Do Bachelor's Degrees Save Lives? - The Facts about Earning a BSN

In most lines of work, there’s one clear path to getting your foot in the door. But nursing is unique in that it offers multiple paths to entry-level positions. Whether you’ve earned a diploma, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, you know there is more than one way to become an RN. Nurses General Nursing Article


Sponsored Content
Do Bachelor's Degrees Save Lives? - The Facts about Earning a BSN

Some assert that there are some pretty distinct differences in the capabilities, responsibilities and patient outcomes that come with each educational milestone. It's no secret that more voices in the field are citing those differences as a driving force behind the push to convince more RNs to pursue BSN degrees. But are the benefits as clear-cut as they've been made out to be?

Here's what we found from doing some research on what has been written.

The push for more BSNs

Initiatives like "80 by '20" and "BSN in 10" have become hot topics in the nursing world, but they're often misunderstood. Here's a quick breakdown of the differences:

  • 80 by '20 is a call-to-action that requires 80 percent of nurses to hold bachelor's degrees by 2020. This initiative has been put in place by the Institute of Medicine in tandem with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
  • BSN in 10 is a proposed policy that would require new nurses to obtain their BSN within 10 years of entering the field if they wish to continue practicing. The initiative originated with the New York State Nurses Association and has received support from the House of Delegates of the American Nurses Association.

The motivation for initiatives like these is threefold. Proponents hope to see improvements in patient care; increased prospects and longevity in nursing careers; and efficiencies in the ability of healthcare facilities to manage increasing patient loads.

It hasn't taken long for other healthcare organizations to align with these commitments. Many hospitals may be drawn by the motivation to uphold high standards of patient care and professional development in order to achieve magnet status, while others can't seem to ignore the question, "Do bachelor's degrees really save more lives?"

The link between education & mortality rates

Healthcare organizations and hospital leadership continually recognize the contributions made by nurses of all educational levels. But many have acknowledged reports that suggest qualifications impact mortality rates.

What does the data say?

Studies suggest a correlation between patient mortality rates and the level of education achieved by their nurses. A 2014 study supported by the National Institutes of Health reported a 7 percent decline in patient mortality for each 10 percent increase in the number of nurses who hold bachelor's degrees. Put simply, nurses with more education appear to have better patient outcomes.

The study brought the conversation a step further by comparing patient outcomes with nursing workload. Hospitals in which 60 percent of nurses hold bachelor's degrees and care for six or fewer patients saw a 33 percent decrease in patient mortality when compared to hospitals in which only a third of nurses hold a bachelor's degree and care for up to eight patients.

This suggests a significant decrease in the number of patient deaths for nurses who have more education and also care for fewer patients. The data suggests that healthcare organizations recognize the need to not only increase RN qualifications, but also increase the number of nurses available to care for patients.

The added benefits of earning a BSN

Because many healthcare facilities are prioritizing a bachelor's level education for RN candidates, the number job prospects for nurses with bachelor's degrees has seen a huge surge in recent years.

In fact, Burning-Glass was used to identify more than a million RN job postings from the past year and found that candidates holding a bachelor's degree qualified for 78 percent of them, while diploma and associate degree holders qualified for just 53 percent.1

The prospects are also greatly increased for RNs hoping to progress into advanced nursing positions later in their careers. For example, we examined nearly 100,000 nurse manager job postings from the last 12 months. The data revealed that candidates with bachelor's degrees qualified for 70 percent of the jobs available, while associate degree holders qualified for just 25 percent of them.2

But the job vacancies don't tell the only story here. There is also increased earning potential for bachelor's degree holders. Nurse manager candidates with bachelor's degrees can expect a $7,000 increase in mean annual salary.3

Are BSNs worth more than the hype?

The initiatives in place to encourage more RNs to earn bachelor's degrees are hard to ignore, but there are two sides to every coin. Some professionals are pushing back despite support from leading healthcare organizations. It's a debate that continues to rage throughout the comment streams of nursing blogs across the Internet.

So what do you think? Are there tangible benefits to a nursing workforce with a higher percentage of bachelor's degrees? Is the jump from RN-BSN worth it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Sponsored by College

Is RN-BSN Worth It? 9 Reasons to Level Up.

Earn Your BSN Degree - Your Way


1 (analysis of 1,126,042 registered nurse job postings, Feb. 1, 2015 - Jan. 31, 2016)

2 (analysis of 98,520 nurse manager job postings by education, Feb. 1, 2015 - Jan. 31, 2016)

3 (analysis of 10,886 nurse manager job postings by salary, Feb. 1, 2015 - Jan. 31, 2016)

This is a sponsored article brought to you by in conjunction with the advertiser. The views expressed in this article are those of the advertiser and do not necessarily reflect, its parent company, or its staff.

(Trusted Brand)

The Rasmussen College School of Nursing offers career-focused degree options that can help launch or advance your nursing profession. With a curriculum that is continuously evaluated and updated to include the most advanced patient-care procedures, you’ll have both the insight and skills you need to improve the health and well-being of your patients. Follow our Nursing Blog for educational, engaging and entertaining industry-related content:

3 Articles   5 Posts

Share this post

Share on other sites
Specializes in Med/Surg, Ortho, ASC.

Would writing endless papers on management issues and taking an advanced course in statistics make me a stronger clinician? A wiser bedside nurse? An advanced critical thinker?

That's how I could earn my BSN online. I don't buy it and it's not worth the extra $0.25 I would earn. I'm in management with my ASN. I contribute quite nicely to my patients' care, thank you very much.

Specializes in OR, Nursing Professional Development.

