Accelerating Support for Nursing Education

Jan 17, 2014, 9:54 AM, Posted by

Jane Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, is president of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellows program. This post is part of the “Health Care in 2014” series, in which health leaders, as well as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholars, grantees, and alumni, share their New Year’s resolutions for our health care system and their priorities for action this year.


2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the landmark study conducted by Linda Aiken, PhD, FAAN, FRCN, RN, and colleagues, which showed a strong connection between nursing education and patient outcomes. Published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the study’s researchers found that patients experienced significantly lower mortality and failure to rescue rates in hospitals with higher proportions of baccalaureate-prepared nurses. In her analysis, Dr. Aiken stated that the study’s results “suggest that employers’ efforts to recruit and retain baccalaureate-prepared nurses in bedside care and their investments in further education for nurses may lead to substantial improvements in the quality of care.”

Since the release of this groundbreaking research, almost a dozen additional studies have been published, which validate these conclusions and confirm that nursing education is a factor in saving lives. Having this evidence has helped to crystalize support for advancing nursing education among nurse executives, hospital administrators, legislators, and the public. In 2005, for example, the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) endorsed a statement calling for all RNs to be educated in baccalaureate programs in an effort to prepare clinicians for their challenging and complex roles. AONE, the national voice for nurse leaders in the practice arena, understands clearly the demands placed on today’s nurse and how much education is needed for nurses to provide safe, effective care now and into the future.

Even before the JAMA study, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) had long advocated for the creation of a more highly educated nursing workforce in the interest of improving patient safety and providing quality care. As academic nursing leaders, we understand that education matters and has a direct impact on a nurse’s ability to provide essential services along the continuum of care.

Though support for baccalaureate-level nursing was once considered divisive in some circles, times are indeed changing. Support for academic progression in nursing—a key recommendation in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on the Future of Nursingis now widely embraced by most organizations, employers, and opinion leaders interested in moving the profession forward.  The evidence-based findings in the IOM report present a clear argument for supporting national, state, and local efforts to advance the formal education of today’s registered nurse.

Reaching the IOM Committee’s goal of preparing at least 80 percent of the nation’s RN workforce at the baccalaureate or higher degree level by 2020 will require innovative solutions and collective action among all parties engaged in the development of future generations of nurses. Now is the time for nurse educators, higher education administrators, employers, legislators, and other stakeholders to commit to marshalling resources and providing opportunities to enable all nurses to take the next step in their educational development. Together we can send a clear message that quality nursing education matters, while instilling a passion for lifelong learning among new recruits to the profession.

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