Nurses and nursing students in Washington will soon have an easier time getting their bachelor’s degrees thanks to a new agreement among the state’s academic institutions.
In March, the state’s community and technical colleges and four-year universities announced a plan to create a shorter, smoother path to the bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) degree. The agreement will help increase the number of nurses with bachelor’s degrees, which will, in turn, improve the quality and safety of patient care, proponents say.
“This agreement will improve the efficiency and transparency of the pathway to the BSN and allow students to be able to get credit for work that’s been done,” said Mary Baroni, PhD, RN, a professor at the University of Washington at Bothell. “That has been difficult in the past because of different transfer policies at different academic institutions.”
Some 53 percent of the state’s nurses held bachelor’s degrees in 2008—far from the 80 percent threshold recommended by a landmark report on the future of nursing released in 2010 by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). More BSN-prepared nurses are needed to provide more highly skilled care to an aging, and increasingly complex, population, the report says.
The need for more highly educated nurses is especially acute in some of Washington’s more rural areas, where the percentage of BSN-prepared nurses is lower than 30 percent, Baroni added. Nurses and nursing students in the state’s more rural areas have few opportunities to access higher education because four-year universities are located in more densely populated, urban areas. That puts rural nurses at a disadvantage when it comes to advancing their careers, Baroni said, noting that health care facilities are putting a greater emphasis on hiring and promoting nurses with BSNs and higher degrees.
Confusion, Redundancy, and Delay
Moreover, moving from the associate degree to the baccalaureate is often fraught with confusion, redundancy, and delay, thanks to differences among academic institutions over how credit hours are determined, what courses are required for acceptance, limits on the number of transferrable credits, and variability in general education requirements.
The new Associate in Nursing Direct Transfer Agreement seeks to iron out those differences so more nurses from all regions in the state will be able to earn their BSNs. Under the plan, students will take at least three years of academic coursework at a participating community or technical college and, after passing a pre-licensure exam, will be eligible to finish the BSN in a fourth year. It assures consistent transfer of credits toward the BSN degree across the state, trimming up to one year off the time it currently takes to earn the degree.
It also standardizes the way academic institutions award and accept credits for classes students have already taken, increasing transparency and reducing the potential for redundancy and delay. In short, it creates more efficient and consistent nurse education programs across the state.
The agreement was expedited thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Academic Progression in Nursing program (APIN). The Washington Nursing Action Coalition, a group of nurses and others working to transform health care through nursing, was one of nine state groups that received APIN grants in 2012. Action Coalitions are the driving force behind the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a collaborative effort between RWJF and AARP that is working to implement recommendations from the IOM report on the future of nursing.
“The grant really gave the state a sense of pride and recognition and the synergy to make the agreement happen,” Baroni said. “A strong history of collaboration among and between all levels of nurse educators and stakeholders in higher education was also an immense help,” she added. “This broad constituency of support, and the incorporation of our work into our state’s higher education infrastructure, will make long-term sustainability possible.”
She and others plan to apply for a second APIN grant to support the development of a new nursing school curriculum to support the new academic pathway to the BSN.
Learn more about the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action.
Learn more about APIN.
Read a press release about the 2012 APIN grants.