Is It Worth Getting a BSN?
Cost vs. reward still a factor for BSN-prepared nurses
By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
When the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its Future of Nursing report in 2010, it set a goal of having 80 percent of registered nurses (RNs) in the United States with baccalaureate degrees or higher by 2020. They saw it as a key step in continually improving the level of professionalism in nursing.
Can we still reach that goal?
The percentage of BSN-prepared nurses or higher continues to grow, although slowly, and in 2015 reached 53 percent, according to the Campaign for Action.
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Why BSNs are important
“Nursing has changed dramatically in the 21st century; today’s nurses must be prepared to meet increasingly complex health care needs in all settings, serve in leadership roles, master advanced technology, contribute decisively on teams, and support the well-being of all,” said Susan Reinhard, PhD, RN, FAAN, senior vice president and director, AARP Public Policy Institute, and chief strategist, Center to Champion Nursing in America.
“Now, for the first time ever, more than half of working nurses have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or higher,” she said. “Having a strong and more highly educated nursing workforce is key to a healthier America, and it’s been thrilling to see nurses answer the call to further their own education.”
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has long supported BSN as a minimal preparation for the professional practice of nursing. It cites the movement of health care from the inpatient to outpatient setting requires nurses who can function more independently. Additional education supports those additional nursing responsibilities.
A BSN demonstrates a nurse’s commitment to professionalism in nursing. A better-educated nurse also provides a better quality of care. Studies have suggested a correlation between RN education level and patient outcomes.
Researcher Linda Aiken, PhD, RN, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues reported in a 2013 Health Affairs article that a 10 point increase in the percentage BSN-prepared nurses in a hospital was linked with an average decrease of 2.12 deaths per 1,000 patients. Studies also have shown that hospitals with a higher proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees experience a greater cost savings.
“We know [hospitals that] have a higher percentage of baccalaureate degree nurses have better outcomes,” said Cleveland State University Dean Timothy M. Gaspar, PhD, RN.
Is a BSN worth it for you?
Despite nurses realizing the connection between a BSN, improved patient outcomes and professionalism in nursing, cost remains a significant barrier to nurses returning to school for their baccalaureate degree, Gaspar said.
The nurses who go for it, however, find that the money, time and energy invested can pay off.
Hospitals increasingly prefer a BSN-prepared RN, but most do not require it, according to the IOM’s follow-up report in 2015. A BSN may open more doors and opportunities to the nurse, as it shows the ability to handle increasingly complex nursing responsibilities.
Additionally, BSN-prepared nurses typically earn more. Hospitals offer pay differentials and greater opportunities for advancement to registered nurses with BSN degrees. The IOM progress report describes a $10,000 gap in average nursing salaries between associate’s degree nurses and BSN-prepared nurses.
The Medscape RN/LPN Salary Report 2016 indicates that BSN-prepared nurses earn $8,000 more per year than RNs with an associate’s degree.
Nurses seeking travel RN jobs may also find that a bachelor’s degree in nursing opens up more possibilities for assignments and can impact travel nursing salaries.
Efforts to increase BSN degrees
BSN program enrollments have increased since 2010, according to the IOM. Many more BSN completion programs have sprung up to give nurses opportunities to continue their education.
Several organizations have taken steps to increase the number of BSN-prepared nurses. The North Carolina Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses program aims to help RNs achieve a BSN degree at the beginning of their nursing careers. Community and private colleges have joined forces to increase the numbers of nurses with BSNs in their communities.
A collaborative effort between University Hospitals system, Cleveland State University (CSU), and Cuyahoga Community College, all in Cleveland, Ohio, hopes to increase the number of BSN-prepared nurses and the diversity of those nurses through a multifaceted, comprehensive effort.
“We are looking to improve nursing and the quality of care in our community,” Gaspar said. “There is a huge need for knowledgeable and skilled registered nurses.”
CSU will offer evening and weekend programs, admit a second class of entry-level students in January, and reduce the cost of tuition for participating nurses. University Hospitals will offer 20 students $12,000 for tuition and provide clinical faculty support, and the community college will offer nursing graduates continuing onto CSU a $3,000 scholarship. At the same time, the students can work as part-time nursing assistants at the health system while in school.
“We created a win–win,” Gaspar said. “It, hopefully, will make a difference. It’s a bold initiative.”
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