content of the NCLEX-RN directly influences the curricula used to educate nursing students. Currently, the exam is skewed toward acute care settings because this is where the majority of nurses are first employed and where most work throughout their careers. To keep pace with the changing demands of the health care system and patient populations, including the shift toward increasing care in community settings (see Chapter 2), the focus of the exam will need to shift as well. Greater emphasis must be placed on competencies related to community health, public health, primary care, geriatrics, disease prevention, health promotion, and other topics beyond the provision of nursing care in acute care settings to ensure that nurses are ready to practice in an evolving health care system.
Although a limited number of educational grants and scholarships are available, most of individuals seeking nursing education must finance their own education at any level of preparation. Costs vary based on the pathway selected for basic preparation and through to doctoral preparation. The LPN degree is the least expensive to attain, followed by the ADN, BSN (accelerated program), BSN, master’s of science in nursing (MSN), and PhD/doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degrees. It is no surprise that educational costs and living expenses play a major role in determining which degree is pursued and the numbers of nurses who seek advanced degrees.
To better understand the costs of nursing education, the committee asked the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nursing Research Network to estimate the various costs associated with pursuing nursing education, specifically at the advanced practice level, in comparison with those for a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO). The RWJF Nursing Research Network produced several comparison charts in an attempt to convey accurately the differences in costs between alternative nursing degrees and the MD or DO degree. This task required making assumptions about public versus private and proprietary/for-profit education options, prerequisites for entry, and years required to complete each degree. An area of particular difficulty arose in assessing costs associated with obtaining an ADN degree. In most non–health care disciplines, the associates degree takes 2 years to complete. In nursing, however, surveys have found that it takes students 3 to 4 years to complete an ADN program because of the need to fulfill prerequisites necessary to prepare students for entry into degree programs and the lack of adequate faculty, which lead to long waiting lists for many programs and classes (Orsolini-Hain, 2008). Box 4-1 illustrates the challenges of this task by outlining the difficulty of comparing the cost of becoming a physician with the cost of becoming an APRN. The task of comparing the increasing “sticker costs” of nursing and medical education was complicated further because much of the data needed to compute those costs is either missing or drawn from incomparable years. In the end, the committee decided not to include detailed discussion of the costs of nursing education in this report.