Nearly half of the registered nurses at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System are being told they have to go back to school and attain a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing or risk losing their jobs.
Susan Duggar, the hospital’s vice president of Nursing and Chief Nursing Officer, recently announced in a letter to the staff the change in policy, which states that nurses with associate degrees have three years from the start of 2014 to complete the BSN degree. According to the letter, the policy will affect 45 percent of the 1200 registered nurses currently on staff.
Duggar said the change reflects the hospital’s efforts to meet recommendations by the Institute of Medicine that states 80 percent of direct care nurses must hold a BSN by the year 2020.
“It’s the right thing to do for our patients,” Duggar said during a recent phone interview. “As CNO, it’s my job and responsibility to make sure that our patient care is absolutely the best it possibly can be. Wouldn’t you want to be cared for by somebody who has all the educational preparation possible?”
Registered nurses can have a diploma, an Associate’s Degree or a Bachelor’s Degree as the minimum requirement to take the licensing exam to become a Registered Nurse.
Associate Degree Nurses (ADN) earn a two year technical degree covering all the basic nursing courses and some liberal art courses. Baccalaureate prepared nurses (BSN) learn all the technical information provided at the ADN level plus more liberal art education as well as nursing research, leadership and community to help them go a step further. After graduation, they also are eligible to take the licensing examination to become a registered nurse (RN)
Katharine Gibb, interim dean of USC Upstate’s Mary Black School of Nursing, said that since the BSN nurse is prepared at a higher level, they have a broader liberal art background and are educated to know how to deliver care as well as understand the research that supports best practice and improve patient outcomes.
“The better education your nurse receives, the better the care,” she said.
Judith Thompson, CEO of the South Carolina Nurses’ Association, said “good for them” when told about Spartanburg Regional’s new policy. She said it’s something other hospitals across the country are also doing to meet recommendations by the Institute of Medicine.
“The bachelor of science nursing degree is the degree of the future” said Thompson. “This is a wonderful opportunity for these (nurses.) They have three years to move forward in their career and I’m certain they will receive all kinds of assistance to do this.”
But many nurses might face challenges.
Gibb says many who are being told they have to return to school might face financial obstacles or have difficulty finding time.
“Many have children and families — it’s hard to fit coming back to school in their schedules,” Gibb said. “I anticipate some of the older nurses, might say ‘forget it’ and not do it.”
For those who are already registered nurses, USC Upstate offers the RN-BSN program. Gibb said they currently take in a new class every August and their present class consists of 132 students, but they can increase capacity if needed.
There are 540 registered nurses at SRHS who don’t have their BSN.
USC Upstate reports that their tuition and fees for the RN-BSN program is $4509 full time per semester for SC residents. Spartanburg Regional says they will offer $4,000 in tuition reimbursement for nurses returning to school.
“We are going to do everything possible to help everybody who wants to go back to school meet that goal,” Duggar said. “We will work with them. We understand it’s going to take a lot of courage to go back to school; nursing leaders and administration are behind them 100 percent.”
SRHS spokesperson Eric Lawson said in the coming weeks, all nurses will have face-to-face one-on-one discussions with their supervisors to address their individual plans and situations. The hospital also plans to host a nursing fair with many colleges in the region that offer ADN-to-BSN programs in traditional and online formats.
What about ADNs? Spartanburg Community College reports that there are 100 students currently enrolled in their associates nursing degree program and more will continue to be enrolled in the future.
Barbara Lustig-Tillie, the school’s department chair for nursing, said it’s one of the school’s most popular programs.
“I don’t think there will be a trend to phase out any ADN programs,” she said. “There will always be a need for nurses. We are very proud of this program and the quality of students that we turn out. We feel like since both types of nurses take the same licensure exam, that each nurse is qualified at an entry level to provide the quality of care that needs to be given to the patient at the bedside.”
Nurses at Mary Black Health System, just a few miles away from Spartanburg Regional, aren’t being told to go back to school, according to hospital spokeswoman Connie Legrand.
“We are fortunate to have quality nurse caregivers at Mary Black Health System.,” she said in a statement. “Among these are nurses with two year degrees, three year diplomas, bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees. All of these individuals are essential to our nursing team. We have no plans at this time to restrict our hiring for nurses to individuals holding BSN degrees.”