Expert advice

Workforce: Robots may take other jobs, but they can’t do what a nurse can do

Care bots – robots that assist older people – are being used in Japan, and researchers in the US are looking to create robotic nurse assistants. The good news for registered nurses is that they are unlikely to be replaced by technology just yet, says workforce expert James Buchan

Care bots – robots that assist older people – are being used in Japan, and researchers in the US are looking to create robotic nurse assistants. The good news for registered nurses is that they are unlikely to be replaced by technology just yet, says workforce expert James Buchan

Pepper_Carebot©Getty
Pepper, a Japanese humanoid robot designed to be a companion that can adapt
its behaviour by perceiving emotions. Picture: Getty Images

‘An estimated 85% of jobs in 2030 haven’t been invented yet’. This attention-grabbing headline generated by a study from the Institute for the Future caused speculation about new job titles, such as drone traffic controller and robot mediator, with the latter focusing on helping workers cope with their non-human work colleagues.

A glimpse of the future? Or not relevant to healthcare and nursing? Take Japan, where 20% of the population is 65 or older. It has begun using care bots – robots designed to assist elderly people. Or the United States, where the National Science Foundation has funded research on adaptive robotic nurse assistants.

Intended to help nurses

These robots are intended to help nurses in hospitals, such as by delivering medicines and helping to move heavy objects including, in some variants, the patients themselves.

The researchers aim to create two types of bot: a ‘sitter robot’, designed to take vital signs and observe patients, and a ‘walker robot’ that could help patients walk and move medical equipment.

Will this lead to a sci-fi future where nurses are replaced by technology? Care bots may supplement the work of nurses, but they are unlikely to be a substitute for them.

Risk posed to different types of job

This perspective is supported by a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Oxford, which reported on how much risk was posed to different types of job of being replaced by technology. The study estimated that about 47% of US jobs were at risk of being automated in the next 20 years.

But the good news for readers of Nursing Standard is that according to the study the job of registered nurse is regarded as virtually ‘non computerisable’. It was ranked 46 out of 702 in a league table where number one was seen least at risk of being replaced.

Perhaps it is telemarketers, ranked at 702, who might need to start thinking about a career change.


James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh 
 

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs