But baccalaureate degrees aren't for everyone, says Roxanne Fulcher, director of health professions policy and the health professions education center at the American Association of Community Colleges. As she explained, the nation's community colleges educate about 57% of registered nurses, and between 63% and 70% of allied health professionals, which include those who work in respiratory care, as well as dental hygienists, X-ray technicians and HIT professionals. Meanwhile, students who enter the associate degree programs in nursing are a diverse group. “We have more minorities, working parents, first-generation college students,” Fulcher said recently after an event in Washington on increasing the impact of nursing in rural areas. “Our programs have resulted in providing 70% of the minority nurses through our programs.”
Fulcher said her group is committed to helping their graduates continue their education. And one way to do that is through registered nurse to master's degree programs, which allow registered nurses with associate degrees to expand their scope of practice and earn a master's degree. Some of those MSN programs include a bachelor's degree in them, according to Fulcher, who also cited the IOM report as saying the research between academic preparation and patient outcomes is inconclusive, and yet there remains a push to have 80% of nurses earn a baccalaureate degree by the start of the next decade.
“It's not for everyone,” Fulcher said of the baccalaureate degree, “because the people who are registered nurses have the competencies for nursing programs. When they go onto receive a bachelor's degree, it's generally liberal arts education, not clinical. They have already demonstrated they have the knowledge and skills to serve as registered nurses to provide care,” she added. “The bachelor's degree is a nice thing to have, but it's not a necessity.”
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