A Personal Reason to Applaud an Important Advance for Academic Progression in Nursing

Sep 20, 2012, 10:00 AM, Posted by


Those of us who are working to implement recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, got great news this week when leaders from national organizations representing community college presidents, boards, and program administrators joined with representatives from nursing education associations to endorse a Joint Statement on Academic Progression for Nursing Students and Graduates.  This was a historic moment that will mean greater support for efforts to help nurses advance their education.

Acknowledging the shared goal of preparing a well-educated, diverse nursing workforce, the consensus statement says that nursing students and practicing nurses should be supported in their efforts to pursue higher levels of education. Its endorsing organizations are the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Association of Community Colleges Trustees (ACCT), the National League for Nursing (NLN), and the National Organization for Associate Degree Nursing (N-OADN).

In addition, Donna Meyer, MSN, RN, the president of N-OADN, an affiliated council of AACC, published a powerful commentary in Community College Times. In it, Meyer voiced support for allowing every associate degree nurse access to additional nursing education and urged employers and others to develop innovative strategies to help associate degree nurses get higher degrees.

All this had special meaning for me, because I started my career at a community college.  It was a terrific experience for me, and I am very proud of that degree. I felt confident and prepared to complete all the tasks required of me when I entered the workforce.

But I quickly realized there was more I wanted – and needed – to know to provide high-quality care for my patients. So I went back to school, and soon felt the increased competence, and confidence, at every turn.

Today I have a PhD and love my profession even more than I did when I started. It took work, though. People in my generation struggled mightily, repeating course work, clinicals and trials as they progressed through the education system.

Students today benefit greatly from seamless articulation and other best practices that make their transition easier.  Meaningful partnerships, including those between community colleges and four-year institutions, have created a system that makes it a lot easier for nurses to pursue higher degrees.

That’s one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about the IOM recommendation that encourages nurses’ academic progression. It set a target of having 80 percent of nurses hold BSN or higher degrees by 2020. This recommendation was made because evidence indicates that we will need to prepare more nurses with more education to meet the needs of a growing patient population that will receive care in an increasingly complex health care system.

Right now, community college nursing programs educate more than half of the nursing workforce, and those nurses are the backbone of our health care system.  The majority of RNs in rural communities hold associate’s degrees, and community colleges educate the largest proportion of nursing students from underrepresented communities.

The Future of Nursing:  Campaign for Action, which now has Action Coalitions in 49 states, is delighted to join with these partners as we work to strengthen nursing education and meet the health care challenges the lie ahead.   We look forward to working together to encourage more states, community colleges and employers to adopt and promote academic progression models, including seamless transition from associate degree to BSN, dual admission programs, associate-to-master’s degree programs, and BSN completion programs at community colleges.  

With that support, I know that, like me, many nurses in community colleges today will someday have more advanced degrees—and patients, our health care system, and our country will be better off as a result.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.