More nurses are earning bachelor's degrees, but 2020 goal is likely out of reach

Patient and nurse in hospital
The number of front-line nurses with bachelor's degrees is growing, a new study found. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

The number of front-line nurses with bachelor's degrees is growing, but is still likely to fall short of national goals, according to a new study. 

Researchers at the New York University Rory Meyers School of Nursing found that the number of front-line nurses with bachelor's degrees has increased from 44% in 2005 to 57% in 2013, according to a study published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship.  

However, that figure is still likely to miss a national goal of 80% by the year 2020, the researchers said. They projected that instead 64% of front line nurses will have bachelor's degrees by 2020. 

That goal was set in 2010 by the National Academies of Science, Medicine and Engineering, though growth in the number of nurses with bachelor's degrees began before that benchmark was established, according to the researchers. 

RELATED: Nurse education key to curbing maternal death rate 

"The U.S. nursing workforce is undergoing an educational transformation in order to meet our increasing healthcare needs," Chenjuan Ma, Ph.D., the study's author and an assistant professor at NYU Meyers, said in an announcement.

"To help accelerate this transformation, further advocacy, commitment and investment are needed from all healthcare stakeholders in order to advance nursing education and in turn improve quality of care and patient outcomes."

The team examined more than 2,100 nursing units at 377 U.S. hospitals. 

Having a strong group of well-trained nurses is one of the keys to improving patient care, as FierceHealthcare has reported. 

RELATED: Robots—not people—may solve healthcare's nursing shortage 

However, healthcare industry experts have long predicted a nursing shortage, and providers can take several steps to prepare themselves for that situation: 

  • Research and prepare accurate estimates on when nurses within the organization plan to retire to identify likely staffing holes.
  • Offer incentives that could encourage nurses to delay retirement.
  • Launch programs in which older nurses work closely with younger ones to grow their skills.
  • Have a succession plan in place. 

Though nurses may make more working in certain states, the "best" states for nurses offer a variety of benefits, including a positive work environment and opportunity for advancement.