For decades, the standard path to a career in nursing has been through community college programs. The two-year programs offered, and still offer, associate’s degrees in nursing and, more importantly, the requisite training to become a registered nurse. In fact, the demand for trained, skilled and talented nurses is so great that a two-year degree can still be enough to start a nurse on his or her career path.
However, hundreds of hospitals across the country now are requiring the nurses they hire to have a four-year college degree. In addition to those that require a bachelor’s degree, lots of other hospitals prefer to hire nurses with bachelor’s degrees.
One indication of how strong the emphasis on bachelor’s degrees for nurses has become is the boom of RN-to-BSN programs at colleges and universities, for men and women who are already registered nurses but want to earn bachelor’s degrees. The students are working nurses who understand the importance of a degree for career security and advancement.
It’s not an arbitrary bureaucratic requirement and it’s not just about the diploma. It’s about the enhanced education. There’s solid evidence that hiring nurses with bachelor’s degrees can improve the quality of patient care. And the improvements can be significant, even dramatic.
In 2014, a study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet showed that hospitals employing more nurses with BSN degrees have lower patient mortality rates. Just a 10% increase in the proportion of nurses with BSNs was associated with a 7% decrease in patient deaths.
Other studies using data going back more than a decade support the conclusion that hiring more nurses with bachelor degrees can lead to improved patient outcomes.
For a nurse looking to start or advance a career, the advantage of a bachelor’s degree is especially pronounced when she or he wants to work at a Magnet hospital.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center developed the Magnet Recognition Program to recognize healthcare organizations that provide nursing excellence. Magnet hospitals have shown a record of improved patient outcomes and have met other criteria of quality care.
It’s a significant designation, and hospitals work hard to achieve it. The requirement for magnet status calls for 75% of a hospital’s nursing staff to hold bachelor’s or graduate degrees. The requirements have become more stringent over the years since the program was initiated in the early 1990s. Today, hospitals that want to apply for or renew magnet status have to show that 100% of their nurse managers have a BSN or graduate degree in nursing.
Many nurses still begin their careers with associate’s degrees, for the obvious reason that they can’t wait two more years to start earning money. But more and more nurses are seeing the need and the benefit of a bachelor’s degree. Because so many bachelor’s candidates already are working full-time or part-time, a lot of bachelor’s programs in nursing from prestigious universities are available online. The working nurse has plenty of opportunities to enhance skills that lead to better career placement as well as enhanced quality of patient care.