Value of a Bachelor’s Educated Nurse
Submitted by Gary Milligan, DNP, MSHA, CNE
Written by: Gary Milligan, DNP, MSHA, CNE, Sabrina Kopf, DNP, ACNP-BC, and Laura Steadman, Ed.D, CRNP, MSN, CNS
Value of a Bachelor’s Educated Nurse
Whether one is a recent graduate of an associate degree in nursing program or an experienced nurse who wishes to explore other opportunities in nursing. It is a good time to consider enrolling in a RN to BSN program and complete the BSN degree in nursing. In many cases, a BSN will open the door to opportunities in management, quality improvement, or be the first step in obtaining a Master of Science degree in nursing. In addition, some medical centers that hold Magnet recognition from the American Nurses' Credentialing Center (ANCC) require nurses to either have a BSN or begin school to obtain a BSN.
Benefits of a Bachelor’s Prepared Nurse
In its landmark report the Institute of Medicine (2010) recommends all nurses who practice with an associate 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 that a RN who holds a BSN provides substantially better patient care (Kutney-Lee, Sloane, & Aiken, 2013). These two factors alone should serve as motivation for RNs 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. According to a study by Sitzman, Carpenter, and Cherry (2020) many RN to BSN students identify research and the application of evidence-based practice. This response indicates registered nurses who complete a RN to BSN program have gained an understanding in the value of basing clinical practice on sound evidence which should lead to improved patient outcomes.
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 programs 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 see numerous 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 Association of Colleges in Nursing (AACN) (2022) and the Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA) (2021). 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 individual school’s website.
Once a list of schools which meet accreditation are identified, it is time to choose a few of these schools to compare. A beneficial next step is an evaluation of prerequisite courses which are needed. It is common for RNs with an associate degree in nursing to need additional coursework in the social and behavioral 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 consider 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 (live 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 the 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 requirements 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. One option many nurses may consider is returning to school with coworkers. Nurses may consider returning to school with coworkers since they can provide a support system for one another and participate in study groups during the program.
Success in the RN to BSN Program
It is important to begin at a pace which is comfortable for a person's current life situation. For students who can devote a maximum amount of time to schoolwork and have few 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 may be a better option. The choice really depends upon the time and obligations a student has when beginning a RN to BSN program.
Several barriers have been recognized to the completion of the BSN degree, these include lack of support from one’s employer including a lack of tuition reimbursement, lack of flexibility, cost of the program, time requirements of the program, existing family obligations, and a fear of failure (Minnick & Marlow, 2022). Many of these barriers can be overcome with support from the RN’s employer, especially flexibility in scheduling and financial support. A culture which supports formal continuing education and provides incentives to the working RN can provide the reinforcement needed to allow RNs to see the value of a BSN.
Several recommendations for success in an online RN to BSN program include:
- Develop a support system
- Establish sound study habits
- Do not be afraid to contact the instructor
- Understand online format and technology
- Establish specific goals
- Set aside dedicated time for classwork
- Be engaged and enthusiastic about the coursework
- Utilize your assigned advisor
- Apply what is being learned to your current nursing position
- Remember, just because the course is online does not mean it is easy
Dixon et al., 2022 indicates the influence nurse managers can play for RN’s seeking their BSN degree. Managers can support the individual by providing flexible scheduling options which allows working students to maintain a work, life, and school balance as the demands on an individual’s time become more challenging with the expanded role of student. Nurse managers who are invested in the development of their nursing staff may also contribute to the undertaking by coaching and engaging the nurse in the requirements of unit level decision making.
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 (Steadman & Milligan, 2022). 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 nurse's role in the provision of quality healthcare. An opinion expressed about the value of a BSN nurse states, “I think it adds value, regardless of whether you're in your twenties or your forties, fifties or sixties. It does give you exposure to a broader base of knowledge and experience” (Dixon, et al., 2022, p. 342).
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2022). CCNE-accredited programs. Retrieved from https://www.aacnnursing.org/CCNE-Accreditation/CCNE-Accredited-Programs
- American Nurses' Credentialing Center. (2022). ANCC Magnet Recognition Program. Retrieved from http://www.nursecredentialing.org/Magnet.
- Commission for Nursing Education. (2021). Standards for accreditation. Retrieved from https://cnea.nln.org/standards-of-accreditation
- Dixon, M. E., White, K. R., Hinton, I., DeGennaro, R., & Dowling, T. (2022). A stakeholder evaluation of an RN-to-BSN academic progression program. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, 338–344. https://doi-org.ezproxy3.lhl.uab.edu/10.1097/NNA.0000000000001158
- Institute of Medicine. (2010). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Retrieved from http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12956&page=R1
- 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.
- Minnick, A., & Marlow, S. (2022). RN to BSN jump start to success. Teaching & Learning in Nursing, 17(2), 225–228. https://doi-org.ezproxy3.lhl.uab.edu/10.1016/j.teln.2022.01.007
- Sitzman, K., Carpenter, T., & Cherry, K. (2020). Student perceptions related to immediate workplace usefulness of RN-to-BSN program content. Nurse Educator, 45(5), 265–268. https://doi-org.ezproxy3.lhl.uab.edu/10.1097/NNE.0000000000000775
- Steadman, L. & Milligan, G. (2022, June). Is nursing a profession? RN Journal. https://rn-journal.com/journal-of-nursing/is-nursing-a-real-profession