The Institute of Medicine Future of Nursing recommends 80 percent BSN workforce by 2020, Ky. at 33 percent.

commentary_Marcia J. Hern - Preferred Photo


Nursing will long remain a high demand career choice. Not only does being a nurse provide an opportunity to make a significant impact on human lives, but it provides job security for those entering the profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to rank nursing as one of the top two job growth areas. The registered nurse workforce is expected to grow from 2.71 million in 2012 to 3.24 million in 2022, cited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The public seems well versed in this high demand workforce need as evidenced by our large pool of undergraduate nursing students.

But numbers and/or quantity alone are not the sole variable driving this workforce demand. More importantly, it is the quality of registered nurses that help make some of the most strident contributions. One cannot dismiss the seminal research conducted by Dr. Linda Aiken from University of Pennsylvania about the improved patient outcomes with less mortalities and complications under the care of a baccalaureate nursing workforce. Nor can we dismiss the accolades from our physician colleagues who know working at a hospital with nursing magnet designation and a large BSN workforce ensures the highest level of nursing care with significant patient satisfaction.

Our current and future nursing workforce must be highly educated with the majority of nurses having a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. They can think critically, analyze a vast amount of patient data, manage very complex acute and chronic health conditions and leave the patient feeling satisfied through safe, high quality compassionate care.

Kentucky Lagging

In the state of Kentucky, our numbers of registered nurses sound sufficient with 65,856 RNs, yet only 33 percent (22,006) hold a bachelor of science in nursing. That puts Kentucky near the bottom of the 50 states, with a ranking of 46th. Further, this number lags far behind the Institute of Medicine Future of Nursing recommendation to have an 80 percent BSN workforce by 2020. For schools and colleges of nursing, and for hospitals who continue to be the largest employer of nurses that means we have only four years to jump another 47 percent to help reach the 80 percent national goal!

Our nursing workforce landscape looks bumpy, but as educators and hospital administrators we must expect every person who wants to be a nurse to earn the BSN. This degree will then afford a nurse an even stronger career outlook to further his or her professional journey to earn a master’s degree as an advanced practice nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist, and eventually earn the clinical Doctor of Nursing Practice or research PhD.    

-Marcia Hern is dean and professor at the University of Louisville School of Nursing.