There has been a 76% increase since 2007 in the number of registered nurses who are in bachelor’s of science degree programs nationwide, according to this article in the Columbus Dispatch, citing numbers from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
In Ohio, the increase is even more dramatic, with four times as many nurses enrolled in these RN-to-BSN programs in 2011 than were enrolled just three years earlier.
Employers are encouraging these degrees and are likely behind the increases. In January, for example, Nationwide Children’s Hospital began to require new nursing hires to have a bachelor’s degree or else earn one within five years. This is becoming increasingly typical.
So why are the employers encouraging the more-advanced degrees? Research suggests that nurses with such degrees are associated with “better rescue of patients who are deteriorating,” according to the chief nursing officer at Nationwide.
Several other local hospitals such as Mount Carmel and OSU’s Wexner Medical center are setting timetables for making similar pushes for degrees. The goal is for 80% of their nurses to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020; currently the percentage is 40-45% at Mount Carmel, for example.
That goal won’t be reached through hiring practices alone, said Gingy Harshey-Meade, CEO of the Ohio Nurses Association. Working nurses would have to return to school.
“You have to create incentives in the workplace to get people to go back to school,” she said. “ If you’re working full-time, it’s another big, full-time commitment.”
Local hospitals have nudged nurses back to school by reimbursing tuition and other incentives.
One is Kassy Robinson, a critical-care nurse at OhioHealth’s Grant Medical Center who received her bachelor’s degree a month ago. “I think I held them off for about five years,” she joked.
At Grant, the percentage of bedside nurses with bachelor’s degrees has climbed in recent years, from 31 percent in 2006 to 47 percent in 2011.
Robinson, 33, of Marengo, put off more school while her children were young. But once her youngest child started kindergarten, she enrolled in an Ohio University online nursing program.
An OhioHealth nurse for 10 years, Robinson said additional education helped her understand why she was doing her work a certain way. “You feel like you’re a little bit more able to be a leader,” she said.
Mount Carmel, OhioHealth and Wexner Medical Center still hire nurses with associate degrees and don’t require them to earn a bachelor’s degree within a specified period of time.
Hospital nurse executives said they value associate-degree nurses, noting that their diversity of backgrounds mirrors that of patients. But when they hire such nurses, they want them to further their education.
“We are concentrating on the bachelor’s-degree nurse more than the associate-degree nurse,” said Catherine Luchsinger, chief nursing officer for Mount Carmel Health System. “It gives them opportunities beyond the bedside.”
The Ohio Nurses Association would support passage of a bill that would require all new nurses licensed in Ohio to also have a bachelor’s degree in nursing within 10 years.
But that initiative has stalled. The Ohio Hospital Association opposes the mandate, saying many hospitals already are moving in that direction voluntarily.
And the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, is concerned a mandate could limit the supply of nurses.
But as hospitals seek more nurses with bachelor’s degrees, more nurses with associate degrees are taking jobs at nursing homes, said Peter Van Runkle, Ohio Health Care Association executive director.
At some hospitals, pushing for more highly educated nurses is part of an effort to earn or retain magnet status, a widely recognized designation of quality nursing care. That designation is held locally by OhioHealth’s Grant Medical Center and Riverside Methodist Hospital; Nationwide Children’s Hospital; and University and Ross Heart hospitals at Wexner Medical Center.
All else being equal, nurses with associate degrees are paid as much as nurses with bachelor’s degrees at Nationwide Children’s, Mount Carmel and OhioHealth. But at Wexner Medical Center and the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center, nurses with bachelor’s degrees are paid more.
The average hourly wage for a staff registered nurse in Ohio was $27.27 in 2011, according to an Ohio Hospital Association survey.
Even when a bachelor’s degree doesn’t increase the pay of staff nurses, it opens the door to higher-paying jobs such as clinical educators, nursing executives said.
As nurses are returning to school, enrollment in bachelor’s-degree programs at local nursing colleges has ballooned. This year, 153 people enrolled in Ohio State’s bachelor’s in nursing program, up more than 50 percent from last year. Mount Carmel College of Nursing graduated 244 undergraduates this year, up from 145 five years ago.
Nursing colleges said they also are seeing tremendous growth in bachelor’s nursing-degree programs that are online or tailored to college-educated professionals interested in switching careers. Ohio University’s online RN-to-BSN program alone has seen credit hours soar from 5,162 in fall 2009 to 28,310 in fall 2011.
Many associate-degree programs have retooled to help graduates continue their nursing education, emphasizing that they shouldn’t see an associate degree as a “terminal degree.”