The nursing profession continues to experience rapid growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 2.9 million registered nurses working in the United States; by 2026, the workforce is expected to grow by 438,100 jobs, or 15 percent. Nursing is enjoying such a strong outlook that it was named the ninth-best job by U.S. News and World Report.
This type of increase is not a first for nursing. Based on a 2013 analysis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 550,000 registered nursing jobs were added between the 2000 census and the 2008-10 American Community Survey three-year file, accounting for 24 percent growth in an approximate nine-year period.
Although the employment numbers are strong, training and education standards for nurses are changing. “Although you can get an entry-level RN position with an associate degree or a diploma program, the industry standard is fast becoming a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree,” according to U.S. News.
Across the country, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is starting to become a requirement — or at least a strong preference — for hospitals and employers of nurses. This preference is even more marked in locations such as the Chicago metro area, a national leader in health care. For nurses pursuing positions in this desirable job market, understanding what employers are looking for is vital to career success.
The Demand for BSN-prepared Nurses in Chicago
Nurses beginning or advancing their career in Chicagoland have plenty of options. According to a U.S. News listing of hospitals, the Chicago metro area has 41 top-ranking hospitals, trailing only the New York City metro area.
Current Job Market
Competition Is Increasing
John T. Howlett, manager of talent acquisition for Advocate Health Care at its main support center in Downers Grove, Illinois, said the current job market for nurses is competitive. “The Chicagoland health care landscape has become more competitive in recent years with the various partnerships that both have and will be formed in the region, and in turn, the market has become more competitive for highly skilled nurses — and not just between the small private practices and the large Level I trauma centers,” he said.
But So Is Opportunity
Despite a competitive nursing industry in Chicago, more openings are on the horizon. “With health systems evolving due to change and demand, and experienced nurses feeling more confident in the job market itself and thus exploring their options, the byproduct has been more opportunities,” Howlett said. “I feel the nursing job market is trending upwards and many more job openings are available.”
Patti Ludwig-Beymer, Ph.D., vice president and chief nursing officer at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Illinois, also spoke about the recent change in the industry. “Right now it’s probably more difficult to obtain a job than it was back in the ’90s, but that is definitely changing, and I believe that over the last couple of years the job market has loosened up a little bit,” she said.
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Role of the BSN
In a promising-but-competitive job market for nurses in Chicagoland, the role of education is of particular interest. Nationally, hospitals are starting to require the BSN for all nurses who are hired, and this trend has made its way into the Chicago area.
Ludwig-Beymer estimates that a third of the hospitals around Chicago require the degree, and more are strongly encouraging or preferring the BSN. At her hospital, all new graduates must have the degree to be hired, and there’s a strong preference for all others to have it. “The industry standard is quickly converting, I think, to the baccalaureate degree in nursing,” she said.
Howlett also believes that there is a greater preference in Chicagoland for the BSN and mentioned that this is currently in effect. “I believe the experienced nursing workforce is well aware of the BSN preference, and many systems have already worked with their experienced staff to assist them in obtaining their bachelor’s in a certain period of time,” he said. “This is no longer a new concept as of today, and the nursing workforce understands this movement.”
Nurses who don’t have a bachelor’s degree could be at a disadvantage. “I think that we’re already seeing limits, because to assume leadership positions they will need to have a baccalaureate degree in nursing, to make changes in their career,” Ludwig-Beymer said. “To decide to go to one hospital to another, they’ll need a baccalaureate degree, and also as you look at changing health care, a lot of nurses will be functioning in the community, and so those nurses will need to be prepared at the baccalaureate degree level.”
This trend is expected to gain even more momentum. According to Ludwig-Beymer, in 10 years the demand for BSN nurses could become overwhelming — almost forcing nurses to pursue their bachelor’s degree.
Specializations Currently in Demand
Nurses who obtain their BSN should also be aware of specializations in health care. According to Howlett, there are several areas nurses can target with their education, training and experience:
- Clinical informatics
- Clinical research
- Critical care
- Quality and process improvement
In a job market like Chicago, nurses who develop certain specializations and skills have plenty of opportunities for career growth outside of patient care. “As a nurse, nowadays you can parlay your skills into so many different fields,” Howlett said. “You could utilize them as a utilization review nurse for a multinational insurance company, or you could function as an employee health and wellness professional for one of the many Fortune 500 companies in the Chicagoland area.”
