Nurses for the Future

The Institute of Medicine in 2010 recommended that the proportion of nurses holding at least a bachelor’s degree be increased from its current level of 50 percent to 80 percent by 2020. Yet nursing schools turn away thousands of qualified applicants due to budget constraints and a worsening shortage in nursing faculty. When half of nursing school faculty members reach retirement in the next 10 years, the country’s nursing resources will be crippled, with repercussions for patient care.

To qualify for faculty positions or for advanced-practice registered nurse (APRN) positions with their enhanced new roles in primary care, associate-degreed nurses must get two additional academic degrees—a bachelors and a masters. This presents a high barrier for many practicing nurses.

Through creative collaboration, nursing schools, community colleges and universities can grant a bachelor’s degree as the end point of basic nursing education. Federal Department of Education Perkins grants could be used to fund bachelor degree nurses. Medicare funding for nurse education could support clinical training of graduate level APRNs rather than diploma nursing programs.

If offered, educational institutions and students will respond to financial incentives and shift entry-level nursing education to where it should be—entirely at the baccalaureate level.