Despite continued shortages in the healthcare field, nurses are expected to have higher levels of education than ever before. It now is common practice that students who start working after studying for their bachelor’s degree continue to peruse continued educational advancements. As healthcare becomes more complex, we’re calling for more graduate and doctoral educated nurses.


In the past, it used to be that some nurses have baccalaureate degrees while others were fine with just their degrees from associate or diploma programs. However, now more than 60% of nurses have at least their bachelor’s. In 1980 only as few as 5% of registered nurses had their doctorate degree while an overwhelming 55% only had their diploma. Believe it or not, at that time, most nurses didn’t go to college at all.


Fast forward to 2008, and now 13% of RNs have a master’s or doctorate (which is equal to the number that only have their diploma.) With time, we can see that nurses are taking more educational preparation than in the past. Sure, nurses are still so in demand that you can get a job without a baccalaureate education—but that’s not where the money is. Plus, some places won’t even interview a person who doesn’t have their B.S.N.


A huge debate has been bubbling for years regarding the current education systems circling in the registered nurse department. Several years ago the Institute of Medicine released a report called The Future of Nursing in which they called for increasing the number of nurses with bachelor degrees to the profession by 2020. By no means was this the first time groups have pushed for nurses to achieve higher levels of education. A team at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching lead by Dr. Patricia Benner did a study in 2009 called Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation in which it found that a lot of the nurses were undereducated. They recommended that all nurses in entry-level positions have bachelor degrees and should be required to obtain their master’s degree within 10 years of obtaining their first license.


It seems that if nurses don’t continue to climb the education ladder, their career potential is likely to fall off. However, nursing is a high-stress career as it—so how are so many LPNs and RNs balancing work and pursuing higher education?


There are three ways students become registered nurses. They can participate in a 3 year program from a hospital, attend a community college’s 3 year associate degree program, or take a 4-year baccalaureate degree at a university or college. However, four-year colleges are becoming the most popular way to start nursing careers. More than 600 schools have “R.N. to B.S.N. programs” to help current RNs advance. The availability of online courses has tripled in the past decade, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. This has made it easier to get back to school while still working.


Caroline has her bachelor’s degree in communication with a focus in public relations. She is the Digital Marketing Specialist for Track5Media, a parent company to Travel Nurse Source.

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