Crisis in Competency: A Defining Moment in Nursing Education

Joan M. Kavanagh, PhD, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN; Patricia A. Sharpnack, DNP, RN, CNE, NEA-BC, ANEF, FAAN


Online J Issues Nurs. 2021;26(1) 

In This Article

Digital Disruption

The worlds of big data, discovery, and innovation are moving at warp speed, catalyzing necessary and long overdue changes. Changes are happening not only in healthcare, but in how education is conceptualized and delivered, creating opportunities to live and learn in a whole new way (Carroll, 2021; Remtula, 2019; Thomas & Rogers, 2020; Weston, 2020). Klaus Schwab (2017), Executive Director of the World Economic Forum, has named this epoch of AI, digitization, and biotechnological advances as "The Fourth Industrial Revolution." Schwab (2018) admonishes that many of our current education systems are already disconnected from the needed competencies to thrive in today's workforce and that the rate of technological innovation and change threatens to widen the gap between education and the demands of practice if we do not respond.

Advancing the mission of nursing education for a future that we cannot yet fully conceive is a daunting task, but leading and promoting change is not discretionary. To understand digital disruption, the impact on patient care, and the implications for education, we need only look at the worldwide evolution of care delivery already enabled by technology and supported by AI. Digital tools have become ubiquitous and invaluable partners in care; from sensors providing critical patient data, to the Internet of Things (IoT) connecting devices and sensors, to entire hospitals without patients, where interprofessional healthcare teams remotely monitor and care for individuals with complex health challenges in their homes (Allen, 2018). These advances provide a glimpse at the present-day, seemingly futuristic, and evolving skills and competencies necessary to harness technology and enhance the quality of care.

Although healthcare has been relatively slow to integrate robotics, that is rapidly changing. With an aging population, an aging workforce, and a global nursing shortage, the use of robots to perform routine tasks has captured the interest and financial backing of the Japanese government, who generously support technology research that might decrease the high demand for nurses (Carroll, 2021). It is estimated that by 2025 there will be 1.5 billion commercial and industrial robots and that by 2030 industrial robots will replace 50 to 70% of existing jobs (King, 2016).

While robots will never replace the registered nurse, they can already support care, follow algorithms, suggest plans of action supported by AI, and perform routine tasks. The Duke University schools of nursing and engineering have previously revealed that Rethink Robotics' Baxter robot could accomplish more than twenty simulated nursing tasks (Carroll, 2021). In The Future is Faster Than You Think, Diamandis and Kotler (2020) remind us that emerging technology can not only promote optimal patient care, but allows us as educators to create an infinite range of immersive, multi-sensory, experiential teaching-learning environments. What an exciting and engaging way to prepare the next generation of nurses!