I don't like the whole push to force nurses back into school to complete a BSN later in life. In fact, many in my facility have decided that they will retire early rather than return to school if the facility indeed follows through with the no BSN = no job on 1/1/2020.

If the push for the BSN continues, then the US needs to do it similar to Canada: grandfather in those already licensed or in school, but as of a certain date, the BSN program is the only option. Might help with the projected nursing surplus as well- more school, less people viewing it as a quick path to a decent paycheck. Might also result in better workplaces for nurses as well- fewer nurses competing for jobs, ability to vote with our feet and still find a good job.

One thing I know for sure about a BSN in my area is that it's the only way to ensure that you may still have an acute care job in the future, excellent nurse or not.

I've worked with all types of nurses. LPNs, diploma/Associates/Bachelors/etc RNs and there were some with less education that seemed better and some obviously that were better with more education. I think overall it would help improve outcomes, but not always. To try to cut a diverse workforce with a specific mold is hard and there's a lot of grey areas. I think the quality of where the education was obtained is a big factor. Also, an individual's own critical thinking ability (Having the knowledge is one thing. Applying it to a real life situation is another).

Another thing I saw was that the number of patients was a factor. No matter what the healthcare setting, few patients equals more time with each patient, reducing the risks. I've done hospital work in the past (LPNs in my state had few restrictions when we were employed by hospitals). On a good day, 4-5 primary or 6-8 with a CNA between two nurses was a much better day than 6-8 primary or 10 with a split aide. Too many patients creates an unsafe situation, regardless of education level. I have been seeing much better ratios in hospitals lately, along with the need for a higher degree. By decreasing the ratio and increasing the degree, outcomes should improve. However, that same decreased number of patients would have better outcomes with a lower level of education as well.

There is a reason for this push- the fight for nurses to have a seat at the table. Doctors have a vested interest in keeping nurses from making policy- this is why we have the PA in answer to the NP, and now for the CRNA.

Yes, the ADN is very capable of taking care of a patient at the bedside, but we are being made into technicians doing tasks that are starting to be timed. The BSN I earned after 10 years of ADN nursing gave me a greater appreciation of what an RN can do- there is life outside of the hospital.

As my mother is an ADN who is looking forward to retiring in a few years, it is insulting to make it a requirement for her to go to school for a BSN- respect should be shown for the nurses who have been on the front lines through critical shortage years, started with wages that a grocery clerk would expect, and who have accumulated knowledge that should be passed on to the new BSN.

We have to make this transition to advanced degrees to thrive, we should do it with a little more thought and respect.

Not sure why I couldn't find the quote feature in the article, so I copied and pasted this excerpt:


"The data suggests that healthcare organizations recognize the need to not only increase RN qualifications, but also increase the number of nurses available to care for patient"

So if this is the case why are so many hospitals decreasing bedside RN's on the floor and increasing nurse to patient ratios? I have not heard of a reduction in nurse to patient ratios in a long time. Yet, studies prove that doing so would decrease patient mortality rates. You would think this would be a priority for hospitals over saving money by decreasing nurses! Are we sure they recognize the need?

For what it's worth, I live near two large metros with multiple Level 1 trauma centers that don't care about the BSN yet. They are all hiring plenty of ADN nurses.

Specializes in psych.

I don't buy the hype that BSN nurses are better nurses. I started the BSN classes right after graduating from my ADN program, but only because the local hospitals were making students sign forms saying they will get their BSN within 3-5 years of getting hired. And the first thing I learned in these classes is the sole function was to get me the required skills to go into a managerial type jobs and not make me a better beside nurse.

I did a paper last year when I started the program. I titled it "The BS in BSN". I don't argue that the statistics show that BSN nurses have lower mortality rates. But as Mark Twain liked to say, "There are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

In my research for my paper, I learned that BSN nurses do have lower mortality rates. But what isn't told in all those studies are how many years of experience those BSN nurses had as ADN or diploma nurses before continuing their studies. I found that before this recent push to get BSN, most nurses in the past only seemed to continue with BSN classes and higher when they were ready to get away from bedside nursing to administration type nursing jobs. In short, most nurses had years of experience before getting BSN.

So it's the experience, not the degree, that is the real reason BSN nurses are generally better nurses with lower mortality rates.

Specializes in Pediatrics, Emergency, Trauma.

What saves lives is COMPETENT nurses that are KNOWLEDGABLE and out their specialty, and enough of them around to be able to achieve competence from competent peers; it doesn't help to shut out experienced nurses, throw newbies out their with the higher degree with no support...failure to rescue, mortality rates, re-admission rates are surely affected by this, yet TPTB don't INVEST in the common denominator for most of the healthcare bulk-nursing care.

I'd be interested in the correlation between people who have become nurses recently with regards to their length of being an RN and the number of BSN nurses. I suspect that there are plenty of nurses who work as nurses for some time and then get their BSNs. Going along with this, we could see increased quality of care being correlated with more BSN nurses when really the accumulated experience is causing at least some of this higher quality of care and this experience and getting of a BSN co-occurring temporally.

Specializes in Med-Tele; ED; ICU.

While I personally believe that more education is beneficial, this 'article' is probably better labeled an 'infomercial' paid for by a private, for-profit educational institution.

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
NurseSpeedy said:
One thing I know for sure about a BSN in my area is that it's the only way to ensure that you may still have an acute care job in the future, excellent nurse or not.

Jobs in acute care are seriously overrated. Everyone (and their mommas) can have those acute care hospital jobs. Meanwhile, the rest of us can enjoy non-hospital jobs that involve less stress, more money, and optimal working conditions.

The wave of nursing's future is away from the bedside. I will attempt to ride that wave for as long as possible, thank you very much!