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Study Says Nurses Should Receive Four-Year Degree

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
January 7, 2010

A new study has recommended that all nurses receive a bachelor in science degree in order to practice.

The study, entitled "Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation," was conducted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and was based on research at nursing schools and a national survey of teachers and students. The study also recommended that nurses complete a master's degree in nursing within ten years after graduation.

"Redesigning nursing education is an urgent societal agenda," wrote the authors in the publication. "The profound changes in nursing practice and healthcare call for equally profound changes in the education of nurses and the preparation of nurse educators. Unfortunately, the current climate rewards short-term focus and cost-savings over the quality of nursing education and patient care."

Many nurses currently enter the field by obtaining a two-year associate degree. Patricia Benner, director of the Carnegie study and professor emerita at the University of California at San Francisco School of Nursing, told Inside Higher Ed that 60 percent of nurses graduate with associate degrees, and only 16 percent of community college nursing graduates go on to earn a four-year degree.

"I'm not against community college nursing programs, and this is not a diatribe against community colleges," she was quoted as saying in Inside Higher Ed. "But something is out of whack when they get a degree that doesn't allow them to go on to advanced practice. It's just not adequate to meet current demands."

The Carnegie study calls for a "seamless transition" between community college two-year nursing programs and baccalaureate nursing programs, which, according to Benner, should allow nurses to complete BS degrees in about four and a half years. But the controversial conclusions of the study are likely to make waves in community colleges which offer the popular two-year programs.

"I teach in a rural setting and a main advantage of offering a two-year RN degree is that it puts the nurse graduate to work in a shorter amount of time so they can support their family," wrote Kin Tinsley, a member of the National Organization for Associate Degree Nursing's Board of Directors, in an e-mail that was quoted in Inside Higher Ed. "They cannot afford to attend four years of B.S.N. classes and not work. . . . The majority of our students are either married with a family or are a single parent. They cannot afford the time nor resources to attend a four-year program."

Requiring a four-year degree could also very likely further overwhelm nursing schools already forced to turn away applicants because of a shortage of available slots. According to the Center to Champion Nursing in America, nursing schools rejected 99,000 qualified applicants to baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2008 due to a lack of faculty and resources.

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