Nurse Keith: To BS, or Not to BS? That is the (Nursing) Question!

Nurse Keith: To BS, or Not to BS? That is the (Nursing) Question!

When the Institute of Medicine and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published their now famous recommendations for the nursing profession in 2010, an important conversation began. This salient 21st-century conversation involves the push for a majority of nurses to earn a baccalaureate degree, and many nurses are wondering if the time has come for them to return to school.

Some research has indeed demonstrated that certain measures improve when units employ more bachelor’s-prepared nurses, thus the evidence base is growing in support of the IOM’s stance.

To BS or not to BS?

ADNs have been an intrinsic part of the lifeblood of the American nursing community for decades. The Associate Degree in Nursing is a relatively fast track into the nursing profession, with some students completing prerequisites, jumping headfirst into an ADN program, and entering the workforce within a three-year period, or less. This is an attractive and affordable entry-level avenue for a growing profession.

With the IOM pushing for more nurses to earn a BSN, employers are closing certain doors to ADNs while opening an increasing number of doors to nurses with a BSN. Although ADNs may currently still find remunerative and satisfying work, anecdotal evidence shows that some ADNs are encountering barriers to employment and opportunity; this experience is pushing many to bite the bullet and return to school.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) states clearly on its website that advancing nurses’ education is paramount, and they bluntly encourage those who employ nurses to incentivize nursing education:

AACN encourages employers to foster practice environments that embrace lifelong learning and offer incentives for registered nurses (RNs) seeking to advance their education to the baccalaureate and higher degree levels. We also encourage BSN graduates to seek out employers who value their level of education and distinct competencies.

Nurses are noticing this veritable sea change, and many are deciding to join the party and get on board with the inevitable changes that are currently afoot. 

A rising tide

They say that a rising tide lifts all boats; while this may be true, some nurses in the ADN boat may find themselves not lifted to quite the same level as their colleagues who have earned a BSN. Yes, the tide is rising, yet those who have heard the call and upped their game may find themselves riding the crest of the wave.

Some ADNs may be completely fulfilled in their current positions, seeing no reason to pursue further education; meanwhile, others may encounter closed doors that only open with a key shaped like a BSN.

A personal choice

Pursuing further education is a very personal choice, and each nurse must choose for him- or herself in terms of what is best for them. There is likely no turning back the tide that calls for an increasing number of nurses to pursue a BSN. Therefore, some nurses will heed the call, move forward, elevate their education, and enjoy a broader range of career options in the years and decades to come. 

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist for With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at

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