In 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued eight recommendations that dared to transform the nursing profession by 2020. This year marks the midway point for reaching the goals outlined in the report “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” and statistics at halftime offer a glimpse into nursing’s progress so far.
Although the numbers in some areas have altered little in the first few years, infrastructure changes have been set in motion that will lead to more noticeable improvements in the data in the next several years, said Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior adviser for nursing. The RWJF partnered with the IOM to produce the report.
“I am a very impatient person and would like things to move faster, but we have to remember that we are changing social norms with these goals,” Hassmiller said. “We are trying, for example, to convince hospital leaders, nursing students and educational institutions that it is important for nurses to have a baccalaureate degree, and that takes time.”
Hassmiller is referring to Recommendation 4 of the report, which calls academic nurse leaders across all schools of nursing to work together to increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50% to 80% by 2020. The most recent data collected from the American Community Survey by the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action found that the percentage of employed nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher only climbed 2% between 2010 and 2013. However, Hassmiller suggested the percentage is likely to increase rapidly in coming years because nursing schools have increased capacity to accommodate more students. As a result, the number of nurses enrolled in RN-to-BSN programs skyrocketed between 2010 and 2014, from about 77,000 nurses in 2010 to 130,300 students in 2014, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing — a 69% increase.
New education models
Campaign for Action leaders also are optimistic about the profession’s ability to approach the 80% goal because nursing schools are beginning to experiment with new models of education, such as bringing BSN programs to community colleges.
Traditionally, students spend at least three years in a community college earning an associate’s degree to become an RN — at least a year for prerequisites and another two to complete the nursing program, Hassmiller said. These RNs may work for a few years before returning to school to earn a BSN — and some may not return at all, said Jenny Landen, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, dean of the School of Health, Math and Sciences at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico. To avoid losing potential BSN students, leaders from New Mexico’s university and community colleges began meeting to discuss a new paradigm: students who were dually enrolled in a community college and a university BSN program.
The educators started by forming a common statewide baccalaureate curriculum that would be used by all community colleges and universities, Landen said. The educators also discussed how to pool resources, such as offering university courses online at local community colleges. “This opens the opportunity of earning a BSN to people who need to stay in their communities during school,” she said. “They may have family commitments locally, and they can take the baccalaureate degree courses at the community college tuition fee, which is much less expensive.”
Four community colleges in New Mexico have launched dual enrollment programs within the last year. At Santa Fe Community College, there are far more applicants than the program can hold, Landen said. Community colleges and universities in other parts of the country also are working together to create programs in which nursing students can be dually enrolled. In addition to nursing schools buying into the need for more BSN-prepared nurses, there also is evidence that employers are moving toward this new standard as well. According to a study released in February in the Journal of Nursing Administration, the percentage of institutions requiring a BSN when hiring new RNs jumped from 9% to 19% between 2011 and 2013.
Beyond the BSN
So far, the national data related to Recommendation 5 — double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020 — suggests there have been minimal changes in the number of employed nurses with a doctorate, yet there has been a significant increase in the number of students pursuing this level of education. According to the JONA article, on average about 3.1% of employed nurses in all institutions had a doctorate in 2011. This rose to 3.6% in 2013. This percentage likely will increase in the coming years because of the proliferation of doctor of nursing practice programs since 2010. These programs are geared for advanced practice RNs who are interested in returning to the clinical setting after earning a doctoral degree. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of students enrolled in DNP programs doubled from just over 7,000 students to more than 14,600. There was a lesser increase in the number of students enrolled in PhD programs, up 12% from 4,600 to 5,100, according to the AACN.
“When the DNP degree became an option, it opened the opportunity of a higher level of education to the working nurse, not the researcher, and that was attractive to many nurses,” said Pat Polansky, MS, RN, director of program development and implementation at the Center to Champion Nursing in America. “Getting a research-based PhD takes longer and not every nurse can do that, so the DNP has become a wonderful option.”
Leaders at the Campaign for Action, however, acknowledge that it is important to find strategies to boost the number of PhD-prepared nurses because the profession needs those nurses in academia and other administrative, research or entrepreneurial roles where they are contributing to the solutions of a transformed healthcare system, Hassmiller said. To encourage more nurses to pursue the path of a PhD, in 2014 the RWJF launched the Future of Nursing Scholars Program, which awards $75,000 per scholar pursuing a PhD. This is matched with $50,000 by the student’s school, and the funds can be used over the course of three years.
In December, the nursing profession will have another opportunity to assess progress on the recommendations when the IOM releases findings from a study that is under way to assess the national impact of the Future of Nursing report. The changes happening in areas such as education are remarkable, Hassmiller said, and she is eagerly anticipating the results from the current IOM study.
“I would never modify the goals because you need something to strive for in order to affect change,” Hassmiller said. “I am extremely encouraged because we have never seen anything like this. For the first time in history, more than half of nurses have a bachelor’s degree, and it is going to keep climbing. The most challenging part has been the number of people that need to be influenced to make the business case as to why it is important, and it is finally happening.”
Key recommendations from “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health”
1) Remove scope-of-practice barriers.
2) Expand opportunities for nurses to lead and diffuse collaborative improvement efforts.
3) Implement nurse residency programs.
4) Increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree to 80% by 2020.
5) Double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020.
6) Ensure that nurses engage in lifelong learning.
7) Prepare and enable nurses to lead change to advance health.
8) Build an infrastructure for the collection and analysis of interprofessional healthcare workforce data.