Bachelor of Science in Nursing - BSN

The path to a nursing degree involves three roads. The first is a two year associate degree, the second is a three year diploma program and the third is a four year bachelor's degree from a college or university. Currently, most nurses graduate from associate degree programs offered at community colleges or private schools. This is followed by baccalaureate nursing degree and diploma programs respectively. Each level of nursing education has been discussed and debated within the healthcare industry for many years. Although there are various opinions on nurse education and training programs, studies have shown that nurses with higher levels of education, such as the BSN degree, perform better in their jobs.

For the past few years, researchers and policymakers have pointed out how much education makes a difference in the quality of care delivered by nurses. A nursing baccalaureate program also known as a bachelor's of science in nursing program provides a more in depth study of physical science, nursing research and management, social sciences, humanities and public health. This broader understanding of healthcare allows nursing students to grow professionally and truly understand the many factors that impact the health of an individual which are related to social, economic and cultural influences.

Nursing education is linked to patient safety and better care. Research has shown that there is a relationship between the number of BSN educated nurses and the quality of patient care. A 2003 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that hospitals that employed a higher numbers of RNs with a bachelor's or graduate degree had surgical patients who experienced lower mortality rates. In other words, education levels are connected to lower levels of patient deaths.

The demand for acute healthcare services has been increasing due to medical breakthroughs, new technology, treatments and faster patient discharges. Hospitals and healthcare facilities are expanding their intensive care units to include advanced cardiac monitoring and treatment, respiratory assistance and the ability to treat a wide range of illnesses and injuries. This means that hospitals need skilled, educated and specialized RNs to work in these facilities.

Why is a BSN Degree Important?

The importance of adequate nurse education in the U.S. was expressed in 1965 through the American Nurses Association (ANA) which wrote a position paper stressing the educational requirements of nurses. Medscape Today reports that during this time, 85% of nurses in the U.S. were trained in diploma programs at hospitals. The ANA paper promoted the idea of changing the educational requirements of the nursing professional into one that was more comprehensive. It stressed that nurse education needed to be provided through colleges and universities in order to ensure that nurses were properly trained and educated.

In today’s job market, employers are demanding that RNs hold a BSN degree. With healthcare services and medical treatment becoming more advanced, hospitals are requiring a highly trained RN workforce to meet the needs of their patients. This means having a sufficient number of nurses with the right educational backgrounds.

The American Association of Colleges and Nursing (AACN) as well as many other nursing professional organizations and advocacy groups acknowledge the BSN degree as a minimum education requirement for practicing nurses. Although nurses can begin their careers by earning just an associate degree, obtaining a BSN degree is essential for individuals seeking to advance to managerial or specialized roles. The AACN which is the leading voice of higher education nursing degree programs in the U.S., takes the position that a baccalaureate degree in nursing should be the minimum requirement for professional practice. The official statement is posted on their website.

The importance of nursing baccalaureate programs is connected to the fact that healthcare is changing from just hospital focused care to other forms which stresses the need for thorough and comprehensive training. This includes community health and outpatient centers, private homes, public schools and health maintenance organizations. Also, many healthcare facilities are integrating and coordinating patient care with outside community organizations. Since healthcare is becoming more complex and interconnected, nurses need to be adequately trained and educated to deal with the changing nature of patient services.

BSN degree educated nurses are being given more flexibility in their jobs as hospitals throughout the country are recognizing how their education and training can contribute to patient treatment. Many BSN educated nurses are able to handle more intricate levels of treatment and education. They are also responsible for creating, coordinating and implementing comprehensive treatment plans for the length of a patient's stay at the hospital. This includes pre-admission, discharge, supervising other nurses and medical staff, educating patients and their families and collaborating with physicians and other hospital personnel. Nurses who hold just an associate degree mainly work in less complicated care situations compared to those who hold a BSN degree.

A BSN Degree Provides More Career Opportunities

A BSN degree prepares nurses for broader roles within the healthcare setting. The BSN degree is preferred in just about all health care environments including mental health, critical care, public and community health and ambulatory care. It provides nurses with flexibility in employment, especially for entry level RNs. This is because a BSN degree equips nurses with important communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving, in depth medical training, knowledge of psychological and social factors that affect health and leadership preparation. These types of courses are not typically found in associate degree or diploma programs.

