Bachelor's degree advantageous for nurses

Studies have shown that registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing can provide an extra level of care for most patients. But less than 40 percent of nurses in Arkansas and just 50 percent nationwide have earned their bachelor’s degree, according to research.

Initiatives are under way to increase those numbers, with a goal of 80 percent by 2020, according to Shelley Austin, assistant professor and chair of the nursing department at Henderson State University.

“All the latest evidence shows better patient outcomes with a bachelor’s-prepared nurse, compared to a nurse with an associate degree,” Austin said. “The bachelor’s-prepared nurse takes an evidence-based research course, and courses in leadership, community health care, and care for older adults. These courses are not required for an associate’s degree.”

Austin sees a trend toward more community-based nursing.

“We’re going to see a lot of health care going out into the communities and away from hospitals,” she said. “Bachelor’s-prepared nurses are learning how to nurse out in the community, which is what we need.”

Many hospitals want at least 80 percent of their nurses to have a bachelor’s degree, according to Austin.

“We now have hospitals that are giving nurses with associate degrees five years to earn their bachelor’s degree,” Austin said. “They realize that bachelor’s-prepared nurses have better outcomes, even in the hospitals.”

Meanwhile, nursing is facing a nationwide shortage.

“There are not enough nurses coming out of school to keep up with the demand,” Austin said. “Baby Boomers are finally getting to the age where they need more healthcare. There weren’t enough nurses to begin with. And our own nursing Baby Boomers are aging and retiring.”

It’s not a lack of interest in the nursing profession among students that’s causing the shortage. There just aren’t enough nurse educators to accommodate the demand.

“It’s difficult to find a master’s-prepared nurse who is not going to go out and work as a nurse practitioner, as opposed to teaching for less money,” Austin said. “There are no incentives for nurse educators. It’s a nationwide problem.”

But Henderson State continues to do its part to help meet the need for bachelor’s-prepared nurses.

“We accept 24 new students each year,” Austin said. “We’re thinking about increasing that number if we can attract experienced faculty to meet the demand.”

Henderson also has a dual degree nursing program with National Park College in Hot Springs which allows nursing students working on their associate degree at NPC to also enroll in Henderson’s program. It’s the only dual degree nursing program in the state.

“While they are working on their associate degree, they are taking two bachelor’s level courses with Henderson,” Austin said. “When they graduate from NPC, they become a licensed nurse and have only one year left to complete their bachelor’s degree. And those classes are available online.”

Henderson also has a new online program that makes it easier for associate degree nurses who are already working to earn their bachelor’s degree.

“It’s really the only way a working R.N. can go back to school,” Austin said. “They would do their practicum in their own city or community.”

A bachelor’s degree also gives registered nurses an advantage in the job market.

“A bachelor’s-prepared nurse will always get the job first and will advance faster,” Austin said. “They’re at an advantage. Therefore, our students always have an advantage.”

For more information about Henderson’s nursing program, go to