Some health care organizations in the United States are already leading the way by requiring more BSN-prepared nurses for entry-level positions. A growing number of hospitals, particularly teaching and children’s hospitals and those that have been recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition Program (see Chapter 5), favor the BSN for employment (Aiken, 2010). Depending on the type of hospital, the goal for the proportion of BSN-prepared nurses varies; for example, teaching hospitals aim for 90 percent, whereas community hospitals seek at least 50 percent (Goode et al., 2001). Absent a nursing shortage, then, nurses holding a baccalaureate degree are usually the preferred new-graduate hires in acute care settings (Cronenwett, 2010). Likewise, in a recent survey of 100 physician members of Sermo.com (see Chapter 3 for more information on this online community), conducted by the RWJF Nursing Research Network, 76 percent of physicians strongly or somewhat agreed that nurses with a BSN are more competent than those with an ADN. Seventy percent of the physicians surveyed also either strongly or somewhat agreed that all nurses who provide care in a hospital should hold a BSN, although when asked about the characteristics they most value in nurses they work with, the physicians placed a significantly higher value on compassion, efficiency, and experience than on years of nursing education and caliber of nursing school (RWJF, 2010c).
In community and public health settings, the BSN has long been the preferred minimum requirement for nurses, given the competencies, knowledge of community-based interventions, and skills that are needed in these settings (ACHNE, 2009; ASTDN, 2003). The U.S. military and the VA also are taking steps to ensure that the nurses making up their respective workforces are more highly educated. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force require all active duty RNs to have a baccalaureate degree to practice, and the U.S. Public Health Service has the same requirement for its Commissioned Officers. Additionally, as the largest employer of RNs in the country, the VA has established a requirement that nurses must have a BSN to be considered for promotion beyond entry level (AACN, 2010c). As Table 4-1 shows, however, the average earnings of BSN-prepared nurses are not substantially higher than those of ADN- or diploma-prepared nurses.
Decades of “blue ribbon panels” and reports to Congress on the health care workforce have found that there is a significant shortage of nurses with baccalaureate and higher degrees to respond to the nation’s health needs (Aiken, 2010). Almost 15 years ago, the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice, which advises Congress and the secretary of Health and Human Services on areas relevant to nursing, called for the development of policy actions that would ensure a minimum of 66 percent of RNs who work as nurses would have a BSN or higher degree by 2010 (Aiken et al., 2009). The result of policy efforts of the past decade has been a workforce in which approximately 50 percent of RNs hold a BSN degree or higher, a figure that includes ADN- and diploma-educated RNs who have gone on to obtain a BSN (HRSA, 2010b). Of significant note, the Tri-Council for Nursing, which consists of the American Nurses Association, American Organization of Nurse Executives, National