During the height of the pandemic, nursing education programs have seen many disruptions, including fluctuations in clinical site availability and the need to educate nurses virtually. However, despite changes in the content and location of nursing education, students continue to pursue nursing education and join a thriving healthcare profession.

Keeping current with developments in nursing education can help you develop relevant healthcare education programs for your students. Recent statistics can help you craft rewarding experiences for your nursing students and get them ready for post-pandemic education and training.

Top Nursing Healthcare Education Stats

There’s no doubt nurses are highly valuable in just about any healthcare setting. They are on the frontlines of patient care, and can make a dramatic impact on the overall patient experience. Therefore, it’s critical to understand how current developments can impact the nursing education programs of tomorrow.

Here are some healthcare education findings to help illustrate the many changes occurring in nursing education. Each has the potential to shape the design and delivery of healthcare education programs for nursing students now and in the future.

1. Surging Nursing School Enrollment

Despite the potential health risks the pandemic poses for healthcare professionals, nursing school enrollment is soaring. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), student enrollment surged in U.S. nursing schools in 2020, rising nearly 6 percent for bachelor’s programs, 4 percent for master’s level programs, and almost 9 percent for doctoral programs.

The growing student interest in healthcare education is surely a positive for the nursing profession as a whole. However, the increased enrollment will put more pressure on both schools and clinical sites, especially those forced to close or move to remote learning in the early months of the pandemic. With more students than previous years, your nursing program will likely need to:

  • Hire more faculty
  • Incorporate new technology
  • Add peer-to-peer instruction to help existing instructors manage their teaching load

Research shows many nursing schools were already short on faculty even before the pandemic. A 2019 study by the National League for Nursing (NLN) found that 82 percent of surveyed nursing schools said they were planning to hire more faculty. With enrollment continuing to grow, it’s likely even more schools will take similar action.

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2. Clinical Site Shortages

Though more health science students are seeking enrollment in nursing schools, there has been a shortage of clinical sites to host students for rotation and residency programs. In fact, a 2020 NLN survey found that 46 percent of nursing schools cited a lack of clinical placement settings as the primary impediment to admitting qualified applicants. Moreover, the AACN’s most recent study found that nursing schools were forced to reject over 80,000 qualified applicants for the 2020-21 school year, in large part because of a shortage of clinical sites, faculty, and other resources. 

If the clinical site shortage continues, it may become even harder for qualified applicants to gain admission into nursing programs. It may also become more challenging for your existing students to secure spots in clinical rotation and residency programs.

3. Growth in Virtual Simulation Instruction

Nursing programs around the country found creative solutions to address the lack of clinical sites during the early months of the pandemic, and many began using simulation technology in clinical instruction. According to a recent NLN survey, 72 percent of nursing schools have provided clinical training through virtual simulations during the pandemic.

Although simulations may not completely replace in-person clinical learning, they can play a valuable role in helping nursing students gain real-world experience when in-person training isn’t available. Several state nursing boards also agree. To keep nursing education from coming to a complete halt during the pandemic, many state boards have relaxed graduation requirements to allow nursing programs to use simulations in place of traditional clinical experiences. 

4. Rising Nurse Retirements

There are currently about 4.2 million RNs and 950,000 LPNs/LVNs in the U.S., but many will retire at an alarming rate in the coming years. According to a 2020 survey by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers, one-fifth of nurses are planning to retire in the next five years

As a result, nursing programs will need to continue to provide a steady supply of nurses to replace those retiring. Any steps you take to smooth students’ path to a career in nursing helps not only your students, but also the viability of the nursing profession as a whole.

5. COVID-19-Related Health and Safety Challenges

According to research by The Guardian, nurses have suffered more COVID-19-related deaths than any other healthcare profession. Because nurses are always on the frontlines providing direct patient care, nursing education must continue to teach nursing students how to keep patients—and themselves—safe. To achieve this goal, you’ll need to help your nursing students understand and navigate the immunization requirements applicable to your campus and the clinical sites where nurses participate in clinical training programs.

In addition to physical health and safety, mental health is also a concern in the nursing profession. In a survey by the American Nurses Foundation, high numbers of nurses reported feeling overwhelmed (51 percent), anxious (48 percent), and irritable (48 percent) amid the pandemic. To bolster the mental health of nurses, nursing programs can offer a solid foundation of support for nursing students in classroom and clinical settings.

6. Virtual Nursing Education 

Though many nursing programs had little choice but to move to partial or fully virtual instruction in the early months of the pandemic, research shows it is likely not to go away. A 2021 study published in BMC Nursing found that a blend of in-person and distance learning can benefit nursing students, as it offers a unique mix of variability in learning situations and course content. 

To plan for a future in which some nursing students may always need to be remote, it’s sensible to review your program to determine how virtual instruction may become a permanent part of your curriculum.

The Importance of Supporting Nursing Students

In the post-pandemic nursing classroom, it will be critical to help your students prepare for future learning experiences. Given the ongoing changes in healthcare education, especially new technologies and the shift to virtual learning methods, you can support students by offering them the tools for a positive clinical rotation and residency experience.

To achieve this aim, enlist the support of partners who can offer students a smooth transition from the classroom to clinical learning sites. By working with an experienced student health and immunization management provider, you can gain access to the following tools and resources:

  • Health and immunization tracking technology, including a mobile-friendly portal to help students prepare for clinical rotations
  • Access to healthcare professionals skilled in helping students navigate clinical site health and immunization requirements
  • Services to help you meet student screening and compliance needs, including background checks and drug testing

It’s Time to Create a Plan

Given all the changes happening in healthcare education, you need a comprehensive plan for supporting your students and helping them make the most of nursing school. Key to your success will be helping students navigate vaccination requirements and keep up with new guidelines established by your clinical site partners. 

For fresh insights into operating an efficient and compliant student health and immunization program, read Improving Immunization Compliance: A Guide for Your Clinical Programs.

Immunization Compliance e-book_Corporate Screening