Nursing Trends to Watch in 2021

Two nurses are smiling, facing each other in discussion. The female nurse on the left is holding a tablet device and wearing a stethoscope. The name of the article, "Nursing Trends to Watch in 2021" is centered across the bottom of the image

First off, take the 2020 nursing trends article we wrote back in January of 2020, and throw it in the shredder. Whew, no one saw 2020 coming, and hopefully we’re soon to see it leaving. But there are some trends for 2021 and onwards that we see bubbling up from American Nurse Today, American Nurse Journal, AMN Healthcare, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, plus some respected nurse leadership bloggers who we follow. Here are several high-level trends to prepare for as we head into a new and hopefully more optimistic year:

Shake-Ups in the Traditional Demographics and Backgrounds of Nurses

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an additional 735,000 nursing jobs by 2024. With this increased demand, future wage growth, and revived interest in nursing after 2020 was the Year of the Nurse, nurse recruiting will expand to non-traditional labor pools. For one, male nurses will become more common. Already 12% of RNs are now men, up from 2% in 1970.

Nurse recruitment will also focus on nurses from different countries, or bilingual RNs. There are 60-65 million people in the U.S. whose native language is something other than English, so patient safety can be a risk factor with language barriers.

The field of nursing is becoming more accessible, with great pay and flexible hours, making it a workforce that is ever changing and growing.

Increased Focus and Awareness on the Obstacles that Nurses Face

Nurses faced unprecedented challenges in 2020. Extreme stress led to burnout. Nurses are subject to substantially higher rates of workplace violence injuries than other professions. They’re more likely to experience incidents of hitting, kicking and beating in inpatient facilities, and these injuries often go unreported. Bullying and harassment are also issues that nurses have faced. In 2020 especially, nurses unexpectedly dealt with limited PPE supplies and elevated risk of personal illness, so all around it’s a tough job in a really tough year.

There is some good news. In the 2020 Nursing Trends and Salary Survey organized by the American Nurse Journal (ANJ), 85% of nurses surveyed said the pandemic hasn’t changed their career plans, and they intend to stay with the nursing profession. With more organizations emphasizing the importance of self-care, and with increased national and legislative attention, nurses should expect working conditions to improve and access to more resources to address these workplace challenges . Health leaders will need to provide nurses with the resources and tools they need to care for patients without sacrificing their own health along the way. COVID-19 has brought this issue into the spotlight, so expect increased awareness this year.

Technology Enhances How Nurses and Patients Interact and Communicate

We have already seen that telehealth and chatbot services are making it easier for patients to access care. 2020 has accelerated usage of virtual health, perhaps faster than many of us are comfortable with. Relaxation of rules around reimbursement for telehealth visits in the wake of COVID-19 has shown health care providers and patients alike how effectively virtual communication tools can work. These telecommunication services will continue to be the norm, and blend into nurse job descriptions and care administering tactics.

Telehealth is moving past just being a window for patients with minor complaints. It is becoming a boon for nurses, plus therapists and providers using technology to manage patients with mobility challenges or who are considered high-risk for the virus. Nurses and healthcare providers will need to continually improve their communication skills via virtual platforms, just as their patient population has needed to.

Besides just using technology for direct communications, the field of health informatics will grow. Using IT systems to create more collaboration between and patient and providers will change nursing roles in 2021 and beyond. Expect some nurses to fully buy-in to the use of informatics and move to the discipline as a full-time specialty in 2021.

Technology in nursing-to-patient communication is here to stay, and nurses will need to become confident and comfortable with it. Privacy concerns and compliance with HIPAA will have to adjust of course, making sure platforms being used are secure for communication of sensitive data. But it’s a new world we’re adjusting to. Technology can bring better communication and collaboration, and nurses have to be smart in how they use it.

Addressing Gaps in Health Equity – and Nurses Could Lead the Way

Health equity and disparities in healthcare became a large focus area during the pandemic. While health system leaders, politicians, and community leaders increased their focus on the social determinants of health and diversity during the pandemic, there will be an even greater focus in 2021. Payers, providers, and the entire health ecosystem will boost efforts to address these issues going forward. As corporate and community leaders are well intentioned, leadership should be from nurses. Finding where the gaps in care are will ultimately be tasked to nursing staff. Nurses can find actual combative steps for these inequities and recommend tactics to fill in care gaps.

Nurses may be able to help bridge social gaps, finding deficiencies in care for certain populations. From the ground level, nurses can make sure patients have a voice and that families (and even communities) are incorporated into the design and operations of their community health systems.

Recognizing, Respecting, and Investing in Nurses to Grow into Transformative Leadership Roles

Investing in growing nurse leadership and management skills translates into increased productivity and even improved patient outcomes. Growing nurse leadership is even more important during high stress times and times of change. Organizations investing in nurse leadership development will see benefits of efficiency in team management, organization, and delivery of care. With the global shortage of nurses, it is critical to focus on building up the competencies of our existing nursing workforce to ensure nurses are performing to their full potential.

Leadership development may be done in person, or it can be virtual. A curriculum like NCharge: “Nurses Learning to Lead” may be a program for your staff to consider, with a variety of flexible delivery methods. Courses like Charge Nurse Fundamentals enhance individual and unit performance by helping nurses understand the business aspects of Value Based Purchasing, as well as the various roles of an effective charge nurse. It also helps nurses create an individual action plan to identify challenges and maximize opportunities faced in today’s complex hospital environment. Other NCharge courses include “Critical Thinking for Charge Nurses,” “Leading Change in a Dynamic Climate,” and “Supervisory Skills for Positive Outcomes.” Organizations like Nemours Children’s Hospital offer NCharge to help communicate financial performance indicators for example. Learn more by reading our related article on Nemours Children’s Hospital.


  • “2021 Nursing Trends We Expect to See in 2021,” Carson-Newman University Online, January 19, 2021
  • “Trends Transforming The Nursing Industry Outlook in 2021,” Team Linchpin,, February 13, 2021
  • “Our future through my rearview mirror: Turn the troubling events of 2020 into opportunities in 2021,” Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief, My American Nurse, January 8 2021
  • “Top 10 Nursing Trends for 2021,” Purdue University Global
  • “Top 7 Healthcare Technology Trends in 2021,” Nikita Shumov, MindStudios
  • “Top Nursing Trends for 2021: Paving the Way for Better Care in the Future,” Tiger Connect

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