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Advancing your education

Murray, Kathleen MSN, RN, CNA

doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000409934.22956.34
Department: Leadership Q&A

Vice President of Patient Care Services, Baptist Medical Center Downtown, Jacksonville, Fla.

Q Can my employer require me to go back to school to earn a bachelor's degree if I don't want to?

I graduated from a nursing diploma school in the 1970s and had very strong feelings then that I could run circles around any bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) graduate. I was passionate that my training clearly prepared me to deliver exemplary quality care to a patient population that had an average length of stay of 7 to 15 days. I was just as passionate as any nurse in arguing against the mandate of BSNs for all RNs.

Now, let's fast forward to 2011. The Institute of Medicine's (IOM) report “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” recommends that the bulk of the nation's RNs be baccalaure ate-prepared within the next 10 years. In addition, there are several states with legislation pending that would require new graduates of associate degree and diploma programs to obtain their BSN degrees within 10 years of the date of their initial licensure.

So what's the impetus behind the IOM recommendations and state legislation? Clearly, it's evident to nursing that the healthcare delivery system has changed drastically with the increased complexity of our patients. The focus today is on disease management, health promotion, and patient-care management extending beyond the walls of the acute care setting. All nurses will need to pursue additional educational preparedness to meet the needs of our patients, whe ther through continuing education or academic professional education.



Yes, you may need to obtain a BSN if it's required in your job description, but I encourage you to look at the mandate as a lifelong learning journey. As a nurse executive, I've provided the infrastructure to support tuition reimbursement, flexible scheduling, nursing scholarships, onsite BSN academic programs, and hourly differentials to nurses who have a BSN degree. All nurse leaders are there to support the nurse's academic professional development so that you'll be better prepared for the future of the healthcare delivery system.

Q I want to professionally progress in my nurse leadership career. Should I return to school to earn a PhD or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree?

The choice to pursue a PhD or DNP is a decision you'll need to make based on asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are you planning to do after obtaining the doctorate?
  • What are your options for access to academic doctoral programs?
  • What financial reimbursement is available for you?
  • What's your time frame for completing the program?
  • Are you working full time?
  • What's your area of expertise (clinical or research)?

Next, do a side-by-side comparison of the PhD and DNP programs. The DNP curriculum focus is on the translation of evidence into practice, whereas the PhD curriculum focus is on developing new knowledge for the science and practice of nursing. The program length for a PhD is approximately 4 to 5 years and may be potentially funded. The program length for a DNP is normally 2 to 3 years for MSN entry and varies for BSN entry. Discuss the pros and cons with your mentor, who'll help guide you in making the decision to pursue a PhD or DNP degree.

The doctoral program you choose will be best met when it's aligned with your interests, goals, and career path. If you can't choose between the two programs and are truly passionate about clinical and research areas, you always have the option of enrolling in a combined DNP/PhD program.

© 2012 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.