A Culture Where Education Is Valued and Celebrated

Oct 8, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by

Three years ago this week, the Institute of Medicine issued a landmark report, Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. Its recommendations include increasing the proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees to 80 percent by 2020. Charleen Tachibana, MN, RN, FAAN, is senior vice president, hospital administrator, and chief nursing officer at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. Tachibana is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow (2009 – 2012).


Virginia Mason Medical Center began a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)-only hiring guideline in the summer of 2012. The change in hiring guidelines for our staff followed a decade of having educational guidelines in place for our nurse leaders. This was a critical step in our success, as our leaders were able to support and understand the need for this change. It’s important for leaders to model lifelong learning, including advancement with formal education. So, last August I also began my Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.


The publication of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on the Future of Nursing really provided the momentum to move to another level.  The prominence of this report has made this a relatively easy transition and provided the clarity on why this is critical for our patients and for our profession at this point in time. 

Although we have focused this requirement on new hires, it’s been impressive to see the wave of staff RNs returning to school, many for their master’s or doctorate degrees.

Several factors have helped promote this change. We have built degree requirements into our RN job descriptions. Advancements along our career ladders include educational expectations. We’ve also placed degree requirements into our professional recognition program levels to reinforce the progression.

The organization has also supported educational endeavors of our nursing staff with tuition reimbursement programs as well as pay differentials for those with higher levels of education. We have worked to create a culture where education is valued and celebrated.

Some of the groundwork included connecting with our schools of nursing, especially the Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) programs, to inform them of our decisions and to encourage them to work with their students on continuing into BSN completion programs. We hire a limited number of currently employed ADN graduates each year under the condition that they are pre-accepted into a BSN completion program at the time of hire into an RN role. They then are expected to complete this requirement within the first year of employment.

Our BSN (or higher) rates have now tipped above 70 percent. We anticipate reaching 80 percent by 2015—five years before the IOM’s goal.

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