Academic Progression in Nursing: Moving Together Toward a Highly Educated Nursing Workforce


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The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is committed to working with the larger education and healthcare communities to create a highly educated nursing workforce able to meet complex healthcare demands today and in the future. To that end, AACN encourages all nurses to advance their education and supports the many pathways to achieving academic progression in nursing. Because education has a significant impact on the knowledge and competencies of the nurse clinician:

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing strongly believes that registered nurses (RNs) should be, at minimum, prepared with the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or equivalent baccalaureate nursing degree (e.g., BS in Nursing, BA in Nursing) offered at an accredited four-year college or university*.

Research has shown that lower mortality rates, fewer medication errors, and positive patient outcomes are all linked to nurses prepared at the baccalaureate and higher degree levels (see Table 1). As health care continues to shift to a population-focused, community-based approach to care, the health system needs RNs who can practice across multiple settings and function to the fullest extent of their license. Employers today are seeking nurses capable of providing high-quality direct care, complex clinical decision-making, care transition management, supervision of support personnel, guidance of patients through the maze of healthcare resources, and education to patients on treatment regimens and the adoption of healthy lifestyles. Moving nurses further along the educational continuum will help to ensure that RNs are well-prepared to meet these expectations.

With half of all newly licensed RNs entering the workforce with an associate degree (NCSBN, 2017), AACN is calling for greater collaboration between community colleges and four-year colleges or universities to ensure a seamless transition to the baccalaureate or master’s degree. AACN reaffirms its commitment made in 2012 to working with the Organization for Associate Degree Nursing (OADN), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Association of Community Colleges Trustees (ACCT), and the National League for Nursing (NLN) to remove barriers to educational advancement and encourage all nurses to advance in their professional development (Joint Statement, 2012).

Though completing a BSN is an important step in the preparation of a professional nurse, it is only the beginning. Nurses looking to advance their expertise and impact healthcare delivery at a higher level should be encouraged to complete a master’s degree and a research-focused (i.e., PhD) or practice-focused (Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP) doctorate. Nurses with graduate-level preparation are needed to provide high quality care; conduct research; teach online, across clinical settings, and classroom; shape public policy; lead health systems; consult with corporations; and implement evidence-based solutions that revolutionize health care. These providers are in great demand to fill established and emerging roles that allow nurses to focus on a variety of practice areas, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, public health, informatics, systems improvement, and genetics/genomics.

*In this position statement, AACN defines “four-year college or university” broadly to include member schools that offer upper division coursework leading to a baccalaureate degree.

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