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Essay: Minimum Degree for Quality Nursing Education

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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Minimum Degree for Quality Nursing Education

Nancy Atuahene

Grand Canyon University

Minimum Degree for Quality Nursing Education

In the field of nursing, the educational background of the nurse is the foundation for solid, patient-driven decision making in a hospital setting. An Associate degree in nursing is certainly an accomplishment, but it is only the first, small step in gaining the necessary education to make the best decisions for patients in the hospital. This paper will examine some of the differences in competencies of nurses educated at the associate-degree level versus those educated at least a baccalaureate-degree level. This paper will then assert that a baccalaureate degree is the minimum degree that should be obtained by a highly qualified, well-educated nurse.

 One source indicates, “In 1960, the American Nurses Association (ANA) first introduced promotion of the baccalaureate program to become the basic educational foundation for professional nursing” (Mahaffey 2002).  The nursing shortage that occurred in recent years created a growing demand for educated nurses. The article says that “Quickly, dissension occurred among educators from all program types; associate degree, diploma, and baccalaureate. That controversy, regarding the title of professional nurse, persists today” (Mahaffey 2002). One study found that “Baccalaureate nurses are more likely than diploma and AD nurses to be supervisors and administrators in every year. All nurses became less likely to hold administrative positions over the course of the survey years and, except for AD nurses…” (Spetz 2002).

Competencies in nursing such as critical thinking skills and decision-making skills are better addressed by students having graduated with a BSN, rather than an Associate degree. “Typically, these competencies are specified by educational program preparation (e.g., diploma, associate degree, and bachelor’s degree). Most identify the knowledge, judgment, skills, and professional values expected of graduates of nursing programs” (Tilley 2008). A BSN requires students to learn much more key information about the hospital setting, patient interests and general critical thinking skills in any healthcare setting. This degree gives students more hands-on experience in their courses.  

In one study, “Cross-sectional analyses of outcomes data for 232 342 general, orthopedic, and vascular surgery patients discharged from 168 nonfederal adult general Pennsylvania hospitals between April 1, 1998, and November 30, 1999” were examined (Aiken, et al. 2003). The purpose of this study was to determine whether there would be a lower mortality rate among surgical patients who had nurses educated at the baccalaureate level or higher. The main outcome measures were “Risk-adjusted patient mortality and failure to rescue within 30 days of admission associated with nurse educational level” (Aiken, et al. 2003). It was discovered that “In hospitals with higher proportions of nurses educated at the baccalaureate level or higher, surgical patients experienced lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates” (Aiken, et al. 2003).

A BSN may be the ideal degree in a variety of cases. For example, only a nurse with a BSN, rather than an Associate's degree, would know how to communicate with hospital administration about a patient who just went into a heart attack. The nurse would be better trained in what exactly to do, because this nurse will have had two years of clinical experience in addition to his or her diploma. He or she will know how to use the latest technology to help this patient based on the patient's unique needs, because a BSN requires the student to stay up-to-date on technology in a healthcare workplace. Finally, a nurse with a BSN has the opportunity to teach others about this patient, so that nurses everywhere can help more patients like this one who suffered a heart attack. This is because “the BSN programs include some courses that ADN programs don’t: Management, leadership, public health, and social sciences, critical thinking and communication courses are part of BSN curriculum. Leadership training helps nurses that wish to advance to administrative, research or teaching positions”, to name a few (Nightingale College).

In conclusion, an Associate's degree is an amazing first accomplishment in one's educational journey toward a nursing career. The gaining of a BSN, though, best follows it. This route results in a better salary and better opportunities in general, not to mention lower mortality rates in patients and more efficiently running hospitals. The Baccalaureate is the minimum degree a highly qualified nurse should obtain these days.


Aiken, L. H., Clarke, S. P., Cheung, R. B., Sloane, D. M., & Silber, J. H. (2003). Educational levels of hospital nurses and surgical patient mortality. Jama, 290(12), 1617-1623.

Mahaffey, E. H. (2002). The relevance of associate degree nursing education: Past, present, future. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 7(2), 11.

Nightingale College – The Real Differences Between BSN and ADN Nurses. (n.d.). Retrieved August 08, 2018, from https://nightingale.edu/blog/adn-vs-bsn-differences/

Spetz, J. (2002). The Value of Education in a Licensed Profession: The Choice of Associate or Baccalaureate Degrees in Nursing. Economics Of Education Review, 21(1), 73-85.

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