RN to BSN: Why Earning Bachelor’s Degrees is Essential for Tennessee Nurses

If you’re a nurse or an aspiring nurse, you may have heard of the “80-20 by 2020” initiative. The strong recommendation by the Institute of Medicine that 80 percent of the nursing workforce have a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) by 2020 was issued in 2010, and has gained significant momentum in recent years.

Although the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation is not a mandate, hospitals are voluntarily moving toward a better-educated workforce because research shows that it improves patient outcomes.

The Tennessee Board of Nursing reports that enrollment in BSN programs increased across the state by 20 percent from 2011 to 2016. To put that in perspective, from 2011 to 2012, enrollment in BSN programs in Tennessee increased by less than 1 percent. The recent acceleration in BSN enrollment is a good thing for a state that’s heralded as an important healthcare hub in the U.S., but will undoubtedly make it harder for registered nurses (RNs) to find and retain employment and competitive salaries.

Naturally, registered nurses in Tennessee and across the country are concerned about employability in the years to come. But in a profession as demanding and unpredictable as nursing, returning to school to earn a BSN can seem impossible.

However, there are programs suitable for working nurses who want to earn BSN, and even Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), degrees. WGU Tennessee – an online, nonprofit university launched by Gov. Haslam and the state of Tennessee – is designed primarily for working adults. The university’s competency-based learning model measures proficiency rather than time spent in a classroom, allowing nurses to use existing knowledge to move through degree programs quicker.

“I had always intended to earn my bachelor’s degree, but with children and a full-time job, I kept using time as an excuse,” said Amanda Walker, a WGU Tennessee graduate who earned a BSN degree in under a year. “I knew I needed something different from the traditional classroom. The competency-based model let me go at my pace, which is great for a busy nurse’s schedule.”

Aside from increasing employability by earning BSN degrees, nurses also significantly increase their salaries. On average, BSNs increase annual salaries by more than $8,000 nationally.

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