1. McMahon, Janet Tompkins MSN, RN

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What an exciting time to consider returning to school for a 4-year degree! There are many reasons for wanting to complete a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) degree, such as career advancement and self-actualization, which is a powerful motivator and a key to follow-through as well as success. Whether you're considering a traditional BSN program or returning to school as an RN-to-BSN student, you have numerous options.


Why the BSN?

There are several factors that contribute to returning to school as a BSN or RN-to-BSN student, such as the legislative trends toward designating the BSN degree as the minimum entry level to practice nursing (see Do I really need a BSN degree?). The Institute of Medicine recommends the need for 80% of the nursing workforce to be BSN prepared by 2020. In addition, the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice has recommended that "at least two-thirds of the basic nurse workforce hold a baccalaureate degree or higher." Therefore, thousands of RNs currently holding associate degrees or diplomas are being encouraged to complete the BSN degree to remain in the workforce.


Another factor is the work environment and recognition of Magnet(R) facilities. As Magnet becomes the hallmark or "gold standard" of healthcare-better patient outcomes, increased patient safety, and an improved working environment-meeting certification criteria means that a majority or large percentage of RNs employed by the facility be, at the minimum, BSN prepared.


Lastly, you may be interested in a different employment opportunity that has the requirement of a BSN degree as a prerequisite for hire, such as nurse manager, case manager, pharmaceutical and medical equipment sales, or a military focus as a Nurse Corps Officer.


What's required?

A traditional BSN program often requires the student to have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, excellent SAT scores, or completion of the Test of Essential Academic Skills before applying. Admission criteria vary, but programs are becoming competitive due to waiting lists for entry.


The BSN degree requires a strong foundation of liberal arts courses, as well as biological sciences. There's also a leadership and management component, with a clinical practicum to ensure accreditation outcomes. The BSN degree exposes students to research and evidence-based practice (EBP) to promote the highest level of care for patients. In addition, this creates a potential pathway for future academic plans for study at the graduate level.


Can I fit it into my schedule?

No matter why you're inspired to continue your education by obtaining a BSN degree, you must consider a vast amount of factors that impact your ability to return to school. If you're like many RNs who elected to either pursue an associate degree or diploma, the obvious issue is to consider your current work schedule and life demands.


Many of us decide to dive in headfirst and register with a program as a full-time student while we work full-time. This means that you have to balance your education and career to be successful. There are many who seek night-shift employment to work on the BSN degree requirements during the day in the traditional classroom setting. Still others elect to work part-time and attend school full- or part-time. Financially, to choose either of these two options, you'll require significant family (and perhaps government) support to accomplish your goal.


Which type of program is right for me?

The explosion of "nontraditional" education settings includes online learning, fast-track second-degree BSN programs, and hybrid (online-practical) programs that give you a multitude of options.


As the number of brick and mortar facilities offering online education expands, the prevalence of RNs selecting this method is increasing. One of the biggest benefits of an online program is that the student can engage in education requirements anywhere there's Internet access. This factor allows the student the ability to have greater control of his or her school-life balance. Often, these programs allow the student access to educators, reference materials, and peer support on practically a 24-hour/day schedule. Although virtual learning is often considered "faceless," there's the ability to have a peer group and educators who are diverse and international. The use of Skype, video conferencing, and virtual meeting places has also minimized the loss of personal contact associated with web-based programs.


Fast-track BSN programs are accelerated programs for students who may already have a BS degree in a different area and desire to enter nursing. These programs are often 15 to 18 months long and students are given some credit for previous BS classes toward the 120-plus credits required for graduation. This type of program requires strict dedication to completing the nursing portion and eligibility for the NCLEX-RN. Many students find the program rigorous, challenging, and rewarding.


In a hybrid, or mixed, program, classes are offered both online and in traditional classrooms. This offers virtually nonfettered access to education, with the ability for the student to interact directly with faculty and peers while in a classroom or clinical setting. The RN who chooses this type of program is typically someone who desires the human connection of learning, but also wants the ability to fulfill education requirements on the go.


Another option is a program that's based online with various components of the educational process that are held in scheduled clinical experiences or practicums. These are often a hard requirement that demands potential travel to the location where the practicum is being offered, often at the program's location or where the student has set up a rotation and supervisor to observe and critique the experience. Frequently, students aren't permitted to conduct required practicums where they're currently employed due to a potential conflict of interest; however, there can be exceptions.


Learning for life

No matter what your motivation is for earning your BSN degree, nursing has been long considered a career founded on the premise of life-long learning. Nursing is continually advancing in both knowledge and complexity, and we must engage in professional learning to maintain an expert level of competency. Can you imagine if nursing still functioned on the idea that clean sheets and environment are the only things that nurses can ensure to enhance patient outcomes? Nursing has developed into the profession that it is through advanced education and EBP; educational requirements and opportunities will also evolve as we carve our valued place as professional healthcare providers and patient advocates.


Next issue, we'll take a look at returning to school for an MSN.


Do I really need a BSN degree?

The incentive to return to school and further your education is becoming more pronounced. A few states are already mandating that RNs without a BSN degree return to school. In acute care facilities that are considering the mandate, if the RN doesn't attain the BSN degree within 5 years, he or she may be terminated or reassigned duties in the institution. The mandate isn't in every state; however, the need to advance to the BSN degree is currently evolving nationally. For a list of various requirements, visit


Other considerations include a possible pay reduction without the BSN degree and the potential for job interviewing. Many institutions won't consider an RN who isn't BSN prepared or enrolled in a BSN program and making progress.




Institute of Medicine. The future of nursing: leading change, advancing health.


National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice. Report to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on the Basic Registered Nurse Workforce. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Nursing; 1996.