there were a lot of ‘refrigerator nurses,’ housewives who worked a few hours a week to pay for a fridge or new bathroom for the household,” explains Lesley Hunt, an instructor in the University of Phoenix nursing program.

“You don’t see that anymore,” she adds, noting that most of today’s nurses work full time and view their jobs as careers, not something they just do for a paycheck. Here are five other ways the field is changing:

Nurses have more responsibility.

“There’s a component of the federal Affordable Care Act  regarding Accountable Care Organizations, which manage chronically ill patients by coordinating their care across providers in a way that improves outcomes and lowers costs,” Hunt explains.

Hospitals, physicians and other providers are all subject to this rule, and they’re relying on nurses to take charge. “Somebody has to coordinate all that care, and it won’t be physicians,” she notes.

Preventive care is key to the job.

There’s a heavy focus on preventive care under the new health care law, and nurses are leading the way. “A big part of the future [of nursing] is disease prevention,” says Gemma O’Donnell, another nursing program instructor who received her master’s in nursing degree from the University.

“As a nursing case manager, I work with physicians to develop treatment plans that will help keep chronically ill patients out of the hospital,” she explains. Nurse practitioners are also providing more preventive care, freeing physicians to focus on the more complex cases.

The rise of informatics requires new skills.

By 2014, federal law mandates that all U.S. health care providers keep electronic health records. This new era brings with it a new nursing specialty, informatics — using computer science and technology to manage and analyze nursing data.

Software developers are creating new health care technology platforms to meet the demand and are relying on nurses to help them build practical systems, Hunt says. “These are new nursing skills that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” she emphasizes. “Nurses need to be involved in the creation of these systems, since they understand what the nurse does at the bedside.”

Opportunities are growing in nontraditional settings.

As health care costs skyrocket, nurses are finding opportunities to work outside the health care industry.

“Nurse case managers help keep costs down,” says Hunt, who is a case manager. “Because of that, they can find work at insurance companies, law firms … even large corporations trying to lower their health insurance premiums.”

Advanced degrees often are required.

There’s been a nationwide nursing shortage for decades, but these days only some kinds of nurses are in short supply, Hunt notes.

Most hospitals now only hire nurses with BSN degrees and above, she points out, making it difficult for nurses with associate degrees to find work. The job outlook for licensed practical nurses is even dimmer. “LPNs can only get hired in nursing homes or physician practices, if at all,” Hunt says. “Employers want [advanced] nurses who are smart, with stellar records.”

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