The Rationale for BSN-prepared Nurses in Chicago
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine released a report entitled “The Future of Nursing,” which called for 80 percent of registered nurses to have at least a bachelor’s degree by 2020. According to Ludwig-Beymer, this report played a large part in the health care industry placing such a high priority on the BSN.
The report pointed to the increase in quality for nursing and health care that could take place through higher education standards for nurses. In this, the reasoning for BSN-prepared nurses can be seen.
Improved Patient Care Outcomes
In 2003, a landmark study linking BSN-prepared nurses to improved patient care outcomes was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Using a population of 232,342 patients across 168 Pennsylvania hospitals, researchers found that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of nurses with a bachelor’s degree was linked to a 5 percent decrease in patient deaths and the odds of failure to rescue. Also, for hospitals where less than 10 percent of the nursing staff held bachelor’s degrees, the death rates for surgical patients were nearly double the rates of hospitals where more than 70 percent of the nursing staff had the degree.
Since the JAMA study, a number of other notable studies have demonstrated the connection between BSN-prepared nurses and improved patient care outcomes.
- In 2007, a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found lower 30-day mortality rates for hospitals with higher proportions of BSN-prepared nurses. A 10 percent increase in nurses with this degree was linked to nine fewer deaths per 1,000 discharged patients.
- In 2013, a study in the Journal of Nursing Administration found that a higher percentage of hospitals with BSN-prepared nurses had lower decubitus ulcers, congestive heart failure mortality and postoperative deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism and shorter length of stay.
- In 2014, a study in The Lancet found that for every 10 percent increase in BSN-prepared nurses, there was a 7 percent decrease in the likelihood of a hospital patient dying within 30 days of admission.
- In 2014, a study in Medical Care found that a 10 percent increase in BSN-prepared units in hospitals was linked to lowering the odds of patient mortality by nearly 11 percent.
“The research that’s been conducted suggests that patient outcomes are better,” Ludwig-Beymer summarizes. “Patients have more positive outcomes when they receive care in hospitals where more nurses are prepared at the baccalaureate level.”
Nurses who have a BSN can provide a higher quality of care for patients as a result of the skills they have developed. With the additional coursework and training present in the BSN classroom, nurses can benefit from a wide body of knowledge.
“Direct patient care requires exceptional teamwork, interprofessional relationships, the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to establish a rapport and the ability to assess a patient not just physically, but emotionally and cognitively in terms of their learning styles and the best ways to teach them,” Ludwig-Beymer said. “I think a nurse who has the benefit of a baccalaureate degree where she or he has taken classes in all of those areas is going to be better conditioned for the future.”
In a BSN program, nurses can receive greater exposure to the skills that better prepare them for the scenarios and settings they face. According to an article in The Journal of Nursing, BSN-prepared nurses have stronger critical thinking and leadership skills. An article in Research in Nursing and Health points to stronger communication and problem-solving skills among baccalaureate-prepared nurses.
Another reason employers prefer the BSN is due to the flexibility that a higher-educated workforce can provide. For both the employee and the employer, the additional education offers extra marketability.
“I think it is very important to have a BSN because it makes you more marketable with your current employer,” Howlett said. “Every organization today wants to fully utilize their talent.”
“I believe any health system wants to better understand their workforce’s capabilities and how it can leverage its skills,” Howlett added. “A health system already knows the years of experience for each nurse on a particular unit/within a particular cost center, but with the greater exposure and education provided through a bachelor’s program, top talent can be better identified as potential fits for roles that provide even more value to an organization. It is important for nurses to continue to develop their skills and become more educated because they need to be multifaceted.”
The Importance of Continuing Education
For registered nurses, the demand for the BSN-prepared nurses in Chicago and the surrounding area represents not just a fundamental change in the job market, but a dedication to learning.
“We encourage all nurses to be lifelong learners,” Ludwig-Beymer said. “I graduated 41 years ago, and I would be pretty darn obsolete if I didn’t believe in learning in an ongoing way, so our expectation is that nurses continue to learn and grow. We always need to be learning and growing, so the baccalaureate degree nurse who graduates and never learns another thing is going to be just as obsolete as the associate degree nurse that does the same. So the importance of lifelong learning I can’t stress enough.”
In Chicagoland, the emphasis on learning is clear. The demand for BSN-prepared nurses is strong. For nurses to secure career opportunities, this degree — as well as the dedication to lifelong learning — may be a requirement for employers in the region.
For registered nurses looking to pursue the BSN, Aurora University offers an online RN to BSN program that can enhance marketability. The degree is designed to help graduates improve patient care and gain leadership skills.