For generations, earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) was all one needed in order to pass the exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN). And while that still may be the case, and many nurses begin their careers with an associate’s degree, meeting the requirements for many of today’s nursing jobs requires holding a more advanced degree — in many cases, a master’s degree in nursing.
Given the headlines about a nursing shortage, and the need to hire thousands of new nurses within the next decade, it would be reasonable to question why it’s becoming harder to become a nurse than easier.
The fact is, health care facilities have very good reasons for wanting their nurses to be more educated, not the least of which is that nurses with bachelor’s and master’s degrees are better prepared for handling the rigors of the modern nursing environment.
Improving Patient Care
Perhaps the most compelling reason that health care facilities are looking to hire nurses with advanced degrees is the marked impact they can have on patient care.
Multiple studies have shown that patient safety improves when nurses hold at least a BSN. For example, one study in the journal Medical Care revealed that the risk of patient mortality decreases by nearly 4 percent when just 10 percent more nurses hold a bachelor’s degree.
Others studies have also found that length of stay is reduced, readmissions are reduced, and the risk of complications, such as pulmonary embolisms and deep vein thrombosis, are also reduced when nurses hold higher degrees.
As hospitals look to improve the quality of care and achieve the benchmarks determined by CMS relating to quality, having a well-trained staff is of paramount importance.
Improving Career Prospects
The benefits to earning an advanced nursing degree don’t only extend to employers and patients, though. Nurses themselves enjoy significantly improved career prospects when they earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
In a much touted 2010 report, the Institute for Medicine called for at least 80 percent of nurses to hold at least a bachelor’s degree by 2020, as part of an overall effort to improve the quality of medical care in the U.S. As a result, more nurses are seeking advanced degrees than ever before, with more than half of all new graduates from nursing programs earning a BSN rather than an associate’s degree.
Since 2011, the number of nurses earning advanced credentials has increased every year, meaning that there are more nurses with bachelor’s and master’s degrees than ever before.
What this means for nurses looking for employment is that competition is actually quite strong, and a nurses with a BSN is more likely to land a job than one with only an RN. Not to mention, holding a master’s degree opens the door to even more career opportunities, as a master’s degree can prepare you for more specialized nursing careers such as pediatric, geriatric, or cardiac care, as well as jobs in leadership or nurse education.
In fact, most hospitals will not hire or promote nurses into leadership roles without an advanced degree, making degrees vitally important for anyone who wants to move out of general practice.
Another reason advanced degrees have become so important has to do with hospitals seeking Magnet status. Hospitals seek Magnet status as a means of certifying the excellent care they provide as well as their commitment to creating an ideal working environment for nurses.
While there is some debate over the true value of achieving Magnet status, many hospitals are committed to the process, which requires at least 80 percent of the nursing staff to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, and all nurse leaders to hold advanced degrees.
As a result, hospitals that have achieved Magnet status (currently only about 6 percent of all hospitals) and those working to achieve the designation will only hire applicants who hold these credentials, regardless of their level of experience. Therefore, a nurse who wants to work in one of these facilities needs to earn the higher degree.
Earning an advanced degree in nursing will undoubtedly help your career in nursing. Most nurses point out that one never stops learning in the profession, and it’s impossible to learn everything you need to know in any degree program, whether it’s two years, three years, or longer.
However, the more formal education and study you complete, the better you’ll be at your job right out of the gate, so there really isn’t any reason not to enroll in a nursing degree program from the start.