In reviewing the advantages of achieving a BSN, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the challenges. Clearly, with the number of nurses achieving their BSN annually, the challenges are not insurmountable.
If you have been following my other blogs posts, I have reviewed the financial and time hurdles. I can certainly appreciate both of these, but having achieved a BSN and MSN for minimal out-of-pocket costs and sitting at my dying father's bedside as he slept while I was doing class work, I see neither as an excuse.
Some of the challenges not discussed include classmates, professors and group projects. All of these can be a challenge if you are not seeing eye-to-eye, particularly in an online setting where time zones increase demands on the student. Some suggestions I have include: If at any point you feel you're group project is not running as smoothly as you had hoped, pick up the phone and call your classmates. Explain your concerns in a professional manner. Do not be afraid to take the lead on the project—this will give you more control over deadlines. If you set deadlines a day or two before an assignment is actually due, it enables you to have wiggle room for last minute delays or changes.
If a classmate does not respond, reach out to others in the group. They may know something you don't or may have a different perspective. Lastly, reach out to the professor and clarify expectations. I was in group assignments where everyone was expected to do a piece and was solely graded on their own aspect. For others, a group project meant everyone got the same grade. So if an aspect is not complete, you either find yourselves completing it at the last minute or your grade is impacted. For me, in two degrees, this was a rare occurrence, but it's certainly something you should be aware of. Being proactive in reaction will minimize your stress level.
If the issue is with the professor or if you are struggling with a question or an assignment, reach out. My experience was that my professors were happy to help me understand the work and were motivated to help me succeed. In being completely honest, I was certain taking statistics online would be overwhelming. I scheduled appointments with a free online tutor to review my assignments for the first couple of weeks. My first tutor was no more knowledgeable than myself, but my second was awesome! I made several appointments with him. It turned out I understood it way better than I had expected, but the tutoring was a reassurance. I learned even more with a tutor than I would have if I had just submitted my assignment.
The point being, achieving a BSN can be a challenge, but I am on the other side of my BSN and MSN in under four years. It is also very achievable and rewarding, and the BSN opens up more doors than I could have predicted. More on new doors in the future.
A tremendous opportunity, I attended the 2016 Academic Progression in Nursing (APIN) Summit for New York today facilitated by the APIN project team and The Future of Nursing, New York State Action Coalition (NYSAC).
It was a great opportunity for networking, and the updates were very educational. One area that was great to hear was that there is an academic progression group developing a toolkit for school counselors. The focus is to help educate middle and high school students on what nurses do, where they work, what prerequisites are required, available nursing programs, and dispel some of the myths related to nursing. The hope is to help encourage more students to enter the nursing profession.
Dr. Barbara Zittel reported on a clinical practice partners survey. The study was done in both 2013 and 2015 and was completed by 68 New York state clinical nursing partners at a 51% return rate. It was interesting that 97% of the facilities reported offering a tuition assistance program for BSN and 94% for MSN students. Flexible hours for RNs returning to school were reported in 67% of the facilities in 2013 and 86% in 2015. These statistics are interesting as numerous research studies identify money and time as the biggest reasons for nurses not returning for their BSN. It raises the question to facilities that offer tuition assistance and flexible hours: Does your staff know how these opportunities are available and how to access them?
Some of the incentives for completing the BSN were identified in some of the other questions. Facilities previously reported a BSN would be a requirement for a management role in 69% of the facilities in 2013 but has already increased to 83% in 2015. Career ladder programs requiring a BSN has changed from 44% in 2013 to 66% in 2015. A difference in pay was reported in 2013 by 54% of the facilities and has increased to 69% in 2015.
One of the most significant findings was that, in 2013, 27% of the partners in New York State related they would hire an AD or diploma nurse but would require them to complete their BSN to keep their job. In 2015, the number had dramatically increased to 71% of the facilities requiring completion of a BSN for new hires. Although these findings are specific to New York, the IOM recommendation of 80% ratio of BSN is a national recommendation, and I suspect the results would be very similar across the nation. These findings should make any AD or diploma nurse take notice. If for no other reason than to remain competitive, it is important that each nurse strongly considers completing their BSN to maintain their options for future opportunities.
How do you decide which program is the best fit for you?
If you are asking every program the same questions, every program will be the best. If you are reaching out to a variety of BSN programs and asking questions, document the responses. Next, take this information and develop a tool to share with your colleagues. It will be one less step for the next person getting started, and you can use the tool for professional advancement. Be sure to ask about transfer credits; challenging credits; cost per credit hour; credits to complete; length of classes; average time to complete; minimum or maximum time to complete; online, classroom, or hybrid setting; eBooks; hardcover; included in tuition costs; additional costs per semester; tutoring costs; practicum requirements; discounts available; graduation costs; and graduation rates.
There is the decision comparing online versus in class setting. Some people feel they could never be motivated enough for online classes and want the classroom experience. Online enables a student to study around work and personal schedule. It does mean time management but something most of those who choose say is very manageable.
Next, consider what credits will they accept, what is transferable, or what you might be able to challenge. Need an elective? Consider a DSST exam at a local community college for $100 on a Saturday morning and earn three credits. It had been suggested because "no nurse has ever failed it." Another option would be CLEP exams.
