New York’s New Law Requiring a BSN for RNs: What It Means for Nurses Everywhere

With almost 300,000 licensed RNs in New York, the new law sets a precedent for others in states who want nurses to hold a BSN.
On December 19, 2017, the state of New York passed a bill, AO1842-B/SO 6768, that would require Registered Nurses in the state to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing within 10 years of initial licensure. The push for laws requiring RNs to hold BSNs is not a new one; in fact, it’s been around for decades. This particular NY bill took more than 14 years of shepherding before it finally became law.

In 1964, the American Nurses Association House of Delegates adopted a motion that supported this requirement, reaffirming its position on the matter in 2000. The ANA is not the only group supporting baccalaureate education: The Institute of Medicine released a report in 2010 calling for 80% of RNs to hold bachelor’s degrees by the year 2020. When this report was released, only 50% of nurses had earned this degree. Today, approximately 60% of nurses hold at least a BSN.

Why the New Requirement for a BSN?

The main reason behind these and other organizations supporting such a change is that there simply is a need for more highly educated nurses in order to competently care for patients who present with increasingly complex medical needs. As the field of medicine advances, and as more is learned about the human body, its capabilities, and its conditions, the amount of knowledge required by medical personnel to effectively treat those conditions is ever-increasing. Furthermore, the technological advances and specialized skills needed to operate machines, run computer programs, and manage complex care plans continue to advance.

“Research has shown a higher percentage of baccalaureate nurses on a unit reduces morbidity and mortality,” says Tina Gerardi, the Deputy for the Academic Progression in Nursing Programs (APIN).

Nursing is an occupation that encompasses multiple disciplines and requires advanced collaboration regarding the management of complex patient needs. RNs are actively a critical part of multidisciplinary teams in a variety of facilities, and often play the most important role on the healthcare team. However, they are also often the least formally educated; social workers, PTs, OTs, Pharm Ds and others are all required to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The Three Parts of the New Bill

So, what exactly does the New York bill say? It has two main parts and a supporting addition:

The first part creates a temporary committee to evaluate nursing programs that will submit a report regarding barriers that people may encounter because of the new law. These barriers would include hindrances like a lack of availability and access to baccalaureate programs, complications regarding entry into nursing, and similar issues. The report is due to the governor within a year.

The second part, effective immediately, is the core of the bill that states that “in order to continue to maintain registration as a registered professional nurse in New York state, [RNs must] have attained a baccalaureate degree or higher in nursing within 10 years of initial licensure.”

There is yet another section in the new bill, effective 18 months after December 19, 2017, that states that current RNs, in addition to those who are currently enrolled or are pending acceptance into a program to prepare registered nurses, will be grandfathered in; the provisions of this new law will not apply to them.

The Bottom Line: What Does This Mean for Nurses?

So, let’s cut to the chase. Basically, if you currently hold a license in New York you are grandfathered in, and the new law does not apply to you. Anyone who wants to later enter the profession as a Registered Nurse, however, will be required to obtain his or her BSN within 10 years of being first licensed. For example, if you are accepted into a program that will start this spring in Indiana to obtain your license, you would be required to get that BSN in 10, should you decide afterwards to move to New York.

This bill affects nurses across the country because several states have considered similar legislation, and have been watching the outcome of the NY bill. With it passing into law, many of those states are going to be proposing similar legislation over the next several years; New Jersey already has legislation pending.

Karen Ballard, MA, RN, FAAN, and past Executive Director of ANA New York explains, “The passage of this bill into law reflects years of working toward a true collaboration of direct-care nurses, associate and baccalaureate faculty, nurse managers and administrators, healthcare facilities and professional associations and consumer advocates. In the end, it is a win for all RNs and our patients.”

Getting the Education

There are several avenues, both traditional and non-traditional, that one can take in order to earn that coveted BSN. There are many state partnerships between diploma, associate, and bachelor’s programs. There is also an expansive array of online RN-to-BSN programs available as well, and with the passing of this new bill with more to follow, those programs are expected to expand exponentially.

If you are a Registered Nurse with a current license, in New York or any other state, you may still want to consider earning your BSN. More hospitals and facilities are looking to hire BSN-prepared nurses, and as more states require this level of degree, increasing your level of education is going to always make many additional options available to you.

New York isn’t the first state to require RNs to hold a BSN, and it didn’t pass this law without the support of several key groups. North Dakota required baccalaureate educations for RNs until 2003. At that time, the law was overturned because of the nursing shortage in that state – holding such a requirement for a BSN only exacerbated that shortage. Now that New York has passed this into law, it is expected that other states will follow suit in order to keep up with the need for high-quality medical care in today’s high-tech medical world.

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