Let’s talk about degree inflation

iStock | nensuria
iStock | nensuria

I want to talk about degree inflation. And I don’t mean when your patient is holding the thermometer over a light bulb to make it look like he has a fever.

My hospital recently went to a BSN-only hiring policy. I have a number of problems with this, the main two being as follows:

  1. In this area, at least, a BSN requirement guarantees that the diversity of the hiring pool will become very limited. The folks who get bachelor’s degrees around here are uniformly white, female and on their first career. The people who get associate’s degrees or go through bridge programs (LPN to RN) are older, are of varying ethnicities and backgrounds, and usually have had at least one career already.
  2. Our facility has focused so hard on the letters after somebody’s name that they’ve hired some real winners. I am currently training a nurse with six or seven years of experience and every certification imaginable who cannot set up a suction canister correctly, even with multiple tries. He looks great on paper, and was hired because he looks great on paper. Meanwhile, another nurse I’m friends with, with more than a dozen years’ experience and a military background, can’t get a job with us because she lacks the vital initials.

I’ll admit to some prejudice: I’m an ADN. I have two bachelor’s degrees in the liberal arts and hours that count toward a master’s degree, and have done paid and volunteer work both in and out of nursing. I’ve found that my sociology degree prepared me just fine for critical thinking and analysis, and the English minor I took makes me the person others seek out when it’s time to edit their term papers.

Sure, not everybody is as brilliant, talented and beautiful as I am. Sure, some people have to be led by the hand through management and critical-thinking courses, and taught how to differentiate homeopathy from evidence-based medicine. But just as surely, there are people out there with perfectly good associate’s or hospital degrees who can do just as well as a bachelor’s-prepared nurse. The metric should be the individual’s brain, not the letters after his or her name.

I’m curious to know what Scrubs readers think of the trend of the BSN becoming the entry-level degree for our field. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!


Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at askauntieaggie@gmail.com.

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14 Responses to Let’s talk about degree inflation

  1. Mrs.T

    I think that in any profession there is no substitute for experiencea. That being said in order for a hospital to achieve Magnet status they need to have a specific number if Baccalaureate degree nurses. Statistically BSN prepared nurses have better patient outcomes. Does this mean that ALL BSN are the greatest? Not at all. There are plenty of online RN – BSN programs out there and I believe ADNs should take advantage to stay marketable.( I am a BSN student and will be 40 with a toddler, a teenager a husband and in a lot debt when I graduate. :) Totally worth it.

  2. Crustyrusty

    This doesn’t just apply to nurses. I have said for a while now that given the state of public education nowadays, employers are looking for folks with bachelor’s degrees to improve their odds of finding someone with an eighth-grade reading level.

    As far as the BSN being an entry-level degree goes, when I went back for mine, the courses mainly covered research and management, which seemed pretty irrelevant to someone who was only getting a BSN because the *Magnet* hospitals are insisting on it, and everyone else is following like sheep.

  3. Capone77

    I have two bachelors in psych and social science and a masters in psychology with my associates in nursing. I can to nursing after being a psychologist. Sad day they pick degrees over experience. I say a bsn a good nurse doesn’t necessarily make!!

  4. jayden123

    It would make sense to me if the bachelor degree nurse actually had more medical training, but those nurses have more classes in general subjects. Some students can become an ADN with other life challenges that made it very difficult to continue their education. Raising the bar simply will keep the lower income people from coming into the field, another way to separate the classes. With the ADN program, almost anyone can afford to enter the profession. Besides, different ethnic groups of patients probably feel more comfortable with some nurses of the same ethnicity. I wonder if it is colleges pushing this agenda to make more money.

    • NYNCRN

      I agree!!!! Research and theory are great IF one plans on moving up to management, admin, or go into Nursing Ed etc. I learned so much more NURSING in my ADN program!

  5. kirtie

    I am seven classes away from obtaining my BSN, but honestly, I don’t think that writing a 7 page paper on the Civil War will make me a better nurse. I don’t need my Bull Sh*t degree!

  6. merlinrocket

    I am a British diploma nurse who graduated in 1994 – 21 years ago at Guys Hospital, I have worked in chronic care all my career – renal, diabetes, respiratory and now in elderly – why would a BN be better? I have experience and have recently achieved my Post Graduate Diploma in Elder Health and am now going onto my thesis – hue many others have??????

  7. Lenore King

    At my age I have no desire to spend a year or two salary to go back to school hoping to retire 10 years from now. I don’t think of BS and makes you any smarter I just think it makes you more booksmart and more management material. I personally enjoy bedside nursing. and I mean no offense to those that have gotten their BS. I wish I had gotten mine years ago but not now

    • Lenore King

      sorry about the typos it is not because I don’t have my BS it’s because I am talking my response. lol

  8. Tracy Day

    Having worked in a teaching hospital, I witnessed clinical instructors ‘drop off’ BS students on wards. These students only got to observe or run errands but received no real hands on experience (and they were close to graduating). I have a BS in another field and was a paramedic when going to nursing school. It was harder to get into an Associate program… competition was tight with older more focused adults being the bulk of the applications. The program I ultimately chose was only 2-3 classes shy in nursing core classes of being a BS but, they still managed to get us exposed to the information through observations. Our clinical instructors were with us at all times and we did actual care and procedures (including injections) and preparing care plans from scratch for our instructors as if they were what we would follow in ‘real time care’. I graduated feeling superior in direct patient care to the BSN due to the experiences we were lucky to receive. In my class, all but one passed state boards/NCLX) on the first attempt (prior year was 100%). So, we understood critical thinking! At the time, I honestly thought the BSN program was just preparation for management/team lead positions….. And ASN programs was more a focus on direct care….

  9. JLCRN1

    I am a diploma grad. Working critical care for nearly 30 years. Started back for my BSN several years ago but quickly became disappointed with the whole scheme of things. The patient in the bed isn’t concerned with my degree…they ARE concerned that I or anyone else taking care of them know what we are doing. To only hire BSNs are severely shrinking your pool of potential employees and causing employers to lose out on some great staff members.

  10. CAlinurse

    I have heard so many arguments on this topic in my 14 years as a nurse. I graduated with my BSN at age 22, and guess what, I am able to take care of critical patients too…..despite my degree. It seems like nurses with ADNs are very defensive about encouraging a higher entry level degree for nursing. Nobody is saying that ADNs are not amazing nurses. Its more about putting nurses more on par with other professions. There aren’t many careers that are considered “professions” that don’t require a bachelor’s degree for entry level. Nursing needs more consistency. More education never hurt anyone’s ability to be a good nurse. Most of the hands on training for nurses takes place after graduation anyways.
    Just putting in my two cents :)

    • jaykalkyn@yahoo.com

      Thank you. Since when did more education become such a negative thing?
      You make an excellent point about every other profession requiring BS or BA degree. If anything, nursing should be held to a higher standard considering life and limb are at stake.

  11. jaykalkyn@yahoo.com

    This debate is old and frankly I’m tired of reading about whiney ADN nurses who are angry with organizations who are creating these standards for whatever reason. They consistently take their frustrations out on BSN nurses and for what? Are you jealous because you chose a different path to your nursing degree. If you don’t like it, then bridge to a BSN. It’s that simple. The scenario about the moron BSN who didn’t know squat from shinola is old as well. Trust, there are ADNs out there who don’t know squat either.
    Stop making this about who’s better and either pursue the BSN or keep your position with your ADN and move on with your life.
    You’re starting to sound pathetic and green.
    Sincerely, a 2nd career BSN student who happens to already have a BS and a MBA.