Nurse Education

Considering a career in the nursing field? Studying to become a Registered Nurse has three main education paths towards a degree and passing various state certifications. However, all this may soon change. Many states are moving towards a licensing model known as “BSN in 10”, which could totally affect a prospective nurse’s future educational studies and licensing requirements. Here are the three main educational paths currently available for prospective nursing students:

Diploma programs in nursing are the least common education option as a path towards becoming a registered nurse. Offered through smaller colleges, medical centers or hospitals, some can be completed in only 12 months and may also be available as online programs. These diploma programs are considered a more realistic option for those who choose to become nurse’s aides or medical assistants. 

Students can pursue an Associate Degree of Science in Nursing or Associate Degree of Applied Science in Nursing. Completion usually takes 2-3 years. Associate programs require around 72 credit hours and include hands-on clinical learning. Students study courses that include pharmacology, case management, nursing skills and patient care. 

Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree programs are unique in that students can pursue the BSN program after high school or become an RN first and pursue an RN-to-BSN degree program. RN-to-BSN programs typically allow students to earn their BSN in about a year, while traditional BSN programs may take 3-4 years to complete. Some RN-to-BSN programs may have online coursework, but BSN programs are traditionally on-campus due to the hands-on nature of the field. BSN requires both clinical trials and coursework including clinical nursing, adult health, mental health nursing, health assessment and nursing research. 

Colleges offering Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree programs in nursing may have prerequisites. These programs often require students to have a specific GPA and/or complete prior coursework in areas such as English, Psychology, Statistics, Human anatomy and physiology, Algebra, Nutrition and Chemistry. 

Upon earning a diploma, Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing students must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination and meet their states’ requirements for nursing licensure. Earning additional education and certifications bring with them greater career options and responsibilities. These options include areas such as basic life support certification, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or other specialties in areas such as pediatrics or gerontology. 

In the past, choosing an educational path for nursing degrees has been a matter of individual choice. Several states are now considering “BSN in 10” laws, which require all nurses who complete an associate’s degree program and pass the licensing exams to complete a BSN within 10 years of receiving their initial degree. 

The “BSN in 10” law is based on a New York State model passed in 2017.  This legislation vastly expanded the education requirements of RNs, while still maintaining multiple initial points of entry in the field. This applies to all future nurses who want to practice nursing but have not begun their studies. This law was not received with open arms by everyone, as many nurses either do not wish or have the ability to pursue an advanced degree.

Proponents, however, state that BSN education is designed to improve both analytical and critical thinking skills. Studies show that hospitals with higher proportions of nurses educated at the baccalaureate level or higher, surgical patients experienced lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates. BSN education has also been linked to better patient outcomes. This information has had the greatest impact on the movement to adopt “BSN in 10” laws.

The plan encourages continuous learning. In a field that is constantly evolving and growing, the ability to adapt and grow has a huge impact. Higher education among nurses has already proven to save lives, but studies have also found a much higher job satisfaction among BSN-certified nurses. This is why several major nursing organizations and other medical professional groups have united to push for this legislation. 

While several states are examining implementing similar legislation, no other US state has currently enacted “BSN in 10” laws. In New York this took 14 years to be approved. States like Rhode Island and New Jersey have put forth “BSN in 10” bills as well and have been working on them for as long as New York, but they’re still in committee with their respective legislatures. 

With a current national shortage of nurses, the success of “BSN in 10” bills will vary depending on each state. North Dakota passed a similar law in 1987 to license only BSN trained nurses. However, the law was then scrapped in 2003 due to the drastic shortage of nurses. Making BSN qualifications mandatory is not by any means a new one, as it has been lobbied for since 1964. Current trends indicate that BSN education may become mandatory for nurses in healthcare settings. However, healthcare facilities are rushing to employ more nurses faster, whether BSN-educated or not. The current needs of healthcare facilities show that there is a national shortage of qualified nursing and health care personnel. This is predicted to only increase in the near future. The National Nursing Workforce Study shows that 50 percent of U.S. RNs are 50 or older. The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that within the next 15 years over one million registered nurses will be retiring.

Even though there is a clear movement towards a BSN degree, it is still possible to work in the nursing profession with an associate degree. Each state may have variations when it comes to practice requirements. If you obtain your licensure in a specific state but want to practice somewhere else, check in advance to see if your license is recognized, or if you need to take extra steps to get a new license. There is a group of states known as “compact states.” that all acknowledge that a valid RN license obtained in one of those states allows a nurse to practice in any of the group states without further hassles.

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