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August 11, 2016

Report: 80% Of Nursing Workforce Should Have A BSN By 2020

Written By: Lee Nelson

Nurses are the eyes, ears, and heart of healthcare, but the profession is undergoing some major changes; one of the reasons for such change is due to increasing educational expectations.

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The Institute of Medicine reported on the future of nursing in 2010, making a strong recommendation that 80 percent of the nursing workforce have a baccalaureate degree (BSN) by 2020. At the time of the report's release,  only 50 percent of the nursing workforce had a BSN. Now, there is an estimated 55-60 percent of nurses who have such a degree. “Research has shown a higher percentage of baccalaureate nurses on a unit reduces morbidity and mortality,” says Tina Gerardi, the Deputy for the Academic Progression in Nursing Programs (APIN).

APIN is a grant initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focused on identifying the best progression models for sucessfully urging more nurses to earn a bachelors degree.

Nursing Changes

One change on the horizon for the nursing profession is the pending retirement of a massive number of nurses who are members of the Baby Boom generation. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has done its part in expanding the need for nurses who can provide care for an increasing number of insured Americans.

“The thing is, we are going to need all the nurses we can get,” says Peter McMenamin, senior policy fellow at the American Nurses Association; “the BSN percentage of new grads is increasing slowly.”

Once all the Baby Boomer nurses do indeed retire, that will in and of itself alter the statistics in terms of the percentage of nurses with a BSN; since approximately 75 percent of Baby Boomer nurses do not have their BSN, their collective retirement will alter the calculus of the situation.

“The field is becoming more complicated,” said McMenamin. “Some people have reservations that the associate degree nurse isn’t any less qualified than a BSN. They say that the associate degree nurse is getting the clinical and technical training that the BSN nurses get, but it’s crammed into a shorter amount of time at a different level.”

The NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination)

Today, all aspiring nurses must pass the NCLEX, which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCLEX is a standardized exam that each state board of nursing uses to determine whether or not a candidate is prepared for entry-level nursing practice.

Before you can take the NCLEX, the first step is to successfully complete an accredited nursing degree. Hundreds of nursing schools have customized their ADN to BSN programs in order to help those who want to earn that degree.

Related: Tips To Surviving The NCLEX

Money and time

Earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing takes longer (at least a year or two) than an associate degree, and the cost is more significant, as well.

Scholarships can be difficult to come by when returning to school, and many older nurses have families to care for and other responsibilities. These nurses are often earning a decent income with their associate degree, and unless more money is available for scholarships to inspire nurses to go back to school – which happened in 1971 with an Act of Congress because of a huge nursing shortage – most established ADNs will stay where they are and not pursue further education that may or may not increase their earning power.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections for 2014-2024, the career of a RN is listed among the top occupations in terms of job growth. The RN workforce is expected to grow from 2.71 million in 2014 to 3.24 million in 2024, an increase of 439,000 or 16%.

What's The Plan To Increase The Percentage Of BSN Nurses?

In some areas and in some hospitals, the 80 percent will be achievable in less time, but every situation is unique.

For now, APIN has discovered that the top progression model for nursing is the shared curriculum model -- students working simultaneously at community colleges and universities to earn their BSN. New Mexico State University developed the model, and many community colleges have linked with universities in this regard.

“This model works well because some medical centers and hospitals were closing off their clinicals to associate degree candidates and only taking bachelor program students,” said Gerardi.

Part of the labor for initiating this model is successfully encouraging community colleges and universities to work with students to maximize financial aid and affordability.

Another area that begs for change is assisting associate degree nurses with health insurance if they go part-time at work in order to complete their BSN.

“There needs to be some flexibility and creativity to continue to provide those benefits when an employee is working on a reduced schedule,” says Gerardi. “Some employers have gone as far as to open up areas on their campus where students do their coursework on breaks or bring in faculty to do on-campus courses.”

Next Up: What You Can Do About The Nursing Shortage

Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in Realtor.org, Nurse.org, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in Unigo.com.

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