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Celebrate progress in nursing education
Nurses’ educational requirements are changing to meet the needs of the public
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, is senior adviser for nursing for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and director of the foundation’s Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action.
For most of my nursing career, a fierce debate has raged among educators, researchers, government representatives, funders and others in health and nursing education on how much schooling nurses needed and why. Research has linked higher levels of nursing education to safer, high-quality care, but the levels of training and licensing vary, as do expectations from schools and employers.
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Over the last decade, the several nursing organizations reached a consensus that a baccalaureate degree in nursing will best prepare nurses to care most effectively for people throughout their lifespan and across many settings.

Community colleges also play a vital role in providing an entry into the nursing field, particularly in rural areas and to first generation college students, low-income students and students who come from historically underrepresented populations of diverse cultures and backgrounds. I, myself, am a proud community college graduate. The unprecedented collaboration that is occurring between leaders in nursing education and practice to remove barriers to education makes it easier for nurses with associate degrees to earn a BSN and higher — and has paved the way for a much stronger nursing workforce. This sea change was largely spurred by an audacious recommendation in the landmark Institute of Medicine report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” to increase the proportion of nurses with a BSN degree to 80% by 2020. The Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, AARP and the AARP Foundation to advance these recommendations, has made strengthening nursing education a top priority.
national nurses week
By Susan B. Hassmiller
PhD, RN, FAAN
Pursuing the BSN degree
Charting academic progression
Over the years, the campaign has brought together hundreds of experts in education, business and government to reduce the costs and complications for those seeking higher degrees. A decade ago, it was not uncommon for a nurse with an associate degree to be required to retake courses and repeat content in order to earn a baccalaureate degree, wasting time and money. From 2012 to 2016, RWJF supported the Academic Progression in Nursing program in nine states to establish partnerships and tailor specific nursing education models to each state’s local needs. These new education models offer flexible, streamlined options for nursing students, enabling more nurses to graduate with BSNs and doctoral degrees. In 2012, for the first time, more nurses graduated with a bachelor’s degree than an associate degree. By 2016, the number of registered nurses obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing through RN-to-BSN programs increased to more than 60,000 — up 170% since 2010. The National Education Progression in Nursing Collaborative is building on the momentum of APIN with the goals of 1 million incumbent nurses and 90% of new graduates to be at the BSN or higher by 2025. NEPIN is led by a national program director Tina Lear, and a leadership team that includes Donna Meyer (Organization for Association Degree Nursing), Jan Jones-Schenk (Western Governors University), Judee Berg (HealthImpact) and Sofia Aragon (Washington Center for Nursing). An Advisory Alliance comprised of representatives of education, practice, regulation, and business from across the country is currently being assembled to ensure the vision of a nursing workforce that optimizes health equity for all Americans. 
Curricula expands to include population health
The Campaign for Action also is strengthening nursing education by encouraging the incorporation of the social determinants of health and population health concepts into nursing school curricula at all levels. Because poverty, inequity, violence and poor housing — as well as a lack of a good education options, jobs and access to healthy food or safe places to play — are responsible for an estimated 80% of all illnesses, nursing students should be prepared to think and practice holistically. The RWJF white paper, “Catalysts for Change: Harnessing the Power of Nurses to Build Population Health in the 21st Century” explores how nurses can best help the U.S. reverse course on the declining health of its citizens and promote the health of the U.S. population in the 21st century. The campaign hosts calls for professionals in academia and practice to exchange ideas and share promising practices of how to integrate population health concepts into nursing education.
Filling the need for PhDs
The campaign achieved a milestone in 2015 when it met the IOM recommendation to double the number of nurses with doctorates by 2020. However, the growth is largely driven by nurses attaining doctorate of nursing practice degrees, rather than doctorate of philosophy degrees. Although we need DNP nurses, we also need research-focused PhD programs, because they drive healthcare improvements by helping nurses develop knowledge and scholarship that advance nursing science and translate research into practice. Nurses with PhDs also are needed to fill faculty ranks and teach tomorrow’s nurses. That’s why in 2014, RWJF launched the Future of Nursing Scholars, a three-year, expedited PhD funding program that supports nurse scholar education and leadership development. The goal is to develop a best-practices model that graduate schools can tailor to create a three-year option for nursing PhD students. National Nurses Week celebrates the vital role that nurses play in society to protect, promote and improve healthcare for all. This week and beyond we should take time to celebrate the strides in nursing education that are preparing tomorrow’s nurses to offer care across the continuum that enables more people to live healthier lives and experience greater wellbeing.
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