As any nurse will tell you, there are several different ways to becoming a nurse. One of the most common paths is to earn an ADN (Associate’s Diploma in Nursing) and then pass the state licensing exam to become an RN. While this is a perfectly legitimate way to begin a career in the nursing field, and there are plenty of opportunities for RN’s who only hold an associate’s degree, the push for nurses to earn a bachelor’s degree is becoming stronger than ever.
In fact, the American Nurses Association has been in the forefront of the call for nurses to earn higher degrees — and actually has been since 1965, when the organization first recommended that a baccalaureate degree be a requirement for entry into the field.
Thanks to changes in the health care landscape in recent years, there’s been a marked increase in the number of RN-to-BSN programs. These programs are designed to leverage nurses’ existing education and experience to help them expand their knowledge base and develop the leadership, critical thinking, and practice skills necessary in today’s complex environment.
While completing an RN-to-BSN program can present some significant advantages in terms of career development, in particular increased earning potential, there are some other important reasons that nurses need to consider going back to school for their BSN degree.
Changes in Quality Expectations
One of the cornerstones of the Affordable Care Act is a renewed push for quality in health care; in fact, provider reimbursements are now more closely tied to patient outcomes and quality indicators.
Research indicates that hospitals with a higher percentage of nurses who hold at least a bachelor’s degree have lower patient mortality rates, and the overall assumption is that the better educated the nurses, the better the quality of care. Hospitals are looking to higher more nurses with a BSN, in an effort to control costs and improve patient safety.
The Push for Magnet Designation
One of the greatest achievements for any hospital is to receive a Magnet hospital designation, as awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Receiving the ANCC Magnet status indicates that a hospital has achieved the highest status in terms patient care, nursing excellence, and the practice of nursing itself.
Magnet hospitals not only offer the best possible patient care, but also positive working environments, better pay, and an environment conducive to the effective practice of nursing.
One of the key qualifications for Magnet status is that the majority of nurses hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, meaning that many hospitals are looking to hire only nurses who have that credential. As more hospitals achieve, and strive to achieve, this designation, the need for a BSN will only grow.
New Opportunities in Nurse Education
One of the key contributors to the much-discussed nurse shortage is the lack of qualified nurse educators. However, one of the primary qualifications for a nurse educator is holding a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nursing, which usually gives you the ability to teach introductory courses or oversee student nurses.
Some colleges and hospitals require nurse educators to hold a master’s degree in order to teach, and in order to gain admission to a master’s program you need to hold a bachelor’s degree, so if you have any desire to teach whatsoever, a BSN is necessary.
Changes in Nursing Practice Overall
Many nurses who earned an RN-to-BSN degree report that earning the degree changed their own personal practice for the better, and they felt more confident and competent in their careers. This sentiment is echoed in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which actually recommends that at least 80 percent of all nurses hold a BSN by 2020.
The foundation’s report recognizes that the delivery of health care has changed drastically in the last 40 years and will continue to change going forward, and that basic nursing skills are no longer enough to handle the challenges of patients who are sicker and older than ever before.
Not to mention, the report continues, the core competencies for nurses are no longer limited strictly to patient care tasks, but also include leadership, quality improvement, collaboration, technological expertise, and experience in evidence-based practice — in short, all of the skills that are developed in a bachelor’s degree program. Or check out an accredited online msn degree program.
So while earning a BSN can certainly improve your salary (the average increase is about $12,000 per year, not to mention the chance to work in some of the higher paying specialties) there are several other good reasons to take the plunge and earn a higher level degree. In time, it may be a requirement, so get a jump on it today.