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This CMC Corner column by Judy Evans, MS, RN ran in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on Dec. 8. Evans is an associate professor of nursing at Colorado Mountain College and an acute care nurse who has been in the nursing profession for 38 years. For more information on CMC’s nursing degrees, visit coloradomtn.edu/nursing.

Were you to find yourself as a patient in a hospital, you would want to know you are receiving the very best care and the best monitoring of your health status. Because nurses have the greatest amount of contact with patients, your progress is to a large extent dependent upon their care and intervention. One factor that consistently shows benefits to patients is having nurses with advanced education.

Consider the statistics: hospitals that have a higher percentage of nurses who hold bachelor’s degrees in nursing have patients with better outcomes, lower mortality rates and fewer adverse effects from treatment or hospitalization. These hospitals also have lower “failure to rescue” rates – that is to say, the patient is more likely to receive the appropriate and timely response to changes or deterioration in health status.

Currently, the minimum educational qualification for most entry-level nursing positions is a two-year, associate degree in nursing, but we’re already seeing that change. Many hospitals prefer a four-year degree or require new hires to obtain their four-year degree within a specified timeframe. The Institute of Medicine report “The Future of Nursing” recommends a goal of 80 percent of all nurses hold a bachelor’s degree by the year 2020.

Acknowledging this trend and its benefits, Colorado Mountain College just embarked upon its first year offering courses for the Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN). Open to those with an associate degree in nursing and RN licensure, the program is focused upon fostering those kinds of skills that improve the care to the level seen in the statistics noted above. Years three and four of a BSN program place a heavy emphasis on improving patient care through courses of theory, research, community, ethics, advanced gerontology and evidence-based practice.

Nurses receive training in how to incorporate evidence-based research into their practice, thus improving patient safety. Prevention of pneumonia with ventilated patients and prevention of infection with catheterized patients are both examples where nursing research has improved patient outcomes. Similarly, complications from other illnesses and treatments have been diminished because of research instigated and implemented by nursing professionals.

Benefits of a more highly educated nursing workforce also include better care of the more complex and critically ill patient, shorter hospital stays and greater proficiencies with technology.

Nurses have new and expanding roles. They are case managers, helping patients navigate the maze of healthcare choices and develop plans of care. They are patient educators who focus on preventative care in a multitude of settings outside hospitals. And they are leaders, always identifying ways for their practice to improve.

Because nurses have the most direct patient care, they have much influence on serious treatment decisions. It is a very high stakes job. Everyone wants the best nurse for the job, and that equates to the best educated nurse.