Complete Your RN to BSN Degree


Complete Your RN to BSN Degree

By 2020, 80 percent of nurses should be BSN-prepared

By Sue Montgomery, RN, BSN, CHPN
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Today’s healthcare environment is rife with rapid change that leaves many nurses feeling overwhelmed, under-satisfied and yearning for the exit. RNs who have long relied upon experience and “the way we used to do it” are finding themselves left in the dust as their better-prepared colleagues pass them by on the road to professional achievement.

Increasingly, “better-prepared” means holding at least a BSN degree. Not only is the BSN seen as a hallmark of competency in critical thinking, leadership, case management, health promotion and the ability to practice across a variety of settings, that degree is now the minimum standard for a growing number of nursing positions.

Is the BSN really necessary? That debate has been going on for as long as the degree has existed. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered many seasoned RNs who see the emphasis on academic degrees as a personal affront, even storming off in a huff at any implication that their expertise was in question simply because their names were not followed by the requisite series of acronyms.

No one would say that experience is not important or imply that a degree is a substitute for the instincts, judgment and all-around excellence that seasoned nurses bring to our profession. However, the BSN has a value and significance of its own and increasingly fills some vital needs within modern healthcare.

Required and Recommended

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published its landmark report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” which provides recommendations for transforming the nursing profession to meet the changing needs in healthcare. Among other things, the IOM report recommended increasing the proportion of U.S. nurses with baccalaureate degrees to 80 percent by 2020.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) has integrated those recommendations into the requirements of the ANCC’s Magnet Recognition Program. The purpose of the Magnet program is to provide consumers with an indicator of nursing excellence in healthcare organizations. Achieving the coveted Magnet status is a rigorous process that includes specific educational requirements for nurses. A hospital’s chief nursing officer (CNO), nurse managers and nurse leaders must all have bachelor’s degrees in nursing as a minimum educational foundation.

Moreover, the ANCC recently added a new Organizational Overview item requiring that organizations state the current number of BSNs within the organization’s ranks and submit an action plan for meeting the IOM goal.

The Essential Degree

“Research has shown that when the number of BSNs in a hospital is increased, patient mortality decreases,” says Robyn M. Nelson, RN, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing at West Coast University. “This research was not just one study but multiple studies in 300 hospitals, with 300,000 patients and 23,000 nurses. Furthermore, the BSN is a more effective change agent. Being a BSN-prepared nurse changes the way a nurse thinks: more holistically and from a systems perspective.”

Dynnette Hart, RN, DPH, CPNP, associate dean of Loma Linda University Nursing Program, has strong feelings on the matter. When asked whether she thinks all nurses should be BSN-prepared, her response is an emphatic, “YES.”

Why? The acuity of patient care is becoming increasingly complex. A nurse needs to be educated to provide evidence-based nursing care, coordinate that care with the healthcare team, and be able to adapt appropriate “whole patient care” for each patient and family within their specific cultural context.

Carrots and Sticks

However impressive the overall research and statistics on patient outcomes, nurses considering the amount of effort and financial outlay involved in pursuing a BSN will likely want to know, “What’s in it for me?” The good news is that the answer is “a lot.”
One benefit is the opportunity to explore new areas of the profession, potentially from a position of leadership.

“BSN-prepared nurses will be positioned to lead in clinical patient care in a variety of settings, move into management positions or clinical education positions, and help develop exciting new programs in population health,” says Jan Jones-Schenk, RN, DHS, NE-BC, chief nursing officer and national director of the College of Health Professions at Western Governor’s University.  

Nelson adds that in California, BSN-prepared nurses are specifically eligible to obtain a public health certificate to work in this sector, and, with five years of experience, can work as clinical instructors for California nursing programs. Another benefit is that completing a BSN can lead not only to new opportunities, but also a jump in pay.

If those carrots aren’t enough to get your attention, consider the stick: Not having a BSN may hurt your job prospects. Cheryl Rojas, RN, MSN, FNP, an assistant professor of nursing at West Coast University, warns, “Several acute hospitals in Orange County, particularly Magnet hospitals, seem to be launching an initiative to require a BSN credential for entry.”

The Path to Completion

If you’re interested in obtaining your bachelor’s degree, an RN-to-BSN program provides an efficient path for you to build upon your current education. There’s no shortage of choices: The AACN reports that there are currently 692 RN-to-BSN programs available throughout the U.S. Many are designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of busy working nurses, with night and weekend classes and distance learning through online and partial online programs.

As for me, I’m grateful that 30 years ago, I chose to obtain my BSN, which became the starting point for my career. I’ve worked in positions from staff nurse to administrator and a BSN was required for many of those roles. These days, I’m a medical writer and was just accepted to grad school.

Dean Robyn Nelson says that “nursing is one education with 1,000 career choices,” and I agree. The more you invest in that education and in yourself, the more you’ll benefit from all that nursing has to offer.  

Sue Montgomery, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a critical care and hospice nurse who writes on healthcare issues. She is a member of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association and American Medical Writers Association.

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