When the Institute of Medicine (IOM), now the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), released its 2010 report, Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, it had one underlying goal: Build a healthier America through nursing.
The report’s recommendations primarily focused on education, leadership and diversity. As part of the initiative set forth by IOM, registered nurses with only an associate degree (ADN) were encouraged to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. The target objective was to have 80% of the nursing workforce hold a BSN by 2020.
While there has been an increase in nurses earning BSN (or higher) degrees — up from 49% in 2010 to 56% in 2017 — the initiative did not meet its goal. One has to wonder why it fell so short.
It asks the question, do RNs really need to get their BSN to succeed in the nursing field?
Why Are RNs Reluctant to Proceed With a BSN?
Reluctance by ADN- and diploma-prepared RNs to pursue a BSN isn’t limited to one factor. Many nurses are comfortable in their current positions and simply have no interest in investing the time and money toward earning a higher degree — particularly if they’ve spent a great deal of their career with just their ADN.
This status-quo attitude isn’t limited to individual nurses alone. According to Joanne Spetz, PhD, a health economist who contributed to this American Nurse article, the nursing field itself continues to “rely on associate degree programs to ensure an adequate number of RNs, especially in rural areas.” Spetz also highlights a potential “tightening of the labor market,” in which the preference for BSN-trained nurses may fade.
All of these reasons for not pursing a BSN are understandable. But, the IOM’s initial goals and a recent review of the progression to date still reinforces the argument that the next 10 years are critical if the healthcare industry is going to be able to meet the growing demands of the population.
What’s Next? Taking a Look at the Upcoming Decade
Launched by NAM, the Committee on the Future of Nursing 2020-2030, tasked by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), is now working to extend the original vision — including calling upon RNs to focus on “what’s next.” Or, as Joan Shinkus Clark, DNP, executive vice president and system chief nurse executive at Texas Health Resources in Arlington notes in another American Nurse article, “Nurses need to jump on the BSN bandwagon if they haven’t already.”
Clark and other healthcare experts agree that no matter the reasons for one’s hesitation to embark upon a BSN journey, the pros outweigh the cons. This is true personally, professionally and for the good of the healthcare system as a whole.
For example, lower mortality rates and fewer medication errors are associated with nurses who have BSNs or graduate degrees in nursing. The additional knowledge and skills these nurses learn allow them to practice across a diverse platform of inpatient and outpatient settings, making them a desirable asset to employers.
Many nursing positions require BSN degrees, but even in those that don’t, employer preference leans toward higher education. Ann H. Cary, PhD, MPH, RN, FNAP, FAAN, chair of the board of directors at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) affirms that AACN’s most recent data show that 46% of employers now require a BSN, and 88% are “expressing a strong preference for nurses with a baccalaureate degree.”
And, while money isn’t everything, a BSN degree can open the door to higher-paying opportunities. In a time when many families require both parents work to full time, the chance to grow household earning potential is not only welcome, but also necessary.
Online Opportunities Ease the Education Process
In the past, RNs wishing to further their education were often stymied by financial, time and distance constraints. With the expansion of online RN to BSN programs, nurses now have a number of affordable options. Many schools offer part-time and full-time tracks, providing opportunities for both flexibility and speed. Some programs allow for completion of the required courses in as few as 10 months.
These programs allow for independence, but it should be said that “online” doesn’t translate to “alone.” The online programs available today are designed to meet students’ need for support from faculty members, their fellow students and other resources.
The question of, “Do I really need a BSN?” is a valid one, and the realities of life may factor into your answer. However, the evidence is clear: The future of healthcare will rely on the participation of nurses who are leading change and advancing health.
Learn more about Southern Utah University’s online RN to BSN program.