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The RN to BSN and Career Advancement

Between 2009 and 2010, enrollment in RN to BSN programs increased by more than 20%. Degree completion is more than a fad or a response to tough economic conditions. The AACN reports that this was the eighth year in a row that these programs saw increases. Why are professional nurses seeking the baccalaureate in record numbers?

Many nurses pursue the BSN because they want to make themselves competitive for more desirable positions. They may have their eye on leadership roles or they may wish to make a lateral move to an elite hospital. Magnet hospitals encourage education, often helping their employees finance their schooling and achieve higher degrees. When it come to new hires, though, they can be very competitive. The U.S. government also sets educational standards high. And when the economy is tough, and jobs in general are harder to come by, many other hospitals take the opportunity to increase the number of baccalaureate nurses they have on staff. ("From RN to BSN: New Skill Sets and the RN to BSN Program")

Many baccalaureate level nurses do provide direct patient care, but others are coordinators. Positions include case management, care management, and health education. As a public health nurse, an RN might, for example, help people manage diabetes or lower their risk for other chronic conditions. These nurses might see clients on a daily basis. Some nurses, though, decide they want to work with information. They may pursue jobs in nursing informatics, quality control, or risk assessment. Older nurses seek positions where they can use their minds more and their feet less.

Some nurses are seeking their degree because they want to move into a different role; others are already in a role that has the designation BSN-preferred. Some employers post positions with the stipulation that a nurse must either have a baccalaureate or be actively pursuing one. In these instances, the employer generally provides tuition assistance. Many hospitals across the nation have career ladder programs that reward education, experience, and other demonstration of professional commitment. In some cases, a BSN is necessary to move to the highest levels and highest pay grades.

The BSN as a Stepping Stone to Graduate Education

Another reason nurses pursue the BSN is that they plan to go to graduate school and enter advanced practice. Increasingly highly educated nurses are taking over roles that were traditionally reserved for doctors. Organizations like the Institute of Medicine believe that the nation’s healthcare future depends on this. Yes, there are programs that allow a nurse to go straight from ADN to MSN level. However, the options are limited. With a BSN, a registered nurse can enter any master’s program and some doctorate programs. The bachelor’s level coursework also provides a solid academic foundation for professionals who have been out of academia for a number of years. At the baccalaureate level, a nurse begins to study research and nursing scholarship. Often she takes courses in statistics and professional writing.

The Value of Education

Lastly, some nurses seek the BSN for professional and personal growth. One of the most popular reasons for enrolling in a degree completion program is that the enrollees simply want that degree! Nurses are consistently ranked high in public opinion polls in the areas of honesty and ethics. But intellectualism? Many people still see nurses as people with relatively low education who stand, clipboard in hand, ready to follow a director's orders. But a lot of nurses hold education high in their value system, and they agree with the AACN that it enhances their professional performance.

There is a lot more nursing theory in a baccalaureate level program than in a lower level one. Nurses exit knowing the why’s as well as the how’s. Some find that higher education rekindles their enthusiasm for the nursing profession. Alaf Meleis writes in Transitions Theory: Middle-Range and Situation-Specific Theories in Nursing of RN to BSN students seeing their old job in a new light -- and sometimes going beyond their old duties and expectations. One nurse talked about transitioning from just performing the duties of patient discharge to taking an active role in making sure things were set up properly at home.

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