Website spotlight: Why advanced degrees for nurse leaders matter

Nurse Leader Insider, July 4, 2011

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The healthcare landscape is shifting and today's changes are mole hills compared to the looming mountains that healthcare will climb. Nurses must be engaged in the debate and preparation for changes in care delivery.

"I ask my nurses: 'When you're sitting around the table with care managers, physicians, physical therapy, etc, do you really want to be the least-educated person at the table?'" says Kim Sharkey, BSN, RN, MBA, NE-A, BC, who is CNO/vice president of medicine at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta. "The answer is no. [At Saint Joseph's] we've got a constant agenda to raise the level of our nursing staff because it puts them at a more equal place at the decision making table."

In addition, to handle the complexities of care and greater responsibilities, nurses will need more education and training. Today, only about half of RNs have a baccalaureate degree. In 2008, the proportion with advanced (master's or doctorate) degrees was about 13.2%. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing, at the Institute of Medicine, identified increasing the educational levels of nurses as a critically important component of professional development and devoted two of its eight recommendations to the issue.

The first recommended 80% of nurses should have baccalaureate degrees by 2020 and called on schools of nursing to partner with employers, public and private sectors, and communities to find ways to increase the number of nurses entering baccalaureate programs. The second recommended doubling the number of nurses with doctorate degrees by 2020, which would increase the cadre of nurse faculty and researchers.

At an individual level, nurse leaders around the country are taking the report to heart and looking for ways to encourage and support nurses to pursue further study. Some organizations are requiring all nurses obtain their BSNs within a certain timeframe after hire. Others are focusing on emphasizing the value of education and serving as role models for pursuing advanced degrees.

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