For decades, the most common path to become a registered nurse was to earn an associate degree. In fact, up until 2010-2011, the latest data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, shows that almost half of new nurses still graduated with less than a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
However, trends in nurse employment and education have shifted since 2011, and the bachelor’s degree has emerged as the most accepted academic credential for registered nurses. Take the Bureau of Labor Statistics for instance: they now list a bachelor’s degree as the entry for qualification for professional nurses, replacing the two-year diploma and associate degree.
Even with this shift in educational standards, nurses are enjoying unprecedented job growth and greater career mobility than ever before. Because of the Affordable Care Act, employers are hiring more nurses to meet the demands of an increased patient base with healthcare access. Meanwhile, greater focus on preventative care, growing rates of chronic conditions and increased longevity means that more nurses are needed to provide quality patient care. In this ever-changing healthcare environment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that there will be 1,088,400 job openings for registered nurses by 2024 due to growth and replacement needs, and more than 3,190,000 nursing jobs overall.
But only half of today’s RNs will be eligible for those jobs, and the number will continue to decline. On the other hand, BSN-prepared nurses will be eligible for a larger share of those jobs. Why?
A BSN Degree Has Become the Standard
Since the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published its landmark report in 2010 calling for an increase in the number of BSN-prepared nurses, hospitals and healthcare facilities have not been the only ones heeding the call. States like New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island have proposed nursing legislation to introduce the “BSN in 10” initiative. The adoption of this legislation would require future RNs to obtain a BSN degree for relicensure within 10 years’ time.
While there are no states that currently require a BSN to practice, the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force do require that their members hold a baccalaureate degree in order to practice medicine as an active duty registered nurse. Even the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the nation’s largest employer of registered nurses, has established the BSN as a minimum requirement for nurses seeking promotions beyond entry-level positions.
Most Job Listings Include ‘BSN Preferred’ or ‘BSN Required’
Today’s nurses are finding it increasingly difficult to land a position in a hospital or healthcare system without an accredited BSN degree. In fact, a 2001 survey published by the Journal of Nursing Administration found that 72 percent of chief nursing officers (CNO) in university hospitals reported that they preferred to hire nurses with baccalaureate degrees, citing stronger critical-thinking and leadership skills.
Many hospitals now require nurses to hold a bachelor’s degree in order for the facility to achieve the industry’s coveted Magnet Recognition®, a status that signifies 80 percent of the organization’s nursing staff is BSN prepared. As more and more hospitals around the nation move toward this recognition, an increasing number of nurses who hold an associate degree or two-year diploma are finding it more difficult to land (and keep) a position at such facilities.
Greater Career Mobility and Advancement
In 2015, Medscape surveyed 8,256 nurses across the country for their annual Nurse Salary Report, in which the medical resource analyzed RNs compensation according to academic preparation. The survey found RNs with an associate degree or two-year diploma reported an average salary of $73,000 a year, while RNs with a bachelor's degree averaged $79,000. Although the difference in compensation is only $6,000, a BSN degree is a stepping-stone to some of the more desirable positions in the field. Most managerial roles and clinical specialty positions with higher salaries require qualified applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree due to the advanced clinical responsibilities inherent in these jobs.
Improved Patient Outcomes
Studies over the past several years have supported the idea that more education and preparation for baccalaureate nurses equals better patient outcomes:
- In Medical Care’s October 2014 issue, in a study titled “Economic Evaluation of the 80% Baccalaureate Nurse Workforce Recommendation”, researchers found that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of baccalaureate-prepared nurses working in hospital units directly correlated with lowering the odds of patient mortality by 10.9 percent. Even further, this preparation significantly lowered readmission rates and shorter lengths of stay for patients under the care of these same nurses.
- In the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that for every 10 percent increase in staffing BSN-prepared nurses, there was a 5 percent decrease in the number of surgical deaths that occurred.
- In the January 2007 issue of Journal of Advanced Nursing, a study titled “Impact of Hospital Nursing Care on 30-day Mortality for Acute Medical Patients” found that hospitals with higher proportions of BSN-prepared nurses tended to have lower 30-day mortality rates. In fact, researchers stated that “every 10 percent increase in baccalaureate prepared nurses was directly associated with 9 fewer deaths for every 1,000 patients.”
Because BSN-prepared nurses are valued for their leadership, critical-thinking and care-management abilities, these high-quality skills help them enhance the safety of patients across healthcare and hospital systems alike.
Written by Thomas Edison State University