Even those nurses that do not feel computer savvy can adapt quickly. There are some great programs for formatting papers. These programs make APA formatting or saving references easy.
Books: some programs include eBooks as part of the tuition. Not including books would not deter me from a program; there are some great rental or used sites. In two degrees, I never paid full price for a book. Sometimes I rented, sometimes I bought used, depending on the book. A simple Google search will guide you to best price.
After speaking with different programs and representatives, you will know which program feels right for you. Trust your gut, it is a personal decision and that is hard to measure.
Finally, one thing I have heard repeatedly when talking to different BSN prepared nurses over the pros and cons of the programs they choose is they wished they had started sooner. If I can offer one piece of advice, it would be to choose a program and try it. Worst-case scenario, if you do not love it, you transfer your credits. If you do, you will be looking back in no time saying I wish I had started sooner.
Beth Hogan MSN, RN, CNOR, CRN
Research ranks money, as one of the biggest barriers as why ADN and diploma nurses are saying they are not completing their BSN. It is possible to complete your degree and do it with no money out of pocket.
Does your facility offer a tuition reimbursement program? If you are unsure, call your human resource department or speak to your department manager. Review the policy, qualifications, and frequency of eligibility. Our facility offers $2,500 a calendar year toward a BSN. Spreading classes out over a few calendar years make it possible to acquire $10,000 in less than 30 months toward your degree. For example, starting in the fall of 2016, can mean $2500 in 2016, 2017, 2018 and the spring of 2019 will mean $10,000 in tuition reimbursement in less than 30 months.
Does your facility have partnerships with any BSN programs? If you are unsure, ask. If your facility does not currently have any, ask your nursing administration to consider signing agreements. This can mean a percentage off your tuition costs or delayed payment until after class if tuition reimbursement eligible depending on the agreement. Our facility has several partnerships averaging 10% discount off tuition.
Tax benefits are available for undergraduate degrees. Potential for $1000 tax return for four years can be found at https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/AOTC Tax credit but will not provide refund at https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/LLC and 529 savings programs are also available for a tax advantage.
Research scholarships your facility or BSN program may offer. The time investment is certainly worth the reward.
Ebooks are used for some programs and in some cases are included as part of the tuition costs. For those programs where you need to purchase books, consider used or renting. In some cases renting may be cheaper, in the next class you may find a used book for almost no cost. Shop around for the best value. Some of the more popular sites include amazon.com, halfebay.com, chegg.com, or bookrenter.com.
Challenging classes or taking a CLEP or DSST for credit is another economical option. For an elective, an advisor recommended a "Here's to your Health" test for any nurse looking for an elective. It was a three-credit exam, cost $100, and I was able to complete it in under an hour.
Finally, the financial reward should be a consideration. A recent classmate exclaimed, "Our facility only gives us $1.00 and hour more for a BSN". Only? If you were to receive a $1.00 more an hour for achieving your BSN, that is $2,000 a year for a full time employee. Over ten years, that is $20,000. In most cases, this would more than pay for your education while at the same time increasing your marketability and earning potential. When you consider the big picture, can you afford not to achieve your BSN?
Beth Hogan MSN, RN, CNOR, CRN
It was fall of 2010; the Institute of Medicine released their recommendations for the future of nursing. One recommendation they made was to increase the ratio of BSN prepared nurses to 80% by 2020 to help meet the increased demands in nursing to care for the increasingly complex patients.
By 2011, like many other facilities across the nation one large rural hospital in upstate New York started to make changes. One particular announcement was that any nurses practicing in the professional advancement program would not be eligible for a level 4 if they had not acquired their BSN by 2016. For those staff members that had been in the program for decades, there was frustration, fear, and anger. As a diploma graduate with three decades of experience, I was amongst them.
Over the next year, there was a half-heartedly review of BSN programs. Doing the math on tuition costs versus income, time commitment, and fear resulted in digging in of heels. It was easy to argue there was there was no time to return to school, family obligations and job would make it too challenging.
In 2012, I stumbled on a program that seemed very affordable when considering tuition reimbursement, tax benefit, and ebooks were included in costs. The commit to try one five-week class seemed doable; one can do anything for five weeks. Online programs allowed self-scheduling. If I was struggling, got nothing out of it, I had only committed five weeks and promised myself I did not have to continue.
What the Institute of Medicine did not report was how personally stimulating returning to school was going to be, how rewarding it would be to be interacting with nurses across the country, and how fast the classes would go by. Five weeks were not enough. Eleven classes were not enough. In 2013, I enrolled in a masters program. The 2016 deadline has come and gone and two degrees later, I am looking for my next challenge. My goal for 2015 was to make it easier for my colleagues to get started, to encourage them, and to motivate them. My goal for 2016 is to share that same knowledge with you so that you might be inspired or share the information with your colleagues to help motivate and inspire them.
Do I have any regrets? Yes, I am disappointed I did not start sooner. Be a role model to your children and colleagues. Take the journey, have no regrets, do it for your patients, but more importantly do it for yourself.
Beth Hogan MSN, RN, CNOR, CRN