Nurses are the backbone of the health care workforce. According to the National Academy of Medicine, there were more than 3 million nurses employed in the U.S. at the start of the 2010s. However, only half of them had a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, despite the rapidly rising expectations of what modern nurses should know and be capable of performing.
Nurses as de facto physicians: How their roles have evolved
Between 1995 and 2009, the number of nurse practitioners per primary care M.D. more than doubled. There was also a steady rise in physician assistants over this time period. What does this trend mean for nurses today?
For starters, it translates into more power for nurses with BSNs, master’s degrees or doctorates:
- In 21 states, nurse practitioners have full prescriptive authority under the law. Accordingly, they can diagnose, treat and prescribe medications for patients without physician oversight.
- In another 17 states, they have partially reduced scope of practice, with the ability to perform all those actions except issuing prescriptions.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that demand for highly educated nurses is very strong in this context; nurse practitioners, anaesthetists and midwives are expected to see 31 percent growth – much faster than average – in positions between 2014 and 2024.
Nurses are now expected to take on many responsibilities once performed by M.D.s. One reason for this shift is the long-term decline in the number of medical students entering primary care.
A 2016 survey by IHS identified primary care as one of four general categories – along with medical, surgical and other specialties – facing major doctor shortages in the coming years. The physician shortfall could exceed 60,000 by 2025. In the near term, retirements will dramatically reduce the M.D. workforce; the report found that one-third of all physicians were 55 or older.
“Nurses with BSNs will play central roles in scaling the health care system.”
As the U.S. population distribution as a whole skews older, demand for medical services will outpace the supply of doctors. Accordingly, nurses with BSNs will play central roles in scaling the health care system to keep up with new patients as well as their increasingly complex conditions. The number of Americans 65 and older will double between 2016 and 2060. Meanwhile, chronic diseases will continue to take a toll: The Centers for Disease Control estimated that half of American adults already had one of these illnesses in 2012.
What skills do nurses need in their new roles?
Nurses are pivotal in the current shift of the health care system away from primary care physicians, who are dwindling in numbers. With BSNs and graduate degrees, they have the in-depth training to deliver safe and valuable care across all health environments.
The RN-to-BSN track gives nurses a broader base of knowledge than they would have with only a diploma or an associate’s degree. More specifically, they benefit from coursework in subjects such as ethical and moral issues, patient health education, research and statistics for nurses, advanced physiology and social and economic drivers of health.
In practice, they can then utilize what they have learned in their advanced educations to mitigate the impact of medical errors, hospital infections and other systemic challenges in health care. Safety experts at Johns Hopkins University have calculated that medical errors alone account for 250,000 preventable deaths in the U.S. each year. Superior coordination of care is crucial in reducing this total; nurses with a BSN are well-equipped to contribute to wide-reaching improvements in care.
Earn a BSN from GMercyU
More extensive education, starting with a BSN, prepares nurses for the future of their occupation as a complement or even as an alternative to physician-led care. Gwynedd Mercy University offers a variety of BSN programs, which can be your ticket to a more secure nursing career. Learn more about courses, accreditations and admissions requirements by visiting the GMercyU nursing programs page today.