Must have bachelor's degree: Hospitals' new requirement for nurses

Job-seeking nurses are finding it harder to get work without a bachelor's degree, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

In the past, nurses have graduated with an associate degree expecting to land a well-paying job. But now hospitals are looking for nurses with more-advanced degrees, partly because of the increasingly complex healthcare system.

The Affordable Care Act, for instance, has placed more focus on chronic and preventive care, leading hospitals to look for nurses with more coordination and leadership skills, according to The Wall Street Journal. However, those skills are not generally taught as part of associate-degree curriculum.

The report also points to the fact hospitals are constantly striving to obtain Magnet status, and nurses in leadership roles at Magnet hospitals must have a bachelor's degree.

In addition, the Institute of Medicine in 2010 called for 80 percent of the nursing workers to have bachelor's degrees by 2020, according to the report. The independent advisory group's goal came on the heels of previous research that found hospitals with a higher proportion of nurses with bachelor's degrees scored higher on important indicators of overall quality of care.

Main Line Health in Pennsylvania and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles are among the health systems that explicitly require bachelor's degrees or higher for their nursing residency programs, according to the report. Some hospitals do hire nurses with associate degrees, but they are increasingly requiring the nurses to complete a bachelor's degree within a set period, usually three to five years, the report notes.

However, not everybody is on board. According to The Wall Street Journal, Diana Mason, president of the American Academy of Nursing and a nursing professor at Hunter College in New York, expressed concern that hospitals' increasing preference for nurses with four-year degrees could block what has been seen as a reliable way into the middle class.

"That's a beautiful aspect of nursing's career ladder, is that it enables people to move from maybe a family growing up in poverty, to solidly middle class," she said, according to the report. "It provides access to people who can't afford a baccalaureate education."


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