Changes in the healthcare industry are reshaping the roles and duties of nursing professionals. In addition to the Affordable Care Act adding millions of newly insured patients, an aging population is resulting in more patients with increasingly complex conditions. At the same time, the nursing population is aging, and potential retirements will likely strain the supply of healthcare professionals. A recent survey from AMN Healthcare, 2015 Survey of Registered Nurses/Viewpoints on Retirement, Education and Emerging Roles, provides an opportunity to measure the impact of these changes.

Surge in Retirements

Of the more than 8,800 nurses who responded to this survey, 62 percent older than age 54 answered “yes” or “maybe” when asked, “Now that the economy has improved, are you thinking more about retirement?” These are not idle musings warns the report. Nearly half of those planning to retire (47 percent) say they will do so in the next two years.

The loss of these nurses to retirement will be a considerable loss in nursing supply, because more than half of working nurses are aged 50 or older, according to a National Nursing Workforce Study. As expected, many studies find that this increase in nurse-to-patient ratios will likely reduce quality of care and satisfaction. “The loss of intellectual capital, particularly the experience and wisdom that would depart along with older nurses, can create serious challenges,” contends the AMN report.

“An institution’s procedures, safety and effectiveness could be compromised from the loss of the experienced nurses’ interpersonal skills, institutional knowledge and ability to perform well under stressful situations,” adds Marcia Faller, RN, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer for AMN Healthcare in a recent blog post

Enter Education and Training

Here’s the good news: Nearly three-quarters of nurses in the survey were aware of new and emerging roles for nurses, and more than 60 percent said that they would enter a training program for these roles, if one were available. The survey also showed that among all nurses, more plan to seek a higher degree in nursing than those who won’t pursue further education. “I believe nurses with current or up-to-date education feel more empowered to make positive changes in their work places and for their patients,” notes one survey respondent.

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Among younger nurses, more than three-quarters plan to pursue a higher degree in the next three years. The survey data on those currently seeking or considering a degree in advanced practice nursing is “fairly astounding” claims the report. In fact, one-third plan to work toward a bachelor’s degree, and more than a third plan to pursue a master’s degree.

In addition, among nurses younger than 40 years of age, more than one in three want to become a nurse practitioner or enter another advanced role. “This shows the enormous appeal of advanced practice nursing, likely because of the autonomy, independence and opportunities to provide a wider range of patient care,” explains the report. Fortunately, the job market for them looks bright, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects that jobs for advanced practice nurses will grow even faster than the jobs for RNs.

“In the changing healthcare environment, nurse practitioners have increasing responsibility and authority over patient care. A much more robust and autonomous nursing practice is available to them than just a few years ago. Due to the acute physician shortage, advanced practice nurses are in high demand, and that will increase,” concludes AMN Healthcare.