Since nurses often make rapid, sometimes life and death decisions, the need to understand a patient's health condition is crucial. This includes properly assessing a patient's symptoms, signs and treatment options. They also need to communicate effectively with other medical staff and even supervise nurses.

Teamwork and collaboration are essential in delivering quality care. Nurses need to be able to respond to patient needs, educate patients and their families on treatment and sometimes coordinate care with outside agencies. They also need to work under a code of ethics and comply with government and regulatory healthcare standards. This requires thorough training that only a BSN or graduate nursing degree can provide.

The AACN also reports that increasingly, RNs are starting to seek a BSN degree. It found that in 1980, 55% of RNs held only a hospital diploma as their highest form of education and that only 22% held a BSN degree. The number of RNs with a BSN degree increased to 32.7% by 2000. A report released by the Health Resources and Services Administration found that in 2002, the number of nurses with just an associate degree declined at a faster rate than those with a BSN. These figures demonstrate that nurses are increasingly placing a higher value on quality education and training to compete in today's job market.

Employers Prefer RNs with a BSN Degree

With advances in medicine, medical technology, increasing life spans and an aging population hospitals and health care facilities are faced with new challenges. They need highly trained RNs with in depth medical knowledge. Employers seek nurses who are trained at the bachelor's and master's nursing degree level who are able to deliver complex patient care for a variety of situations such as primary care, acute care and community health.

These nurses need to also provide other services such as diseases prevention, education and case management. For specialized healthcare areas such as critical care, neonatal, emergency room, ambulatory care, demand is very high for RNs with at least a BSN education. There is also a growing demand for nurse practitioners and clinical specialists, which requires obtaining a Master’s of Nursing degree (MSN).

Although the majority of RNs work within the hospital setting, many RNs also work in a variety of other health care settings which include private practice, clinics, outpatient centers, nursing homes, mental health clinics, hospices, home health care, schools and government agencies. There is also a growing demand for RN teachers in nursing programs at colleges and universities to prepare future generations of nurses. Teaching positions as well as advanced practice and leadership positions usually require clinical experience and an MSN degree. A BSN is a requirement for admission to master's in nursing programs.

So whether you are just starting out in a nursing program, a currently practicing practical or vocational nurse, a nurse with an associate's in nursing, a nurse with a diploma in nursing or currently have a bachelor's degree in another field and want to pursue a BSN degree, there is a BSN degree program option for you. If you are a currently practicing practical nurse or vocational nurse, you will want to check out LPN / LVN to BSN programs. If you are an associate degree or diploma educated nurse you will want to check out RN to BSN programs. If you hold a bachelor's degree in another field, you will want to explore accelerated BSN programs. If you have no prior nursing education, you will want to find an entry to nursing BSN program in your state or the state you want to practice, which can be found by searching the nursing programs by state listing.

Update: According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which is a panel of academic economists out of Cambridge, Mass, the U.S. recession ended in June, 2009. The economy apparently began to grow in July, 2009. This has not had a significant impact on jobless claims, though it does signal a swing in a positive direction. Once hiring in other sectors begins to follow economic growth, jobless rates will start to decline. Hospitals and other facilities in the health care sector should also begin to follow the hiring trend to keep up with growing patient loads and demand. Those nurses who had come out of retirement and those that are past retirement age and were still working during the recession will go back into retirement and retire respectively. Many, including the American Nurses Association, have warned that when this happens there will be a dramatic rise in the demand for nurses, which may develop into a nursing shortage greater than the shortage currently being experienced. According to The U.S. Nursing Shortage: Hope Through Education, federal and state agencies have provided various solutions that are being implemented to alleviate the current shortage and to fend off a worsening of the situation.

What this means, is though new nursing graduates are presently experiencing difficulties finding open positions in many areas of the United States, an end may be in sight. Hiring may take place slowly but those with a BSN degree, by all accounts, should have an advantage when applying for open positions.

(Sources: JAMA, 2003, "Educational Levels of Hospital Nurses and Surgical Patient Mortality" Lead Investigator: Linda H. Aiken, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - loan repayment data)

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