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Journal of Nursing

Expanding the BSN Workforce

1. Gary Milligan 2. Laura Steadman [email protected]

Author Information
Gary Milligan, DNP, MSHA, PHNA-BC
University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing
Assistant Professor and RN Mobility Program Director
Contact via:
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 205-975-8484

Laura Steadman, Ed.D, FNP
University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing
Assistant Professor and MSN Nursing Educator Track Manager
Email: [email protected]
Phone 205-996-7670

Expanding the BSN Workforce

The choice to begin a RN to BSN program involves an assessment of the value of furthering ones education as well as the time and financial resources needed to complete a RN to BSN program. In many cases, a BSN will open the door to opportunities in management, quality improvement position, or be the first step in obtaining a Master of Science degree in nursing. A BSN may be required to obtain a position in a medical center which holds Magnet Recognition from the American Nurses' Credentialing Center (ANCC). Regardless of the reason for choosing to further ones nursing education, adding skills to a nursing skillset should be a primary goal.

Benefits of a Bachelor’s Prepared Nurse

In its landmark report the Institute of Medicine (2011) recommends all nurses who practice with an associate’s degree in nursing practice at the highest level of their training and obtain a BSN by 2020. These are lofty but reasonable goals in that RN’s should practice to their highest level of training and several studies indicate patients cared for by BSN nurses have better overall outcomes (Kutney-Lee, Sloane, & Aiken, 2013; Blegen, Goode, Park, Vaughn, & Spetz, 2013). These two factors alone should serve as motivation for RN’s to continue their education, however there are other factors involved in the decision to pursue a BSN. A quality RN to BSN program will focus on the development and enhancement of clinical reasoning, leadership, and synthesis skills.

The impact of the BSN on the quality of patient care is a top priority. However, the presence of a nursing staff consisting of BSN prepared nurses contribute to nursing as a profession. Most other healthcare professions require at least a bachelor’s degree for entry into practice, the presence of a well-educated nursing staff only solidifies the value of the nurses role in the provision of quality healthcare.

Deciding to Pursue a BSN

Factors such as family responsibilities, work requirements, and financial concerns must be considered as one returns to school. All these circumstances must be considered before beginning a RN to BSN program. Fortunately, most RN to BSN programs offer a variety of options which can meet the needs of students who wish to progress through the program quickly, as well as students who wish to progress through a program at a more leisurely pace. Almost all RN to BSN program are offered in an online format and are structured for the RN who is working full-time.

After weighing the many factors involved in returning to school and the choice is made to complete the BSN, what is the next step? How does one know what needs to be done? Know where to start? Nurses who read nursing magazines and journals or newsletters from state boards of nursing are bombarded with ads about continuing their education and pursuing a BSN. How does one evaluate the many options available to return to school?

One requirement is to determine if the school of interest is accredited by a legitimate accrediting body. There is little value in obtaining a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree from a school that does not hold accreditation. This is especially vital for RN’s who wish to continue into a master's program once the BSN is completed. It is essential the school chosen is accredited; the two most common accreditation bodies are the American Academy of Colleges in Nursing (AACN) and the Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). Accreditation through either of these bodies indicates a nursing program meets a standard of excellence in nursing education and engages in ongoing self-assessment of their nursing program. Both programs are recognized by the US Department of Education. Accreditation information should be readily available on the school’s website.

Comparing Schools

Once a list of schools which meet accreditation are identified, it is time to compare schools. A beneficial next step is an evaluation of prerequisite courses which are needed. It is common for RN’s with an associate’s degree in nursing to need additional coursework in the social and behavior sciences, humanities, natural sciences, mathematics, or history. Most universities or colleges offer a free evaluation of a student's transcript and will provide the information needed about prerequisite courses. Most ‘transcript reviews’ can be completed with an unofficial transcript. It is customary for schools to accept prerequisite courses which were completed many years ago.

Some issues which may be important to compare are:

• Prerequisite course requirements
• Fully online, live, or a hybrid of live and online (an overwhelming majority of RN to BSN programs are fully online)
• Requirements to visit campus (orientation, intensives, or counseling sessions)
• The number of credit hours or courses required to complete the program
• Length of the program (typically there are many options as far as the number of terms needed to complete a RN to BSN program)
• Is there an option to take a Leave of Absence (LOA) if needed
• Are there courses which require clinical hours? If so, what are the number of clinical hours needed and what options are available to complete clinical hours (accredited schools require some clinical hours, however the hours may be clinical projects or observational leadership hours or a combination of both).
• Other questions can be addressed by the RN to BSN program director at the respective school (if a program director is not readily available to address questions, then it might be wise to reconsider the school).

When a school of nursing is chosen and any required prerequisite course requirement have been determined it is time to apply. Many schools of nursing with RN to BSN programs admit students in the fall, spring, and summer terms and many schools offer block scheduling. Block scheduling entails offering courses in 5 to 7 week mini-terms which allows a student to focus on 1 course at a time. Most RN to BSN programs will allow students to progress at different rates. Some students may choose to complete all nursing coursework in as little as 1 year, while other students may choose to complete nursing coursework over 2 or more years.

Institutional Support for a BSN Educated Workforce

The Institute of Medicine, the American Nurses Association, and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing all support the 80/20 initiative to increase the BSN workforce to 80% by the year 2020. The increasing complex decision-making, evidence based practice, and collaboration required of healthcare providers demands nurses who are equipped to thrive in today’s complex healthcare environment. Although it is imperative to make this transition, it is important to begin at a pace which is comfortable and minimizes the stress of beginning school. For students who can devote a maximum amount of time to school work and has fewer family obligations a rapid pace is certainly acceptable. For students who have multiple family responsibilities and who tend to work many hours a week, a slower pace is recommended. The choice really depends upon the time and obligations a student has when choosing to continue their nursing education.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2017). Commission on collegiate nursing education. Retrieved from
American Nurses' Credentialing Center. (2017). ANCC Magnet Recognition Program. Retrieved from
Blegen, M.A., Goode, C.J., Park, S.H., Vaughn, T., & Spetz, J. (2013). Baccalaureate education in nursing and patient outcomes. Journal of Nursing Administration, 43(2), 89-94.
Institute of Medicine. (2011). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Retrieved from
Kutney-Lee, A., Sloane, D.M., & Aiken, L. (2013, March). An increase in the number of nurses with baccalaureate degrees is linked to lower rates of post-surgery mortality. Health Affairs, 32(3), 579-586.
National League for Nursing. (2017).Standards of accreditation. Retrieved from

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