News & Articles

The changing landscape of nursing education

Date: July 26, 2016

Nursing education is critical for ensuring quality patient care in medical organizations. While the value of training in health care is not a new concept, the landscape of the academic field has been significantly impacted by health care reform in the U.S. As medical organizations, insurers and legislators all push for value-based care, nurses and other providers are expected to provide higher quality services for a fraction of the price. This change has brought about increased emphasis on employing health care professionals with advanced degrees.

As a nursing professional, your pursuit of higher education can help you to navigate the changes in nursing legislation and best practices. Increasing your level of education not only will help to advance your career, setting you up for promotions and new opportunities in the workplace, but also can assist you in providing the best possible care to your patients.

Nursing education and health care reform

The push toward value-based quality care in the U.S. — largely a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — is creating pressure to increase the education of nurses. In order to provide care in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, hospitals and other health care organizations need to be staffed with well-trained professionals who bring a high level of expertise and knowledge to the workplace.

Over the years, educational opportunities for nursing professionals have expanded to improve patient care. Today, in addition to the licensing required to practice, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses reported that nurses have the option of pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (DNP), in addition to a number of certificate options. While these degrees and certificates are not currently required to become a nurse, they offer many benefits.

One of the factors influencing the emphasis placed on nursing education is the growing body of evidence that suggests increased education positively impacts the quality of care provided to patients. For example, a 2014 study published in Medical Care found that a 10 percent rise in the proportion of nurses with bachelor’s degrees decreased patient mortality by 10.9 percent. A similar study published the same year in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that a 10 percent increase in baccalaureate-prepared nurses in South Korean hospitals lowered mortality rates by 9 percent.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation additionally reported that the educational landscape also is shifting to accommodate the changes brought on by health care reform in the U.S., such as the emphasis on primary care and transition care.

The growing importance of a BSN

A major step being taken to increase the level of education among nursing professionals is a push toward the baccalaureate degree. A 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine called for 80 percent of the workforce to have a BSN by 2020. As of 2013, a study titled “The U.S. nursing workforce: Trends in supply and education” put the portion of the nursing field with a BSN or higher at 55 percent. A separate study the same year by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers reported that the number is 61 percent.

While a nurse holding a BSN was formerly the exception to the rule and an associate degree was the norm — a baccalaureate degree almost is necessary in today’s competitive market.
Karen Daley, former president of the American Nurses Association, wrote in an article for The American Nurse: “Demands on nurses are growing, thanks to an increasingly complex health care delivery system and the need for nursing to be full partners and manage care along a continuum as members of interdisciplinary teams. This will require nurses to obtain an advanced education that fosters a deeper understanding of the many factors that influence patient health and illness. A bachelor’s degree better prepares nurses to meet those challenges.”

According to the 2014 study “The rapid growth of graduates from associate, baccalaureate and graduate programs in nursing,” BSNs have started to outpace Associate Degrees in Nursing (ADNs) in recent years. BSNs first surpassed ADNs in 2011. By 2014, BSN graduates exceeded ADN graduates by approximately one-third.

Changing landscape of nursing education, gavel and stethoscope

The benefit of an MSN

A BSN can be a significant step forward in your career as a nursing professional. However, if you are wanting to take on a leadership role, pursuing a higher degree can be beneficial for your advancement. An MSN degree sets apart nursing professionals just as a BSN did in the past. An MSN gives you more in-depth exposure to the nursing best practices and strategies of today, as well as important up-and-coming topics, such as informatics and new technology.

Earning an MSN opens new career opportunities, many of which are becoming increasingly important due to health care reform, including:

  • Nurse manager
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Quality improvement (QI) leader
  • Nurse educator

In the current climate of the health care field, completing your MSN will help you to show employers and managers that you have the knowledge and expertise to lead other nurses in addition to providing top notch care. An advanced degree also demonstrates your commitment to pursuing excellence in your career.