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Bachelor's degree may be required for Iowa nursing programs

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 11:30 a.m. CDT
Dr. Susan White, nursing department chair, stands by while first-year nursing student Brittany Grandfield practices with a catheter kit on a dummy.

The requirement that all nurses will need a bachelor’s degree is still hot on the table.

In mid-November, the Iowa Board of Nursing met in closed session to discuss the proposal of requiring nurses in Iowa to earn a bachelor’s degree. Their next scheduled meeting is Dec. 13 in closed session, and a public hearing will be held sometime after that date.

According to a Des Moines Register story, health care groups “argue nurses increasingly coordinate care in homes and other settings outside (of) hospitals, a responsibility that requires more than two years of education.”

On the other hand, community colleges generally oppose the proposal.

“One of the concerns is that really for the individual entering nursing it could increase the expenses for them as they complete the associate degree program as one of our students,” said Dr. Barb Crittenden, president of Southwestern Community College (SWCC), “and they complete the program and they can get their RN license and begin to work. But then (to) be required to take that additional education in the first five years would create an expense for them.”

The mandate states that, starting Jan. 1, 2015, graduates of an associate’s degree program would have to:

•Enroll in a bachelor’s degree nursing program prior to their first license renewal, within two years of graduation.

•Complete a bachelor’s degree prior to the second license renewal, within three years of the first license renewal.

“Our associate degree nursing program has been a really strong program, it’s been a high demand program,” said Crittenden, “and actually, even under this proposal, if it goes through, and it’s in the early stages of it being considered, it still allows students to complete their associate’s degree, sit for the licensure exam, become an RN and begin working. So it really affects them in the first five years of their career.”

The only state to have ever required a bachelor’s degree was North Dakota in 1987, but the law was repealed in 2003 because of nurse shortages.

“We’re just concerned that some people at the beginning, if they thought they had to get a four-year degree, that it would be somewhat intimidating, and intimidating financially,” said Dr. Susan White, SWCC nursing department chairwoman.

Currently, the state requires both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in nursing to take the same final licensure exam to receive their license. Graduates must then renew their license for the first time after two years, and after that renewal is every three years.

“We’re very supportive of all of our students having access and opportunity to continue as much education as anyone reasonably wants to complete,” said Crittenden. “It’s more about making it a requrement that may be a barrier, and certainly a cost, for some who really didn’t have a reason that they wanted to or needed to incur an additional expense.”

“A lot of our students are nontraditional, so many of them are single parents with children, and recent life changes that have caused them to, maybe, want to change careers. So not only the cost but the time and effort required,” said White.

Another concern SWCC has for the students is if there will be a return on their investment.

One of the positive outlooks that could come from this requirement is having a bachelor’s degree allows students to get advanced degrees and advance their careers if they so choose. Another positive is, because the guidelines are being scrutinized, systems can be put it place to make it less difficult for students to become nurses.

“The overarching concern there would be, if in fact this were to pass and it does have an impact, a negative impact on the number of people choosing nursing as a career, then you could see a shortage of nurses available to provide care in our area, and across the state,” Crittenden said. “It’s really broader than our area, but in rural parts of the state in particular, that may create somewhat of a hardship.”

SWCC provides experience for students by working closely with all health care providers in the area to keep things current and in line with the market.

“... Community college graduates generally have a tendency to stay closer to the area that they’re educated in, and that would be true again beyond our location,” explained Crittenden. “... It’s really been something that’s been very positive for local communities to have that educational oppourtunity close to home.”

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