Long hours, late nights, and sore feet are challenges that have plagued nurses since the time of Florence Nightingale. However, the advent of the 21st century has brought with it a new set of challenges that nurses must learn to overcome if they are to rise through the ranks, and there’s no telling what challenges await nursing leaders in the years to come.  

At The University of Texas Permian Basin, we’ve made it our goal to help nurses adapt to the shifting landscape of modern nursing. Every day may bring new patients, new challenges, and new opportunities, but there’s no reason nurses can’t be prepared for what tomorrow brings. As we look at the challenges of being a nurse in the 21st century, consider how earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and taking on a leadership role will better enable you and your fellow nurses to overcome these obstacles and so many more.  

Health Concerns  

It would be impossible to discuss the challenges of being a nurse in the 21st century without discussing the COVID-19 pandemic. With full knowledge that they could become infected and spread the virus to others, nurses are putting their own mental and physical health on the line to help those affected by COVID-19. This selflessness is explored in a review paper on nurses’ experiences during respiratory pandemics, which found that a nurse’s duty to their patient outweighs their competing obligations to themselves and their families. What drives nurses to put the needs of patients above their own? It’s simply the right thing to do. However, for nurses to perform at their best, they need a system supporting them.  

“You talk about how essential, how needed, how grateful you are, and yet you throw us to the wolves,” said Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United. Ross is referring to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers that sparked protests at the start of the pandemic. To this day, PPE shortages continue to be sporadic and reuse practices for single-use PPE are becoming commonplace. Over half of nurses feel unsafe reusing and decontaminating masks. Nurses across the nation continue to fight against the “new normal” and protest for the safety of not only themselves but also their patients. 

Always Online  

One of the main challenges of being a nurse in the 21st century is the growing need to engage in decision-making related to health information technologies (HIT). Nursing informatics uses data, information, and knowledge to improve patient outcomes and improve healthcare services in all aspects of nursing, including clinical nursing. Electronic health records allow nurses and other healthcare professionals to access, monitor, and update patient information in real time on mobile devices. Moreover, HIT allows nurses to instantly communicate with their team and access evidence-based information. Directors, managers, chief nursing officers, and other nursing leaders who adopt HIT can make informed strategic and operational decisions, including those related to staffing and scheduling needs.  

Research has shown, however, that nursing leaders often leave IT decisions to others due to a lack of nursing informatics competencies. “It is clear that nursing informatics and HIT knowledge should no longer be delegated to a specialist, but should be an expected core competency of professional practice,” noted researchers. We couldn’t agree more, which is why our online RN to BS in Nursing program includes Informatics and Innovation, a course that helps students integrate the knowledge of health information and data analysis to drive clinical decision-making and patient care outcomes.  

HIPAA Compliance  

Like any double-edged sword, technological advancements can result in unintended consequences. While 21st-century nurses may be well aware of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the need to keep protected health information (PHI) confidential, they may be unaware of just how easy it is to accidentally share PHI, especially over social media. Sharing information, photos, or videos related to a patient’s health is expressly prohibited by HIPAA. Something as seemingly innocuous as posting about a patient’s experience in a private Facebook group can and has resulted in nurses losing their jobs. While patient confidentiality has always been important in nursing, it has become a growing challenge when it comes to preparing nursing students for practice in the 21st century.  

Fierce Competition 

Employment in the nursing field is expected to grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029, but that doesn’t mean the competition for jobs is any less fierce. In years past, nurses needed little more than a nursing license to find and thrive in a rewarding role. “Now lots of areas, including mine, want those things as well as Advanced [Cardiac] Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) cards, and a certification in some specific fields,” said Nancy Whitt, a gastrointestinal nurse in California. “You also have to pass a math, pharmacology, and nursing test.”  

The bar has been raised, making UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BS in Nursing program more relevant than ever. Core courses, such as Healthcare Leadership and Policy and Leadership Immersion & Capstone, ensure that nursing professionals have the experience and skills needed to succeed in leadership roles. Each of our graduates also completes the Sigma Nurse Manager training and certification exam, which prepares students for leadership roles and makes them more marketable in their practicing institutions. If you’re interested in taking the exam and becoming a nurse manager, our online program can prepare you in as little as eight months. 

Multicultural Nursing  

The U.S. is an increasingly multicultural society, requiring nurses to grow both professionally and personally in order to connect with people of differing cultures, ethnicities, genders, religions, and sexual orientations. Appreciating these differing perspectives is necessary for building a rapport with patients, providing for their needs, and improving their outcomes. However, in order to overcome the challenges cultural differences present, it’s not enough to be an effective communicator. Nursing leaders must be able to foster an inclusive team environment where a patient’s unique perspective is always considered.  

At UT Permian Basin, our goal is to provide professionals with every tool they’ll need throughout their careers as leaders in the nursing field. Social Determinants of Health, Population Public Health, and Healthcare Leadership and Policy are core courses in our online RN to BS in Nursing program designed to teach nurses how culture impacts individuals, families, communities, and populations. Apply to UT Permian Basin’s online program if you’re interested in taking on a leadership role that will help you overcome—and help your fellow nurses overcome—21st-century challenges like this one.