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Pursuing the BSN

Practical strategies for nurses and their employers

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One of the most publicized Institute of Medicine recommendations for the future of nursing is for a nursing workforce that is 80% bachelor's-prepared by 2020.1 Research shows that this is attainable, but difficult.

Studies have identified some common reasons why nurses do not pursue a BSN. Sarver et al,2 Romp et al,3 Alamri et al4 and Duffy et al5 have reported consistent themes: lack of time, lack of money, fear of academia and unease with technology. Commonly cited reasons to enroll in a BSN program are increased opportunity, encouragement by contemporaries, financial incentives, personal goal achievement, professionalism, and transition to a graduate degree program.2-5

This article identifies practical ways that RNs and their employers can overcome some of the more common obstacles to earning a BSN.

SEE ALSO: Strategies for Retention

Making Time
One of the biggest time challenges is researching and deciding on a program. Certain steps make the process easier-and speedier. Ask colleagues who have already done the work what programs they attended to earn their BSN. This will help you determine which programs to research.

Next, develop a list of questions and ask each program the same questions. Call or email the questions to the contact person listed on the college's web page. Consider asking about the following:

• cost per credit hour

• number of credits necessary to earn the degree

• transferable credits

• minimum and maximum time to complete the program

• any challenge credit option

• class format (online/traditional/hybrid)

• ebooks vs. hard cover

• additional program expenses

• available discounts

• number of students who start the program and who graduate from the program

• employment rate after graduation.

After compiling your research, compare the answers to these questions and eliminate for cost and transferable credits. Or, simply follow your gut response to which program is right for you after speaking with program representatives. adult student

Carving out time for classes can be achieved in a variety of ways. Online classes can allow you to flex around personal and work schedules. Scheduling only a couple of classes per year helps make achieving a BSN doable; certain classes may be only 5 weeks long! Some employrs allow flexible schedules to accommodate BSN studies. Ask!

Finding Money
Money is a commonly cited reason for not pursuing a BSN. Many studies show that funds are available for tuition assistance but that RNs are unaware of how to access it.3 Employers of nurses need to remember to do more than simply offer tuition reimbursement and scholarships. They need to provide staff members with access to information on how to take advantage of these opportunities. RNs should be educated about tax breaks and writeoffs for tuition. Employers should consider developing formal partnerships with local nursing education programs to allow RNs to receive some discount on tuition costs.

Nurses also need information about the wide variety of options for obtaining textbooks. The college bookstore is the last place a student should be looking; consider renting or buying used books instead. In some cases, renting will be more economical, but for certain classes it might be best to purchase used.

In a facility that offers tuition assistance, tax breaks, refunds, or partnership discounts, it is conceivable to obtain a BSN with no money out of pocket, typically by spreading a program out over a few calendar years. All of this information should be shared in a variety of ways and multiple times.

Personal Achievement
When considering the advantages of returning to school and achieving a BSN, personal achievement is high on the list. The surprise benefit may be the unexpected inspiration you offer your family, friends and colleagues.

Earning a BSN may be the start of a new educational path in which you achieve a master's or doctoral degree. Earning a BSN will open doors for opportunity in your career that you may not know you even wanted to experience. If you are an RN who has earned a BSN, talk with your ADN or diploma colleagues one-on-one about your experience. You can make a difference.

Patient Experience
As if these were not enough solid reasons for earning BSN, the effects on patient care have to rank high on the motivation list. Studies have shown that having a bachelor's-prepared nurse is advantageous to the patient population.

One study found that as the number of BSN nurses increased on a unit, the number of serious medical errors decreased.6 Another found that a ratio of 60% of more BSN-prepared nurses on a unit decreased the overall mortality rate.7

It is imperative that nurses remember the oath they took as professionals: "Do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession."8 What are you doing today to elevate your standard of practice? One way to achieve this standard of care is to continue with lifelong learning.

I have interviewed countless nurses who have earned a BSN and beyond, and one question and response always strikes a personal cord. When asked if there is anything they would do differently if they were doing it again today, the most common response I hear is: "I wish I had started sooner." So, start today. Make the commitment to achieve your BSN. And if you have your BSN, make the commitment to encourage one colleague to get started on the BSN journey. Together we can achieve an 80% ratio of BSNs by 2020. 


1. Institute of Medicine. The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.

2. Sarver W, et al. Perceived benefits, motivators, and barriers to advancing nursing education: Removing barriers to improve success. Nursing Education Perspectives. 2015;36(3):153-156.

3. Romp C, et al. Motivators and barriers to returning to school: RN to BSN. N Nurses Prof Devel. 2014;30(2):83-86.

4. Alamri M, Sharts-Hopko N. Motivational factors and barriers related to Saudi Arabian Nurses' pursuit of a bachelor of science in nursing degree. Nursing Education Perspective. 2015;36:157-162.

5. Duffy M, et al. BSN Completion Barriers, Challenges, Incentives, and Strategies. J Nurs Admin. 2014;44(4):232-236.

6. Chang Y, Mark B. Antecedents of severe and nonsevere medication errors. J Nurs Scholarship. 2009;41(1):70-78.

7. Clarke S, et al. Effects of hospital care environment on patient mortality and nurse outcomes. J Nurs Admin. 2008;38(5):223-229.

8. Florence Nightingale Pledge.

Beth Hogan is the clinical director of nursing at Northern GI Endoscopy Center in Glen Falls, NY. She writes the BSN Benefits for Nurses blog for ADVANCE.

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