Healthcare systems and the way safe, quality health care is delivered are continually changing to better serve patients and communities. Professional nursing practice is a large component in the healthcare system today. Back in the 1960s, professional nursing leaders tried to adopt the bachelor degree programs as the only educational track to become a registered nurse (Creasia & Friberg, 2011). Due to nursing shortages and demands this motive did not hold fast. Individuals entering the nursing profession today must first decide which educational pathway to take to become a Registered Nurse (RN).
Although there are studies that suggest nurses with a higher level of education have better overall outcomes, there still exist different educational pathways one can take to become a registered nurse. The two most popular educational programs today are the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both programs prepare students to sit for the state’s NCLEX exam and obtain a registered nurse license. Each educational pathway poses different advantages and disadvantages.
The associate level degree can be obtained in two to three years and offered through community colleges and technical schools. Because the length of the program is shorter than the BSN program, this can be viewed as an advantage, saving both time and money. ADN nurses are typically educated to be direct care providers, usually employed by hospitals and long term care facilities. The course of study includes general education and clinical nursing classes (Creasia & Friberg, 2011). Technical skills are emphasized in the ADN programs, leaving little time for critical thinking skills.
According to the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN), ADN nurses are better suited to work at the bedside in less complicated plans of care (Baccalaureate Degree, 2000). The associate degree nurse does possess good technical skills. The bachelor level degree can be obtained in four years by attending a college or university. Obviously, the BSN program will take more time and money over the ADN program. Although most colleges and universities offer traditional four year nursing programs, some offer accelerated programs.
It will usually cost the same, however you are able to enter the nursing profession sooner. Unlike the ADN program, “the BSN nurse is better prepared to practice in all health care settings – critical care, outpatient, public health, and mental health” (Baccalaureate Degree, 2000, para. 8). In addition to the content taught in ADN programs, the humanistic BSN education encompasses more of the physical and social sciences (Impact of Education, 2011). The BSN nurse is better prepared to work more independently, therefore is well qualified to practice in healthcare systems outside of the hospital.
Bachelor programs “prepare professional nurse generalists for acute care settings, community-based practice, and beginning leadership /management positions” (Creasia & Friberg, 2011, p. 32). This course of study is crucial to the delivery of good, safe, quality patient care. There have been several research studies completed to see if there is a correlation between higher RN education level and better patient outcomes. Several studies concluded there is decrease in mortality rates within hospitals that employee a greater percentage of bachelor prepared nurses (Creating a More, 2011).
There are several patient care situations within hospitals in which a BSN nurse would be better qualified to create and manage a patient’s plan of care. Suppose a 28 year old American Indian female was admitted for preterm labor at 32 works gestation with a history of non-compliant diabetes since age 15. Both the ADN and BSN nurse could clinically perform a thorough assessment of the patient, monitor fetal condition and uterine activity, and administer medications.
This patient needs more than just acute clinical care; she needs education and resources on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle for her and for the child she will soon be raising. A BSN practitioner has extensive training in cultural, social, and economic areas and would be a much better provider of care than the ADN nurse. Both ADN and BSN nurses will usually start at the same salary in the hospital or long term care facility, the ADN nurse will be limited to career advancements and opportunities.
Charge nurse positions may be available in some organizations; however any position of higher level will almost always require an advanced education. Years of experience will sometimes be of relevance for a higher level position, but ultimately, these positions go to individuals who hold a bachelors and/or masters degree. As healthcare settings and delivery of care change, more nursing positions require the Bachelors of Science degree to be hired (Baccalaureate Degree, 2000). Overall, studies and research have proven the BSN nurse to be better prepared professionally for the ever changing healthcare systems of our world today and tomorrow.
There have been great strides by nursing leaders and organizations around the nation to increase the number of bachelor degree nurses from 50% to 80% by the year 2020 (Employment of New Nurse, 2011). Even though deciding which educational pathway to take now is still up to the individual, research points to the BSN program. Choosing the BSN educational pathway over the ADN not only provides a broader spectrum of education to better serve patients and communities, but also opens many doors of opportunity for growth and advancement.