October 17, 2017

Not enough RNs are getting bachelor's degrees to meet NAM goals, study finds

Daily Briefing

The proportion of nurses with bachelor's degrees in nursing increased to 57 percent by 2013—but the percentage is not rising fast enough to meet the National Academy of Medicine's  (NAM) goal of 80 percent by 2020, according to a study in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, Carolyn Crist writes for Reuters.

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According to Crist, NAM, formerly called the Institute of Medicine, in 2010 released a report expressing concerns about a shortage of nurses overall and an increasing need for educated nurses to provide care for elderly patients. The report established a goal for 80 percent of nurses to have bachelor's degrees by 2020.

Study details

For the study, the researchers looked at data from the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators from over 2,000 units in 377 hospitals nationwide. The researchers focused on acute care nurses, including those working in cardiology, EDs, and intensive care.

The researchers found that the proportion of nurses in acute care units who had a bachelor's degree in nursing increased to 57 percent in 2013, up from 44 percent in 2004. Specifically, the researchers found that the proportion of nurses with a bachelor's degree in nursing increased by an average of 1.3 percent annually prior to 2010 and by 1.9 percent annually after 2010. Meanwhile, the proportion of units in which at least 80 percent of nurses on staff held a bachelor's degree or higher in nursing increased from 3 percent in 2009 to 7 percent in 2013.

However, when the researchers compared this progress to NAM's 2020 goal, they projected that just 64 percent of nurses  in acute care hospital units would have a bachelor's degree by 2020, and only 22 percent of units would have a minimum of 80 percent of nurses with at least a bachelor's degree in nursing. Based on the current growth rate, they estimated that NAM's 80 percent goal for nurses likely wouldn't be met until 2029.

Discussion

Chenjuan Ma, lead author of the study from New York University's Rory Meyers College of Nursing, said having nurses with bachelor's degrees leads to better overall health outcomes. "When more nurses have degrees, there's a higher quality of care, lower mortality rate, and better patient outcomes," she said

Separately, Joanne Spetz—a health policy researcher at the University of California-San Francisco, who was not involved with the study—cited concerns about retirement among more experienced nurses. "Senior nurses with a lot of experience are retiring, and we're concerned about how to replace that wealth of experience," Spetz said. "Having a higher education level doesn't necessarily replace experience, but it's one of the strongest strategies we have, and patient outcomes show it works," she said.

Olga Yakusheva, an economist at the University of Michigan School of Nursing who wasn't involved with the study, added that those interested in nursing "should be prepared to dedicate [themselves] to getting at least a baccalaureate nursing degree." She continued, "In this era of high technologies and informatics, nurses are expected to be highly trained in all aspects of patient care and prepared to participate and lead in system-level decision making" (Crist, Reuters, 10/13; Ma et al., Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 10/9).

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