Research has linked registered nurses with higher education to having fewer medication errors, positive patient outcomes, and lower patient mortality rates. While many studies support this conclusion, there are a few that highlight the benefits of having more nurses with a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

Why Higher Education Matters for Registered Nurses

  • In an article published in the March 2013 issue of Health Affairs, nurse researcher Ann Kutney-Lee and colleagues found that a 10-point increase in the percentage of nurses holding a BSN within a hospital was associated with an average reduction of 2.12 deaths for every 1,000 patients—and for a subset of patients with complications, an average reduction of 7.47 deaths per 1,000 patients.
  • In the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Nursing Administration, Mary Blegen and colleagues published findings from a cross-sectional study of 21 University Health system Consortium hospitals which found that hospitals with a higher percentage of RNs with baccalaureate or higher degrees had lower congestive heart failure mortality, decubitus ulcers, failure to rescue, and postoperative deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism and shorter length of stay.
  • An increase in a nurse's workload by one patient increased the likelihood of an inpatient dying within 30 days of admission by 7% (odds ratio 1.068, 95% CI 1.031–1.106), and every 10% increase in bachelor's degree nurses was associated with a decrease in this likelihood by 7% (0.929, 0.886–0.973). These associations imply that patients in hospitals in which 60% of nurses had bachelor's degrees and nurses cared for an average of six patients would have almost 30% lower mortality than patients in hospitals in which only 30% of nurses had bachelor's degrees and nurses cared for an average of eight patients. Therefore, Nurse staffing cuts to save money might adversely affect patient outcomes. An increased emphasis on bachelor's education for nurses could reduce preventable hospital deaths. (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62631-8/abstract )
  • In the October 2012 issue of Medical Care, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that surgical patients in Magnet hospitals had 14% lower odds of inpatient death within 30 days and 12% lower odds of failure-to-rescue compared with patients cared for in non-Magnet hospitals. The study authors conclude that these better outcomes were attributed in large part to investments in highly qualified and educated nurses, including a higher proportion of baccalaureate-prepared nurses.

The Bottom Line: Education Equals Safety & Career Advancement

Research study after research study has proven that the safest hospitals have more BSN educated registered nurses than Associate's or diploma educated nurses. Because of this, the trend in nursing is to encourage higher education and has been for many years.

While Associate's degrees are fine for most healthcare facilities to get hired, the long-term employment prospects of a BSN degree educated nurse are far better than a registered nurse without a BSN.

Learn more about RN to BSN programs.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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