Consider this: In 2009, 19,606 registered nurses (RNs) graduated from accredited Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs nationwide. By 2016, the number of RN to BSN graduates jumped to 60,842. With a whopping 210 percent increase, it seems the goal of increasing the number of BSN nurses nationwide is well on its way.
Although getting a BSN in nursing is not yet the norm, it appears the landscape of nursing education is changing. When the Institute of Medicine (IoM) called for 80 percent of the nursing workforce to have a BSN by 2020 (called the 80/20 rule), many experts wondered if it was attainable. Today, novice nurses and healthcare facilities are embracing the recommendation. In 2010, 55,407 baccalaureate-educated nurses took the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) test for the first time. Just five years later, 70,889 took the same test, marking a nearly 28 percent increase in BSN candidates who took the NCLEX for the first time.
Around the country, local and state governments and healthcare organizations are working to remove barriers to higher education in nursing. An increasing number of healthcare organizations require BSN-educated nurses on the floor. In some cases, that means RNs who have associate degrees are being given deadlines to get their BSN degrees. The BSN is seen as a pathway to better healthcare, lower mortality rates among patients, and greater patient satisfaction.
So what’s the difference between RNs and BSNs? It’s all in the education.
RNs have an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or nursing diploma and have passed NCLEX testing to work in nursing. An ADN program usually includes classes in various nursing specialties including maternity, pediatrics, and psychiatry and takes about two years to complete. BSN-trained nurses are also RNs, but their program of study is longer and more complicated. BSN training includes the standard nursing specialties but also includes classes in nursing theory, leadership, and technology. A BSN degree usually takes about four years to complete, like a typical bachelor’s degree would take to complete. Nurses with an ADN or a nursing school diploma can get their BSN in about two years.
Healthcare leaders and nurses themselves see the BSN degree as the best route for most nurses because it provides a broad-based education and allows for professional advancement. The idea of nurses with advanced degrees is nothing new.
Healthcare professionals dating back to the 1960s have been considering recommending all nurses to hold BSN degrees. Many saw the ADN as a starting point.
But the real push didn’t come until 2010 when the IoM said BSN training provides a better foundation for clinical care and leadership in an extensive range of settings. From there, nationally recognized healthcare advocacy groups, including the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, followed suit with the call for advanced education.
“Because individual and population health needs are changing, and our health care system is ever-evolving, we need nurses to know more and be better trained to provide care in a transformed system,” IoM President Harvey V. Fineberg said shortly after he announced the landmark recommendation.
With the BSN movement well underway, some in the nursing profession are looking to standardized BSN education as the future.
Standardized BSN educational standards and curriculum would allow for consistent practices in the classroom and clinicals, experts say. In a 2016 report, the American Nurses Association said a standardized RN to BSN education is essential to nursing practice because current RN educational procedures are “fragmented, not standardized, and confusing to the public.”
“For example, when one of the authors informed a group of state legislators that persons graduating with a diploma, associate, baccalaureate, or entry-level master’s degree all completed the same examination for licensure, they responded with disbelief and puzzlement,” report author Barbara Zittel, PhD., and her study partners, said in, “Registered Nurses as Professionals: Accountability for Education and Practice.” “In comparison, all other major healthcare professions require one entry point, at the baccalaureate level or above.”
Experts say benefits of a standardized BSN education include the following:
While there are no enforceable rules that mandate BSN education industry wide, there have been some changes on a national and local level. These include the following:
At the same time, nursing programs nationwide have been helping nursing students achieve the goal of BSN education. At Duquesne University, BSN graduates are prepared to take supervisory roles immediately.
One of the many advantages of Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program is it allows RNs to complete their coursework fast and efficiently. The program’s academic advisors and faculty mentors work cooperatively with students to enable success. For more information, visit DU’s online RN-BSN program website.