It has been shown that not only do nurses who have advanced degrees improve patient care and benefit employers, they also have doors to career opportunities open to them. Acquiring skills to meet patient needs is among the reasons Zoe Gutterman, RN, continues her education.
Gutterman earned her BSN last year and is working on a masters degree as a public health nurse and a certificate in nurse-midwifery.
I entered Johns Hopkins program already knowing that I had been admitted to the midwifery program, Gutterman said. I knew I wanted to deliver babies when I entered school.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing preliminary survey from 2014 confirms that enrollment in graduate programs, as well as all levels of professional RN programs, continues an upward trend.
Nursing schools with masters programs reported a 7.4% increase from 2013 to 2014, according to the AACN. In doctoral nursing programs, the greatest growth was seen in DNP programs where enrollment rose by 22.5%. During the same time period, enrollment in research-focused doctoral programs increased by a gain of 1%, according to initial survey results.
We have almost 15,000 students enrolled in the doctoral nursing practice program. That is huge, said Eileen Breslin, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) and president of the AACN.
We are really succeeding in moving the ball for graduate nursing education, and I think that is the message. Its an extraordinary time.
The benefits of education
Employers are looking for highly-skilled nurses who can transfer scientific evidence into practice.
They are also looking for nurses to lead and contribute to team-based care such as interprofessional primary care practices.
You get that knowledge in graduate school, Breslin said. Nurses who go to graduate school have the ability to analyze, synthesize and generate new knowledge. Employers know that education does make a difference.
The growth in the number of nurses earning or pursuing advanced degrees has occurred despite a recession in recent years.
There are nearly 200 programs, including 85 that are in the planning stages, which enable nurses to go from the BSN to the DNP or PhD. In 1999, only eight programs existed, Breslin said. Nursing leaders credit the landmark Institute of Medicine Report, released in 2010, for serving as a stimulus and sparking a cultural shift.
The report included calls for advancing nurse education by doubling the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020.
The IOM report provided a clarion call to the nation in one voice that nursing is the key for the future of healthcare, and the makeup of the workforce is important, said Jane Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
The reality is that at each level of education, we add to our toolkit in terms of our ability to do systems work, our ability to do analysis, our ability to do critical thinking and our ability to focus our work in terms of specialization, said Kirschling, a former AACN president.
Research found nurses with a higher educational level positively impact patient and staff outcomes, says Matthew D. McHugh PhD, JD, MPH, RN, FAAN, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar and associate director of the Center for Health Outcomes & Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
Better educated nurses in higher concentrations in hospitals, for instance, have lower levels of burnout and turnover, McHugh said. On the patient side … we see patient outcomes are better.
Possessing at least a baccalaureate degree translates into benefits for the nurses, the patients and the organizations that employ them, McHugh said.
The future is bright for graduate-prepared nurses, and educators constantly encourage undergraduate students to continue their education and set lofty goals.
We just brought in 131 new nurses into our baccalaureate program, said Breslin, who shared a special message with them. I wouldnt be doing my job as dean if I wasnt telling you I expect you to go on to school. And someday you may be a dean. These students might have had their graduate education goals postponed or unfulfilled because of financial constraints, and now we are able to reach out to and help alleviate some of their financial burdens. Our mission is to educate nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners to serve women and families with a focus on rural and underserved areas, so the AENT grant is a perfect fit with our institutional goals.
FNU will award 280 scholarships, valued at $2,500 each, over the two-year grant period. For students attending full-time, FNU tuition ranges from $18,150 to $53,040 depending on the program in which the student enrolls. The scholarship funding will help students experiencing financial difficulties and allow them to complete their graduate education, according to the release.