Frisky Rant: Why Highly Qualified Veteran Nurses Are Being Sent Back To School

What would you do if your employer told you that you had to go back to school for more training in your profession — even after years, maybe decades, working in a field you’ve already excelled in? Ask a nurse.

New recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, a non-profit group that advises the government and industry on health issues, are pushing for 80 percent of all nurses to obtain Bachelor’s degrees in Nursing by 2020 in an effort to improve patient care. Their belief is that patients receive better care in hospitals where nurses have higher-level academic degrees.

But while exhausted RNs are neck deep in their Nutrition textbooks after working 12-hour shifts, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I think this is complete bullshit.

Meeting the criteria of this “recommendation” will allow hospitals to become accredited Magnet Hospitals, which is essentially a badge of honor distinguishing that facility’s nursing staff as top ranked. So naturally, many hospitals are jumping on board… but at what cost? What are hospitals sacrificing in order to achieve these bragging rights for having a “high quality nursing” staff? In my opinion, they’re ignoring, not improving, the patient care they’re apparently so concerned about.

By requiring certified and registered nurses, who’ve already attended several years of intense schooling and are already working in the field, to go back and pay for more unnecessary education, hospitals are undermining capable, talented, experienced professionals who are already qualified— many of whom have already become trusted pioneers in their specialties. They assumed their devotion of time and money to more schooling was over, and for some who’ve only just graduated, they’ll have to start again, back at square one. Either way, many wonderful nurses will walk. And I can’t blame them.

Take my close friend Ana*’s situation, for example. After attending four years of college, earning a coveted apprenticeship with a renowned gynecological oncologist, and receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience (which I’m pretty sure we can all agree isn’t an easy feat), Ana opted to attend nursing school to become a Registered Nurse. She was accepted into an accelerated program where she would take all of the courses a four-year nursing school offered, but over the span of 2 years. She was eager to begin her career helping people, and sacrificed her social life to do so. But she never lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel— becoming a RN.

Now, seven months after graduating from nursing school, Ana finds herself working part-time as a Nurse’s Tech, a job that is below her level of expertise, experience, and pay grade, and working part-time caring for a terminally ill boy. She’s helping people, sure, but why hasn’t she found a nursing job? Because despite her six years of schooling at higher education universities and her license as a Registered Nurse, most hospitals are now requiring that BSN— you know, the one comprised of courses that most certified nurses could pass in their sleep—so they can give themselves a shiny star sticker that makes them look good. Hospitals are in dire need of nurses, but they’re not helping themselves by overlooking the already-great ones.

Nurses are now required to squeeze online, at-home or traditional college courses into their busy schedules. And that’s on top of obtaining 30 hours of required Continuing Education credits every two years, which is what keeps them updated on current technology and practices— the alternative to going back for basic nursing training. But who needs family time and rest when there’s a Powerpoint to be made for your useless Professional Development course?

Look, I’m not a nurse, so I can’t speak first-hand to the changes they’re facing. But there’s a reason I’m not a nurse—I could never cut it. It takes a special kind of person to care for the ill day after day, and to provide comfort to people who have little life left to live. I know that if, God Forbid, I ever find myself lying in a hospital bed with cancer, I’d want the nurse with 20 years of Oncology experience over the 21-year-old college grad who has a shiny Bachelors of Nursing in place of actual fieldwork. Unfortunately for me, that nurse with 20 years of Oncology experience may retire early, because she can’t juggle her night shifts and provide for her family, while trying to afford and find time for mandatory classes. Would you ever send a military veteran back to basic training after they’ve proven themself a war hero? No. So why should that be the case for nurses?

Clearly the Institute of Medicine and I have different definitions of “quality” care. But hey, at least they’ll get their shiny sticker.