The nursing field depends on highly skilled and compassionate people to facilitate a range of health services - from frontline caregivers working in emergency rooms to behind-the-scenes administrators helping develop policies to better support patients and doctors.
Those wanting to serve in nursing typically begin by earning their RN (registered nurse) certification. This training provides a valuable foundation in patient care and health maintenance that can be used to explore entry-level roles across a variety of medical settings, including hospitals, clinics, outpatient centers, rehabilitation facilities and senior living communities.
Additional education can also help registered nurses qualify for more specialized positions. In fact, bachelor’s programs like the Nursing — RN to BSN degree from Arizona State University are designed to teach students advanced skills in health care theory, research and practice in order to help increase employability and salary potential. Here are just a few of the ways in which earning an undergraduate degree in nursing can provide a stronger foundation for a rewarding career.
Rising Demand, Rising Qualifications
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for registered nurses is expected to rise 16% by 2024. However, that need alone won’t guarantee employment for those without the right credentials.
Hospitals, the largest employer for nurses (and typically the highest-paying) are becoming increasingly selective in their recruitment practices. Thanks to greater scrutiny by insurers, politicians and even patients, the clinical environment is facing new accountability challenges - all of which mean stricter requirements for new hires.
Being adept at critical nursing duties is only the beginning. Changes in medical care standards have also made it crucial for nurses to have greater awareness of how they can support other staff members in their objectives and help deliver a unified patient experience. This is where a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN) can make an important difference.
In addition to teaching students the hands-on elements of caregiving, a BSN program can provide a more complete perspective of how health services function as a whole - including the role that technology, administration and government policy have in influencing change. Since nurses are often essential for coordinating the complex layers of care that a patient receives from many other specialists, employers can greatly benefit from having a nursing staff that is armed with this combination of global knowledge and focused practical skills in order to keep up with the demands of the modern healthcare industry.
Quality Where It Counts
Studies have shown that professionals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing are associated with improved patient outcomes and superior institutional performance on a variety of critical measures. Reduced readmissions, shorter lengths of stay in the hospital and earlier detection of complications have all been attributed to the number of BSN nurses on the job. In fact, several studies indicate that hospitals employing a larger number of nurses with BSN degrees or higher actually have lower rates of patient mortality.
Based on these results, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) along with other industry leaders has been campaigning for the BSN to become the new entry-level standard for nursing education. The goal is to ensure that by 2020, at least 80 percent of practicing nurses will have earned their degree. Major hospital networks and smaller independent practices alike are supporting this.
Providers want what is best for their patients and research indicates that means seeking out new hires with BSN degrees. It can also involve encouraging their existing workforce to return to school to explore the critical thinking, leadership and professional skills taught in a BSN program. This can aid even established nurses in making clinical decisions more independently and better serving their patients and medical teams. Online BSN programs are especially helpful in providing the flexibility that working nurses need to pursue this knowledge while still maintaining a demanding work schedule.
Diversity in Practice
Registered nurses can find themselves drawn to a particular area of medicine. Often, discovering this passion is only possible through time and experience on the job. Actually making the transition from general bedside care to a more focused nursing role can be aided by the right education. In fact, since hospital employers are increasingly choosing BSN nurses when hiring for specialized positions, many openings require a BSN as the minimum for consideration.
Pursuing a more focused role can mean enjoying greater autonomy than an RN, while also offering new challenges specific to that area of care. One example is the hospital emergency room nurse. This position can offer a great deal of independence in terms of decision-making and leadership and may come with an added level of accountability. In addition to superior communication, time management and critical thinking skills, taking on this role requires at least two years of trauma care experience on top of a BSN degree.
Highlighting other emergency-related positions, once the initial situation has subsided, another type of specialist - the critical care nurse - is needed to take over. Working with patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) or those admitted for a longer-term recovery from acute trauma requires more focused service than standard bedside nursing. While the critical care nurse’s skillset and scope of work overlap with that of emergency nurse’s, they tend to work toward the continued recovery of patients. These roles bridge the gap between emergency admissions and departures from the facility. Here again, the impact of a BSN education on patient outcomes and overall hospital performance is apparent: earlier interventions, lower mortality and shorter total lengths of stay.
Looking outside the ICU and trauma ward, other specialized roles include that of community nurses, caregivers who can play a lead role in expanding access to vulnerable populations. For patients with no insurance or who are living in rural and remote areas, every encounter with the health care system can become more important and more complicated. These patients tend to be in greater need of preventive care support as well as help navigating the insurance and referral process. In such instances, community nurses with BSN training are not only able to practice to the fullest extent of their licensure but can be better equipped for guiding and educating their patients through the complexities of the health system.
Impacting Nursing Beyond Care
Ensuring the kind of patient outcomes and clinical improvements associated with the BSN isn’t just a matter of hands-on care. It is as important to have skilled nurses taking on managerial roles, directing teams and advancing standards for treatment as it is to have them by the bedside.
In today’s complex and dynamic environment, experienced managers are needed to support caregivers on the frontlines. Among the leadership roles a BSN can prepare graduates for is nurse manager. Nurse managers help to better promote evidence-based practices for medical teams and facilities, ensuring that all patients are receiving care consistent with the latest research, technology and treatment standards. These specialists also earn well above the norm for RNs, as they have the opportunity to move from hands-on clinical care to more administrative roles.
Leadership in nursing can also provide the opportunity to teach other caregivers - another skill that can be developed during a BSN program. With serious shortages of nurses in all specialties projected for many states and regions across the United States, there is a surge of demand for faculty to train them. Practical experience is obviously part of what makes a great nurse educator. Additionally, the broad-based training that a BSN provides can be a helpful factor. Being able to pass along this higher-level perspective is invaluable to nursing students in the classroom or practice clinics preparing to begin their own entry into the field.
Working Nurses Have Nothing to Fear
Nurses perform countless functions in medical facilities across the globe every day as they help to ensure quality patient care. From navigating long shifts to coping with challenging cases, it can be intimidating to consider enhancing your nursing education further while continuing to work full time or even part time in the field. Fortunately, there are options out there to fit nearly every type of schedule, and programs like the Online RN to BSN degree at Arizona State University are helping professionals realize their dreams, advance their skills and maintain a healthy work-life-school balance as they strive to do more in health care.
Nurses know how valuable their time is, but becoming a student again doesn’t have to mean compromising your engagement at work or at home. The format of the Arizona State University online BSN offers flexibility for the working student, and this program can be completed in as little as 15 months, as well as taken more slowly depending on individual needs.
If you are serious about taking your nursing career forward, earning your online BSN has never been more manageable. From better patient outcomes to more control and autonomy in your nursing career, there are countless reasons to consider how a BSN can prove to be a worthwhile investment of your time and energy.
6Aiken, L., Sloane, D.M., et al. (2014, May 24). Nurse staffing and education and hospital mortality in nine European countries: a retrospective observational study. The Lancet, 383(9931), 1824-1830.