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Goal of a Nursing Workforce with 80% BSNs Unlikely by 2020

Analysis  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   October 17, 2017

Recommendations from the National Academy of Medicine may not be met this decade, but progress has been made toward achieving higher levels of nursing education.

In its 2010 report on the future of nursing, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) recommends 80% of registered nurses hold a baccalaureate degree by 2020.

That's only three years away. So how clear was the organization's vision of the profession? Well, not exactly 20/20.

"There are more nurses earning baccalaureate degrees, but by 2020 we are unlikely to achieve the 80% goal," says Chenjuan Ma, PhD, associate professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

Her assessment is based on data from a newly released study published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship.

To assess the educational trends of frontline, hospital-based RNs, Ma and her fellow researchers examined nursing-unit level data from the Registered Nurse Education Indicators, part of the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators.

The analysis showed an increase in BSN-prepared frontline nurses in U.S. hospitals—57% in 2013 compared to 44% in 2004.

Though the 80% goal may not be met within the next three years, Ma says having that concrete objective has been positive.

"From my perspective, I think it's more important to look at how much effort we have put in to increase the number of nurses with baccalaureate degrees or how much progress we have made to increase the number of nurses with baccalaureate degrees," she says.

BSNs On the Rise

The increase in BSN-preparedness began before 2010, the study found growth accelerated after the Future of Nursing recommendations were made.

The proportion of nurses with a bachelor's degree in a nursing unit increased by 1.3% annually before 2010. From 2010 on, there was an increase of 1.9% each year.

The percentage of units having at least 80% of nurses with a bachelor's degree increased from 3% in 2009 to 7% in 2013.

Based on current trends, the researchers expect 64% of hospital-based nurses will have a bachelor's degree by 2020, and the 80% goal will likely be reached in 2029.

"To help accelerate this transformation, further advocacy, commitment, and investment are needed from all healthcare stakeholders in order to advance nursing education and, in turn, improve quality of care and patient outcomes," Ma says.

Nurse leaders, in particular, should find ways to champion and support BSN-preparation.

"It's important for nurse leaders to create an environment that really values and respects higher nursing education," she says.

One way to do this to provide opportunities for nurses to perform to their full capacity and practice at the top of their license.

"It motivates nurses to pursue a higher nursing degree," Ma says. "If nurses do not have the chance to perform to their full capacity, they feel like, 'If I have a higher education, I cannot use it.'"

Investment Will Pay Off

Additionally, Ma suggests that hospitals invest in hiring nurses with bachelor's degrees. For those facing challenges with the supply of BSN-prepared RNs, Ma says there are non-traditional means to help organizations boost BSN numbers.

Online education is one option as are innovative BSN-education models include collaboration between community colleges and university nursing schools.

She also suggests that organizations provide flexible scheduling options and tuition reimbursement for RNs who wish to further their education.

Finally, nurse leaders need to educate their counterparts in hospital administration on how BSN-prepared nurses can improve quality outcomes and patient care.

"If nurses have better competency in terms of providing care,' Ma says, "I do believe that in the long term it will also help reduce the cost of healthcare."

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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