Do You Need to Earn a BSN?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 2.7 million registered nurses. They comprise the largest segment of the U.S. healthcare workforce. The BLS expects this number to reach 3.1 million by 2024, a 16 percent increase over 2014 data. According to the BLS, the typical education necessary to enter the nursing field is a bachelor’s degree.

The U.S. Nursing Workforce: Trends in Supply and Education, a report by the Department of Health and Human Services, reveals that 55 percent of registered nurses held a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (or higher) in 2010. The report also estimates there was an 86 percent increase in the number of RN-BSN graduates from 2009 to 2013. With more RNs earning BSNs, it will be more difficult for those without a bachelor’s degree to compete in the job market.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that, as of 2016, there are 679 RN to BSN programs. These programs build on prior learning and prepare nurses for a broader scope of practice. Students can complete an RN to BSN nursing program in one to two years; timing depends on individual students’ prior education and the institution’s requirements. Given these facts, it is no surprise that more ADN-prepared RNs are returning to school to earn BSN degrees.

The Growing Need for Nurses With a BSN

The AACN says there is a growing consensus in the higher education community that all professional disciplines should include a liberal arts education. The reasoning is that a liberal arts education tends to develop students’ skills in communications, cultural sensitivity, analytics, scientific reasoning and resourcefulness.

Some associate degrees in nursing programs require arts and science courses; however, BSN programs put more emphasis on science and humanities, which is typical of a liberal arts education. New healthcare technologies and increasing complexity of care require nurses with a broader knowledge base. Furthermore, the nursing field is losing experienced nurses to retirement. As a result, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report recommends that RNs pursue additional education.

Peter Bauerhaus, healthcare economist and professor of nursing, identifies “The 4 Forces That Will Reshape Nursing” as follows:

  1. Physician shortage will drive need for nurses to assume more responsibilities.
  2. One-third of the nursing workforce will retire within 10 years.
  3. With 70 million aging baby boomers, many will have chronic and degenerative medical conditions.
  4. Healthcare reform requires more accountability for cost and quality of care.

A 2012 study from the AACN reports that almost 40 percent of hospitals and other healthcare organizations require new hires to have a BSN. Approximately 77 percent of employers have a strong preference for nurses with a BSN.

Studies like Lower Mortality in Magnet Hospitals have found Magnet hospitals show a 14 percent lower mortality risk and a 12 percent lower failure-to-rescue risk. In the pursuit of achieving Magnet status, hospitals tend to require nurses to have at least a BSN.

Preparing for Future Needs in Nursing

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) partnered with the Institute of Medicine to address the recommendations in the IOM’s The Future of Nursing report. (As of 2015, the IOM is now known as the National Academy of Medicine.) They have assessed the nursing profession’s needs to determine how nurses can better support healthcare’s changing needs. One outcome of this collaboration is the goal to increase the number of nurses with a bachelor’s degree from 55 to 80 percent by 2020.

The RWJF also teamed up with the AARP to implement the report’s recommendations. They are working to increase the number of nurses who have a BSN, and they are addressing the shortage of nurses in geriatrics. The industry needs more nurses who can care for people age 65 and older, a fast-growing segment.

To meet the recommendations from the IOM report, the RWJF and the AARP have established Campaign for Action, which details transformations to nursing education. To encourage nurses to earn a BSN (and more advanced degrees), the Campaign has identified five education models:

  • Permit nurses to earn a baccalaureate degree at a community college through an RN to BSN program.
  • Share outcomes-based curriculum at the state or regional level for associate and baccalaureate degrees.
  • Provide an accelerated RN to MSN program that is shorter than traditional programs.
  • Foster collaboration between universities and community colleges with a shared statewide or regional curriculum to avoid coursework overlap.
  • Implement a shared baccalaureate curriculum to shorten the time between an associate degree and a BSN.

The Future of Nursing

The Future of Nursing recommends improvements to prepare the nursing profession for increasing healthcare demands. One key recommendation is for nurses to earn BSNs. The changing healthcare environment demands that nurses be ready to support more complex healthcare needs.

Five models have been established to facilitate the pursuit of additional education, and state articulation agreements are easing barriers. RN to BSN programs can help nurses improve lives and keep people healthy — and they can lead nurses to more rewarding jobs in better working environments.

Learn more about Colorado Mesa University online RN to BSN program.


AACN: Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational employment, job openings and worker characteristics

Campaign for Action: Transforming nursing education

Institute of Medicine: The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

Hospitals & Health Networks: The 4 Forces that will reshape nursing

American Public Health Association: Lower mortality in magnet hospitals

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