Nurses facing four-year degree requirement under new law

Registered nurses looking to jump into their respective fields are now required to earn a bachelor’s degree of science in nursing within the first 10 years of becoming a nurse.

Dating back to 1964, The American Nurses Association House of Delegates adopted a motion that supported a baccalaureate education for registered nurses.

Lorraine Diggs, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at UPMC Chautauqua WCA, said she is all for the new regulation. Diggs was aware of the legislation being in the works for about 14 years and was delighted to finally see it come true. The movement is known has “BSN in 10,” meaning bachelor’s of science in nursing within 10 years of becoming a registered nurse.

Cuomo signed the bill into law on Dec. 19.

“I think it’s going to be good for our patients,” Diggs said.

She said the law is based around the sciences and noted that nurses with bachelor’s degrees generally are better suited to handle patients.

Nurses can earn their bachelor’s degree before entering the workforce, afterward or even while working.

However, local students looking to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing will have to attend schools outside Chautauqua County as Jamestown Community College and its nursing program only offers an associate’s degree.WCA does offer reimbursement opportunities for qualified applicants who are looking to become a nurse and attend certain universities.

“I think it will be mixed,” Diggs said of how RNs will approach getting their four-year degree. “We already have nursed that are currently enrolled (in a four-year program), even before the bill went in, so it is common for nurses pursue their bachelor’s degree even if this bill didn’t exist. We have nurses that already have their bachelor’s degree.”

Prior to the new regulations, WCA already offered incentive pay for nurses with a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree.

Diggs foresees the graduating class from JCC’s nursing program approaching the new regulation in different ways.

“There’s a lot of ways that you can get your bachelor’s degree,” she said. “You could do it online for instance, so you could work and simultaneously towards getting your bachelor’s degree.”

Students previously could become registered nurses with an two-year associate’s degree or a three-year nursing diploma.

Current nurses in New York already registered are grandfathered into the new law and aren’t required to receive additional education.

“I completely understand it,” Diggs said of the requirement for a bachelor’s degree. “Again, it’s been something that’s been in the works for a long time and it’ll level the playing field.”

Diggs said the reason for the law was to increase the education of registered nurses.

“The philosophy behind the legislation is to assure that nurses are prepared to care for more complex patients and patients that require more technology,” Diggs said.

While Diggs supported the law, she admitted that there was a mixed reaction among nurses about the new legislation. She described a scenario where a nurse might not support the bill where an experienced nurse near the end of his or her career feels obligated to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“Generally speaking, most of the younger folks are thinking it’s the right thing to do and support it,” Diggs said. “Again, the nurses that we have that don’t have their bachelor’s degree have been doing their work for a very long time. They’re very good at what they do. I have no concern about the quality of care that they offer our patients.”

According to Dr. Jennifer Mensik, a registered nurse, there are 297,331 registered nurses in New York state that make up 8 percent of all nurses in the nation.

Diggs said the movement to require RNs to earn a four-year degree will likely influence other states to incorporate the same regulation.

Diggs mentioned that around the nation it is becoming more difficult to recruit nurse. As a result, WCA currently has a sign-on bonus for experienced nurses or new nurses that will be available into the month of February.