Robert J. Rosseter, 202-463-6930, x231
Creating a More Highly Qualified Nursing Workforce
Quality patient care hinges on having a well educated nursing workforce. Research has shown that lower mortality rates, fewer medication errors, and positive outcomes are all linked to nurses prepared at the baccalaureate and graduate degree levels. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is committed to working collaboratively to create a more highly qualified nursing workforce since education enhances both clinical competency and care delivery. This fact sheet looks at today’s nursing workforce; highlights research connecting education to outcomes; and outlines the capacity of four-year colleges to enhance the level of nursing education in the U.S.
Snapshot of Today’s Nursing Workforce
According to the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis within the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), approximately 2.8 million registered nurses (RNs) are currently working in nursing (HRSA, 2013). This count reflects an increase from the last National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses conducted by HRSA in 2008 which found that 2.6 million RNs were employed in nursing (out of a population of more than 3 million licensed RNs).
HRSA’s 2013 report, titled The U.S. Nursing Workforce: Trends in Supply and Education, also found that 55% of the RN workforce held a baccalaureate or higher degree. In a separate study conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers in 2013, the percentage of nurses in the U.S. with a baccalaureate or higher degree was 61%.
Graduates of entry-level nursing programs (baccalaureate degree, associate degree and diploma) sit for the NCLEX-RN© licensing examination. The fact that new nurses pass the licensing exam at the same rate does not mean that all entry-level nurses are equally prepared for practice. The NCLEX tests for minimum technical competency for safe entry into basic nursing practice. Passing rates should be high across all programs preparing new nurses. This exam does not test for differences between graduates of different programs, measure performance over time, or test for all of the knowledge and skills developed through a baccalaureate program.
In October 2010, the Institute of Medicine released its landmark report on The Future of Nursing, initiated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which called for increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses in the workforce to 80% and doubling the population of nurses with doctorates. The expert committee charged with preparing the evidence-based recommendations contained in this report state that to respond “to the demands of an evolving health care system and meet the changing needs of patients, nurses must achieve higher levels of education.”.
In March 2005, the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) released a statement calling for all for registered nurses to be educated in baccalaureate programs in an effort to adequately prepare clinicians for their challenging and complex roles. AONE’s statement, titled Practice and Education Partnership for the Future, represents the view of nursing’s practice leaders and a desire to create a more highly educated nursing workforce in the interest of improving patient safety and providing enhanced nursing care.
Research Linking Nursing Education to Patient Outcomes
AACN and other authorities believe that education has a strong impact on a nurse’s ability to practice, and that patients deserve the best educated nursing workforce possible. A growing body of research reinforces this belief and shows a connection between baccalaureate education and lower mortality rates.
In a study published in the October 2014 issue of Medical Care, researcher Olga Yakusheva from the University of Michigan and her colleagues...
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Last Update: September 22, 2014
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