Second-Degree Nurses Could Play Role in Combating Nursing Shortage

    • February 18, 2009

A new study focuses attention on a pool of potential nursing candidates whose entry into the profession could help combat the coming nursing shortage, and do it in an economical way.

Published in the January/February 2009 issue of the Journal of Professional Nursing, the study compares nurses whose first baccalaureate degree was in nursing with nurses who earned a baccalaureate degree in another field before earning a baccalaureate degree in nursing. Findings from the study, funded with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), suggest that “second-degree nurses” could play an important role in helping solve the current nursing shortage.

According to the study, second-degree nurses are usually older, and because they have more work experience, they may have coping advantages over newer, younger nursing graduates when they enter the workforce. Perhaps as a result, second-degree graduates (SDGs) were, according to the study, “less likely to plan to leave in a year and more likely to plan to stay longer in their first job than were [traditional-baccalaureate graduates], resulting in almost half as many SDGs being indefinite about their plans to stay in their first job. The SDGs’ plan is consistent with a more mature life phase with its attendant economic realities”

“Second-degree candidates bring life experiences to their jobs that are valuable to employers,” said Carol S. Brewer, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor in the School of Nursing at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, and lead author of the study. “Second-degree graduates may be particularly attracted to employers who mitigate family/work conflict.”

Second-degree nurses also can be educated more quickly, according to the study, because they already have college degrees. On the other hand, because they are older, many have shorter work careers. “Nurses in second-degree programs are a great source of new nurses for the health needs of Americans. They usually complete nursing programs in 12-15 months,” said Christine Kovner, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., professor at New York University’s College of Nursing and co-author of the study. “At NYU we have a large second-degree program. I have found teaching these students delightful and think they are wonderful new nurses.”

A Tool for Recruitment and Retention?

Understanding second-degree nurses’ needs better should help organizations design recruitment and retention programs. The study takes note, for example, of previous research indicating that new nurses perceive tuition benefits to be an effective recruitment tool for nurses. Second-degree nurses may feel differently, the authors write. Having already been in school for five to eight years, they may not be interested in tuition help for further degrees. But other incentives, targeted to their age and family situations might be more powerful. Kovner notes, for example, that “some hospitals have started concierge services for their staff. One hospital I visited had a booth in the lobby, where staff could leave dry cleaning, shoe repair, and so on— way to accomplish the errands that maintain a busy life.”

Other highlights from the study:

  • Demographics. Second-degree nurses are less likely to have English as their first language, and more likely to married, have children and be older.
  • Career plans. Second-degree graduates are more certain of their work plans. Twenty percent of traditional graduates said that they did not know how long they planned to stay in their first job, while only 11 percent of second-degree nurses said the same.
  • Impressions of their current jobs. The two groups were remarkably similar in their attitudes about their jobs, agreeing on almost everything about their jobs, from supervisor support to the autonomy they exercise on the job.

The researchers used a 16-page survey to sample 953 newly licensed registered nurses from 35 states. The survey gathered responses to questions about how respondents felt about their jobs, their work settings and their intention to stay at their current job. Nurses participating in the study had been licensed from six to 18 months prior to taking the survey.

The data collection relied on a subset of nurses participating in a larger RWJF-funded study by Brewer and Kovner tracking changes in the careers of a group of newly licensed nurses over 10 years. “The support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has produced the only panel survey of nurses in the United States,” said Kovner. “These data will provide us and other researchers the opportunity to answer multiple questions about nurses—when they are new to the profession and as they progress in their careers.”

(McKnight's Long Term Care News, 1/26/09; University at Buffalo release, 1/28/09; Brewer et al., Journal of Professional Nursing, January/February 2009 [subscription required]).