As the saying goes, the “future is what we make it.”

In the field of nursing, so much is changing and so rapidly that looking out to the year 2030 may seem like forever from now. But if the profession is to advance in ways that benefit both nurses and their patients, it’s important that nurses think deeply today about where they and the profession should be headed and what needs to happen to get there.

According to Christy Davidson, DNP, interim dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences for Capella University, “Nurses need to ask themselves: ‘I wonder?’ and ‘What if?’ Until they start asking these questions, the future state we are striving toward won’t come to be. Nurses need to start having this conversation with each other and with themselves. If they are not thinking about and preparing for what’s coming down the road over the next decade, they will be left behind.”

There are multiple lenses through which nurses should think about the future of the profession, adds Daniel Pesut, PhD, RN, FAAN, professor with the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. He describes this futuristic mindset as “foresight leadership” and advocates for it at five increasingly expansive levels.

1. Personal Level

 It means just that. Contemplate what you want for yourself personally a decade from now. What does that look like? Are you on the path to achieve that vision?

“At the personal level, this isn’t about title and salary and career progression,” Pesut says. “This personal exploration is about taking stock of your values and passions. Are you realizing them now, and are you setting the stage to be even more fully living them a decade from now?”

“Nurses need to be honest with themselves about whether they dwell in the past, in the present moment, or have a future orientation,” Davidson adds. “Most nurses are very focused on what is happening right here and now. They simply aren’t focused on the far-off future. That needs to change. This is all part of self-care and mindfulness. Nurses need to take the time to think about what they want for themselves and the industry without distractions.”

2. Professional Level

How is what you are doing today helping you build the career you want to have 10 years from now? Do you have the necessary education? Are you continually investing in professional development? Are you cultivating the path that will lead you to your ideal job at your ideal employer?

“At the professional level, nurses need to understand the trends that are happening in the profession, where they will likely lead us, and how it might impact their careers,” Davidson says. “They need to capitalize on what is happening in the nursing field and map out a career path that gets them to their desired state.”

3. Organizational Level

At the organizational level, it’s about taking that personal and professional foresight and applying it to the broader organization. That can be a significant culture shift, but one that is sorely needed at many health care organizations.

Nurse leaders should be intentional about adding foresight as an agenda item to management and leadership meetings,” Pesut advocates. “They need to be champions for foresight education in their organizations. This is not some exercise you do every few years as part of some strategic planning process. It needs to be consistently front of mind. Are you worried about what happened last week or last quarter, or are you looking forward and designing your approach with the future in mind?”

4. Social Level

The concentric circles of future thinking broaden out here to include societal needs and trends. This level requires nurse leaders to consider the cultural “haves and have nots” in the profession based on where in the world nurses live and practice. It’s about our digitally-connected world and peer-to-peer networks that increasingly enable people to track and make decisions about their health care on their own.

“There are a lot of great things that can happen with a hyper-connected future, but bad things can happen, too,” Davidson says. “We need to carefully think about this and develop approaches that respect patients’ abilities to monitor their own health and make decisions without jeopardizing their well-being.”

5. Planetary Level

How is the nursing industry impacting our world for better or worse? What are the systems and infrastructures we can be building now to change that trajectory for the better?

“This is about climate change, decreasing waste in hospitals, and using non-environmentally damaging products,” Pesut says. “Nursing and health care have huge impacts and influence on this planet. These sort of planetary considerations need to be part of our future-state thinking both as individual nurses and a profession.”

The future is famously hard to predict, but that’s not where we should be focused, Pesut concludes. Rather than becoming consumed with what will be, we should focus our energies on what we want to be, and begin creating that future reality now.

Find out how Capella University takes part in shaping the future of nursing.

Learn to develop a foresight leadership mindset at www.foresight-leadership.org.

Tags: