For years, all that was required to pass the exam to become a Registered Nurse (RN) was an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. And while it’s still possible to get into nursing with an associate’s degree and many nurses do begin their careers with this qualification, many nursing jobs are increasingly requiring candidates to hold an advanced degree such as a master’s degree in nursing.
The current nursing shortage in the USA has led to an increased need to hire thousands of nurses in the next few years - a situation that has only been exemplified by the current COVID-19 pandemic which made the pressure on nurses and the healthcare system clearer than ever.
But in light of the need for nurses, why is it becoming harder to qualify and find work as a nurse? Healthcare has a lot of valid reasons for why they want nurses to be better educated, and this is mirrored in New York State, where it is a legal requirement for RNs with an associate’s degree in nursing to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) within ten years of getting their license. And, nurses who hold more advanced degrees tend to be better prepared to handle the pressures of modern nursing.
Here are some of the main reasons why advanced nursing degrees are becoming increasingly important.
- Better Healthcare System
One of the main reasons why more and more hospitals and healthcare providers are requiring nurses to hold an advanced degree is that they are seeking Magnet status in order to certify the excellent care that they provide and ensure that they are offering an ideal work environment for healthcare professionals such as nurses. Many hospitals today are committed to the process of earning Magnet status, which requires at least 80% of nurses in employment there to hold at least a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, and all nurse leaders should have at least a master’s degree. Due to this, any hospitals that have already achieved Magnet status or are working towards it are unlikely to hire applicants that do not hold these credentials, regardless of their experience.
- Improved Patient Care
The growing need for advanced degrees in nursing is not all about helping hospitals gain Magnet status. One of the biggest reasons why an increasing number of healthcare facilities are looking to only hire nurses with an advanced degree is that it creates a significant positive impact in terms of patient care. There have been several studies that have shown the improvement to patient care where nurses are qualified with at least a BSN. In fact, one study published in the Medical Care journal found that the patient mortality risk is decreased by almost 4% when just 10% more nurses have a BSN or higher. Other studies have found that more highly qualified nurses tend to lead to shorter stays in hospitals for patients, lower readmission rates, and a lower risk of complications for patients.
- Better Career Prospects for Nurses
Today, nurses themselves are some of the main beneficiaries when it comes to advanced nursing degrees. The benefits of earning advanced nursing qualifications are not only for employers and patients, with nurses set to reap some of the biggest rewards. Gone are the days of nurses being the cleaners and helpers in hospitals; today they are respected medical professionals in their own right and the opportunities for career progression are endless. For example, the shortage of primary care physicians in the US has led to an increased number of nurses working up the ladder to become nurse practitioners.
A nurse practitioner has several more responsibilities and more authority compared to a registered nurse and, in some states, these professionals are trusted to diagnose patients and prescribe medication and treatment without the need for supervision from a doctor. And with the number of nurses that hold a BSN or MSN on the rise, the competition for advanced nursing careers is also quite strong, leading to an increase in nurses gaining more and more advanced qualifications in order to stand out in the job market.
- Wide Range of Options
Today’s nurses have more options available to them when it comes to getting an advanced degree. Nurses no longer have to take time out of work in order to earn a master’s degree or a doctorate in nursing, with DNP programs in Texas available to take online and fit around full-time work as a healthcare professional. More and more employers are willing to foot the bill for tuition fees for nurses looking to advance their careers, making it easier for those nurses who are concerned about funding their studies to get ahead and progress their careers in the desired direction. Getting an advanced nursing degree today is available to any nurse at any level rather than being limited to those who are able to afford not only tuition, but also the process of taking 2-4 years out of full-time work to dedicate to full-time study.
- How to Get an Advanced Nursing Degree
There are various requirements for getting an advanced nursing degree which will depend on the program that you want to study and the specialist area that you choose. In general, nurses will be required to possess at least a BSN before embarking on an advanced nursing study at any level. Those who want to get a doctorate in nursing should first obtain a master’s degree in nursing. Entry requirements will vary depending on the school, program, and various other factors, so it is important to check the specific requirements for the program that you want to study. Nurses also have the option to study in various ways including traditional classroom-based study, work-based training, online study, or blended study which involves both classroom and online learning. If you are already working as a nurse, your employer may be partnered with certain nursing schools that they can recommend.
Today, advanced nursing degree programs are becoming more and more important in the world of healthcare - and with the benefits that they provide, it’s easy to see why.