Hospital demand for nurses with bachelor's degrees on the rise

Hospitals increasingly want their nursing staff to have more advanced degrees, resulting in a potentially rude awakening for nurses with two-year degrees, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In recent years, many industries seek employees with more advanced educational backgrounds than they had in the past and the healthcare industry is no exception when it comes to nursing.

Five years ago, the Institute of Medicine called on the healthcare industry to ensure 80 percent of the nursing workforce had bachelor's degrees by the end of the decade, citing research indicating care quality improves as the proportion of nurses with bachelor's degrees increases. Other factors have also increased demand for such nurses, including healthcare's focus on leadership and care coordination skills, which are less likely to be taught in associate's programs, and hospitals' efforts to achieve "Magnet" status, which requires nurse leaders to have bachelor's degrees.

Some major health systems, such as Pennsylvania's Main Line Health and Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai, have made bachelor's degrees or higher an explicit condition for their nursing residencies, according to the article. But some hospitals that still hire nurses with associate's degrees include a requirement in their employment contracts that they earn a bachelor's degree by a certain date. Graduate degrees, meanwhile, are far less likely to be a requirement, but recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicated the advanced degrees correlate with higher earnings and career advancement. The nursing job market has also heavily favored nurses with experience over recent graduates.

While these shifting requirements are largely a function of the recession, such expectations often fluctuate with the state of the labor market, according to a separate WSJ blog post. As individual state unemployment rates go up, so too do the requirements for middle-skill jobs, according to Alicia Sasser Modestino, an economist at Northeastern University. However, she added, recent drops in unemployment may create an inversion of the trend.

"In the recession, you could go out and get the most skilled workers, really dynamite candidates, who were job-ready from Day One," she said. "Now, if [employers] have to pay a premium to have a bachelor's degree, if they're not willing pay that premium, we see them reversing their skill requirements."

To learn more:
- here's the WSJ article
- read the blog post