New York has become the first state to require registered nurses to have a bachelor's degree.
Governor Cuomo has signed legislation to strengthen the educational requirements for RNs based on studies showing a direct link between higher degrees and improved care and outcomes for patients.
Nancy, Iafrati, MS, RN, FNP-BC, is president of the Genesee Valley Nurses Association and an associate professor of nursing at the College at Brockport.
She says under the new standards, nurses will be better prepared to treat sicker patients who have shorter hospital stays.
"Most of the time when nurses go back to school, they do it grudgingly, but actually find out that there's a really good reason they went back to school. There are so many other professions that require at least a baccalaureate degree for entry and now nursing has gotten on the bandwagon."
Studies have linked more highly educated nurses to improved care and better outcomes for patients. “People have fewer pressure ulcers, they have less urinary tract infections,” Iafrati said.
The new law gives registered nurses ten years from the time they obtain their original license to earn a bachelor's or higher academic degree. All current RNS, and those who are enrolled in an associate's degree program or on a wait list to enter a program, are grandfathered in under the new law and will not be required to get a higher degree.
The legislation also establishes a commission that will explore the reasons for the nationwide shortage of nurses with higher degrees.
One barrier is lack of access to clinical settings, according to Iafrati.
"In the springtime, I have a class of 70 students, but I can only take a group of eight students into a hospital setting at any given time." She also noted that nursing programs and other fields of study requiring clinical experience are more costly for colleges to administer that other Liberal Arts degrees.
The mandatory bachelor’s degree requirement within ten years of a RN’s licensure will take effect in thirty months.