For more than a century, the primary focus of nursing in the United States has been to treat acute illnesses and respond to immediate injuries. But with changing patient needs and the evolution of healthcare, medical experts have called for a dramatic increase of nurses with baccalaureate degrees – from the current 50 percent to 80 percent – by 2020.
The National Academy of Medicine (NAM), formerly called the Institute of Medicine (IoM), said the impending shortage of some 1.1 million nurses by 2024, fast-moving changes in technology, and increasingly complex care environments are further driving the need for nurses holding Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. Today, nursing goes beyond just responding to the sick and injured. The expectations for high-quality healthcare include a focus on leadership, system improvements, health policy, teamwork, collaboration and research- and evidence-based practices. Registered nurses (RNs) who are already working toward a BSN, including those enrolled in the Duquesne University online RN to BSN program, will be equipped to handle the changes facing the profession.
“The ways in which nurses were educated during the 20th century are no longer adequate for dealing with the realities of healthcare in the 21st century,” NAM said in its Future of Nursing report brief. “Nurses also are being called upon to fill expanding roles and to master technological tools and information management systems while collaborating and coordinating care across teams of health professionals.”
One of the biggest obstacles for the future of nursing is the impending retirement of some one million nurses by 2030, leaving a gap in experience and knowledge. At the same time, the need for new nurses will grow exponentially because the American population is aging. Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 and older by 2030.
Further complicating the situation is the dramatic increase in chronic health conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes. There is also an influx of new patients coming into the healthcare system as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Nursing organizations said BSN-trained nurses will be more equipped to step in where retiring nurses leave off because the degree offers advanced training and education. BSN-trained nurses will also have the education to better understand the evolution of diversity in the U.S. population in areas that include race, ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic factors.
When the NAM recommended the goal of filling 80 percent of nursing positions with BSN-educated professionals by 2020, healthcare professionals said it was “bold, achievable, and necessary to move the nursing workforce to an expanded set of competencies, especially in the domains of community and public health, leadership, systems improvement and change, research, and health policy.”
The organization, a nonprofit that makes evidence-based recommendations for public health, said the push to more BSN-educated nurses would create a more flexible workforce “required for nurses to serve as primary care providers, nurse researchers, and nurse faculty — positions currently in great demand across the profession and within the healthcare system.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the RN workforce to grow to 3.2 million by 2024, representing a 16 percent increase over the 2014 RN workforce. The growth is “much faster than the average for all occupations,” the Department of Labor said.
“Generally, registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing will have better job prospects than those without one. Employers also may prefer candidates who have some related work experience,” the Labor Department said.
Currently, many healthcare institutions are relying on temporary and travel nurses to fill in gaps. Some facilities are in such dire need they pay high salaries and signing bonuses for qualified nurses. Others are offering perks for qualified nurses to stay on the job, such as student loan repayment and residency programs to provide hands-on experience for new nurses. However, that trend is slowly changing.
In the years since NAM’s recommendation, hundreds of medical facilities have required nurses to have at least a BSN degree. For example, Spartanburg Regional Health Care System in South Carolina announced that nurses with associates degrees – or about 25 percent of the hospital’s nursing staff – must have a BSN by 2018 or face
“automatic relinquishment of employment.” Other facilities, such as Roper St. Francis Hospital in South Carolina, are requiring a percentage of its nursing staff to have BSN degrees.
At the same time, healthcare organizations have noted an increase in BSN graduates. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), in 2015, found enrollment in upper-level nursing degrees, including BSNs, had increased over the previous year. Some of the biggest gains were seen in RN to BSN programs, which bridge the gap for RNs to advance their education and career. The program builds on experiential knowledge to prepare RNs for higher levels of nursing practice.
“This tremendous increase in RN to BSN education comes at a critical time in healthcare reform when more baccalaureate-prepared nurses are needed to fill critical roles across the continuum of care, especially outside of hospital walls,” said Pamela Austin Thompson, National Director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Academic Progression in Nursing program.
At Duquesne University’s RN-BSN online degree program, RNs are getting the skills and experience they need to advance their educations and careers. The fully online program provides an opportunity for students to follow through on their responsibilities while completing the degree program. The program is open to RNs with Associates Degrees in Nursing (ADNs) or Diplomas in Nursing.