That’s the word Kristie Lowry, DNP, MSN, RN, associate chair of graduate nursing at Capella University, uses to describe the changes to the nursing profession that she has experienced since she began her career nearly 30 years ago.

“When I think of the changes we nurses have experienced since I began my career, it’s mind boggling,” Lowry reflects. “The technological advancements alone are staggering. But so has been the evolution in how we interact with patients, what patients expect from us, and how we work with our colleagues. It truly is a whole new world. It’s exciting, as we’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s also daunting.”

What’s more? That rate of change in the nursing profession is only expected to only accelerate in the coming years.

“Sticking to the status quo simply won’t work for nurses who want to lead the profession into the future,” Lowry explains. “Nurses need to up their game.”

So how can the nurses of today prepare themselves for the challenges of nursing of tomorrow? Lowry highlights the following four skills nurses will need to be successful:

1. Embrace technology … but don’t lose your heart.

More than anything else, the advancements in technology are changing the nursing profession. “Technology has become core to everything a nurse does,” Lowry says. “There’s no avoiding it, nor should it be avoided. Nurses need to be able to get comfortable with technology. They need to commit to continually educating themselves on technology and how it can improve patient care. That said, nurses can’t let technology overshadow the humanity of what they do. Showing compassion and empathy with patients will always be most important. Technology should never replace that.”

2. Develop your critical thinking skills.

Nurses have always had to carry out a multitude of important tasks quickly and carefully, but in the past those duties were clearer cut and one directional. “An order was given and the nurse carried it out,” Lowry recalls. Today, the health care environment is so much more nuanced. The complexity of care that patients receive today demands that nurses develop deep critical thinking skills and are able to exercise those skills effectively in real time.

“People are living longer as medical care improves, but that is resulting in increasingly complex care situations,” Lowry says. “Gone are the days where nurses just instinctively new what to do for routine procedures. Today, and certainly in the future, nurses will need to make autonomous decisions that reflect the complexity of each patient situation. Nurses need to be able to offer deep analysis and do so very quickly.”

3. Become a multi-tasking machine.

Not that most nurses aren’t already the poster children for multi-tasking, but that skill will be even more important in the future. One of the main drivers for that need is the ongoing nursing shortage.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. And the landmark report, The Future of Nursing, calls for increasing the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees in the workforce to 80% and doubling the population of nurses with doctoral degrees.

All of this means nurses will be expected to do more, for more people, in increasingly complex environments.  

“Nurses will need to know how to effectively manage more patients than they have in the past,” Lowry concurs. “Time management and the ability to prioritize will become more and more important.”

4. Develop a transformational leadership style.

Just as front-line nurses can’t expect to simply carry out orders and be successful in the future, nor can nurse leaders expect to be successful by leading with an uncompromising, authoritarian style.

“The nurse leaders of tomorrow can’t just shout out directives and expect positive results,” Lowry predicts. “They will need to develop a transformational leadership style that is collaborative, flexible, and transparent. Sure, they will still need to provide direction, but they will also need to get in the trenches. The next generation of nurses will demand this style of leadership, which is frankly good for the profession as well as the patients. Good communication and listening skills will be core to becoming a nurse leader of the future.”

Although the changes to the nursing profession are sure to continue to be “seismic,” Lowry is optimistic about what the future will hold for nurses who embrace the new paradigm. “For forward-thinking nurses, the future doesn’t have to be scary,” Lowry concludes. “It can be empowering.  It’s so important for nurses to step up and develop these skills for the common good.”

Learn more about the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program at Capella University.

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