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Opinion: Nurse Education Bills Examine Old Issue

Monday October 19, 2009
Eileen P. Williamson, RN
Eileen P. Williamson, RN
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Promoting the BSN as the standard for nursing education is not a new issue within the profession. Almost 100 years ago, Florence Nightingale’s biographer Sir Edward Cook told us our founder was above all a nurse educator who believed in and fought for higher education and the advancement of nurses.

During my years as a nurse, from the “1985 Proposal” in New York that would have required the BSN to be standard minimal educational preparation to obtain licensure and begin nursing practice to the current “BSN in 10” proposals in New York and New Jersey, the nursing education debate never ends. In a series that kicked off in the Sept. 8 issue, Nursing Spectrum is examining the two recent bills — New York Senate Bill No. 4051 and New Jersey Senate Bill No. 620 — which, if enacted into law, would require a nurse who graduates from a non-baccalaureate nursing program, is granted an RN license, and begins practice in New York or New Jersey to obtain a BSN within 10 years in order to continue to practice as an RN.

Nurses and professional nursing organizations in both states have divergent positions and varying opinions on the bills and what the changes they will require could mean. While some dispute the need for all nurses to have a BSN, others argue that nurses need to be at least as educated as their non-nursing colleagues, most of whom are required to have bachelors and higher degrees in their fields. Some worry what will happen to nurses who do not or cannot obtain a BSN within the specified time, and if there will be possible extensions and exceptions so they will not lose their jobs. The fate of associate and diploma programs also is being questioned.

Many ask how nurses who come from other states to New York or New Jersey will be handled. Will they need to get a BSN, and how long they will have to do so? Others wonder about the role the two state boards of nursing will play, and why passing the NCLEX and having a license are not enough for a nurse to continue to practice beyond some set number of years. They also want to know what a nurse’s experience and continuing education credits or contact hours will count for if these bills are passed and the new regulations are put into place.

Some nurses are concerned that the proposals will lead to new and different levels of nursing practice, and that the controversy will tear nursing further apart at a time when it needs to be more united than ever. And with an already worrisome nursing faculty shortage, there are questions about who will teach the nurses who would be enrolling in BSN programs.

This is some of what we hear about the bills when we are out in the community. We hope our series will shed some light on the modern form this centuries-old debate has taken, create a dialogue with you in the magazine and online, and answer some of your questions and concerns. There will be installments coming out in winter, spring, and summer with updates on the proposals, so please stay tuned.

Eileen P. Williamson, RN, MSN, is vice president of Nursing Communications & Initiatives. To comment, e-mail ewilliamson@gannetthg.com.