The 80 Percent by 2020 Recommendation: Overcoming Obstacles

Aug 31, 2011, 4:34 PM, Posted by mtomlinson

Among the more talked-about recommendations in the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing report is the proposal to increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree to 80 percent by 2020. It has been the subject of panel discussions and webinars, as leaders debate both the idea’s merit and what’s involved in implementing it.

In an article on HealthLeaders Media last week, editor Rebecca Hendren offered her assessment. “Patients are sicker and health care is more complex than ever,” she wrote, “and we need a highly educated nursing workforce to cope. At the grassroots level, however, there is little impetus to change.”

But the obstacles to reaching this goal can be overcome, she says.

With a looming nursing shortage that will get worse as baby boomers age, some nurse leaders worry that increasing education requirements to enter practice – thereby increasing the time it takes a new nurse to enter the workforce – will further exacerbate the shortage. But hospitals could require nurses to obtain a BSN within a certain number of years of employment, and could offer tuition assistance and flexible work schedules to accommodate classes, Hendren writes.

Some nurse leaders worry that the suggestion that a baccalaureate degree is “better” than an associate’s degree will cause tension within the profession. “If you're not a nurse, you cannot comprehend the level of passion this topic engenders,” Hendren says. While on-the-job experience is important for nurses at all education levels, more education can only add to their skills. “Nurse leaders need to have a sensible discussion about this without being overly concerned about hurt feelings among staff.”

Hendren also suggests promoting the use of evidence-based research in practice, by creating an environment where keeping up with the latest research is encouraged. Access to the Internet and professional journals, and staff development activities, can encourage nurses to stay educated.

“Having more nurses educated at a higher level isn't an either/or choice,” she writes. “The choice isn't between having enough nurses to meet demand OR having more highly educated nurses. If nurse leaders get behind the cause, hospitals can have both.”

What do you think? Do you see other obstacles to meeting the report’s 80/20 recommendation? Can these obstacles be overcome? Register below to leave a comment.

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