Progress in the Nursing Profession: From COVID-19 to the Future

Many people joke that 2020 was the year that was canceled. So it’s dismissed as “the year that never happened.” However, that simply isn’t the case for nurses and healthcare professionals. Their role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the importance of quality healthcare and the huge role nurses play in it.

When Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, suggested 2020 be “The Year of the Nurse and Midwife” he had no idea how accurate that sentiment would become. The world needed help, and nurses answered the call.

Looking Back

The pandemic changed the way we look at nurses forever. It showed weaknesses in our healthcare systems as well as the strengths of our healthcare workers. Nurses came out of retirement to assist in the crisis, while nursing school applications increased more than in years past.

Mental health and facing burnout became some of the most common issues in the nursing communities during 2020. Nurses were placed under enormous pressure fighting an unknown and unpredictable virus. The burden was not only on the nurses working directly with COVID-19 patients. Due to the unknown nature of the virus, safety precautions made nursing in all settings more complicated. Nurses had to show courage and commitment, going above and beyond the call of duty.

On top of playing a vital part in treating patients and testing for COVID-19, nurses have also had an important role in vaccine administration. They are educating their communities on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines as well as volunteering at mass vaccine clinics and administering vaccines.

Despite the extraordinary challenges brought on by COVID-19, the crisis also accelerated changes in attitudes and expectations regarding nurses. It opened the door to explore new models of care.

Nurses: A Voice to Lead, A Vision for Future Healthcare

According to The International Council of Nurses (ICN), “Nurses, as the largest healthcare profession, must play an integral part in planning the future of healthcare.” The ICN announced the theme for the International Nurses Day 2021 as “A Voice to Lead” with the sub-theme of “A Vision for Future Healthcare.”


As frontline healthcare workers, nurses are the natural leaders for change and innovation. Over the past year, they developed innovative solutions to address needs for critical patients on a regular basis.

Times of crisis bring leaders and opportunities for change. According to a survey conducted by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), “64% of nurses who spent more than half their time with COVID-19 patients are satisfied with opportunities to work on collaborative interprofessional teams.”


Moving out of the pandemic, nurses are looking for better training programs. The demands of the current healthcare system are high. To combat these demands, nurses need to focus on innovative skill development. According to Thibault G.E. from The future of health professions education: Emerging trends in the United States, future developments for education in healthcare professions need to include:

  • Interprofessional education to prepare students for collaboration
  • Integrated clinical education with more of a focus on the patient, community, and chronic diseases
  • Education in the social determinants of health
  • Emphasis on lifelong learning and long-term well-being of healthcare professionals
  • Competency-based education
  • The integration of artificial intelligence and new educational and information technologies into the healthcare professions education and practice

Many of these trends are well on their way in nursing education and should only increase beyond the pandemic.

The pandemic also caused a shift in traditional barriers that limited a nurse’s ability to provide effective care wherever they were needed. Many states granted waivers to retired nurses so they could return to practice. They also relaxed restrictions to nurses that aren’t a part of the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) allowing them to practice across state lines and via telehealth.

Nurses need flexibility and data to effectively counteract future emergencies. State and national workforce databases need to be current and comprehensive. These real-time improvements will help researchers, and public health stakeholders provide assistance in the future.

Diversity and Inclusion

Every two years, the Nation Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and The National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers partner to conduct a national sample survey to collect workforce data.

The latest survey, completed in 2020, showed nurses between 19 and 49 years of age introduced greater racial diversity. The nursing workforce is now more diverse than in any other study year. Challenges, such as matching nursing workforce diversity to the population remain, but it’s a start in the right direction.

In addition to diversity, the survey showed that a large number of nurses are reaching retirement. This means employers need to develop and implement succession plans to ensure that the rapid loss of the workforce will not result in an unrecoverable loss of expertise.

How SHC Can Help

It’s important to keep advancing the healthcare industry. SHC provides nursing opportunities in hospitals, home health, corrections, behavioral health, and other settings. We are here to help bring the new vision of the future for healthcare into focus with nurses at the forefront! Connect with us today to learn more.