State adopts ‘BSN in 10’ bill for nurses

From left, Lori Bennett, Sandy Gothard, Michael Shepard and Tana Hare are faculty at North Country Community College’s nursing program. They applauded a new law that raises educational requirements for nurses. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

SARANAC LAKE — After 14 years of lobbying, a national movement to raise the educational requirements for nurses gained its first victory in New York state.

The “BSN in 10” bill, championed by organizations from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to the American Association of Retired Persons, has gained approval in the state Assembly and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.

The law will require that nursing students get a bachelor’s degree within 10 years of obtaining their registered nurse licenses. Current enrollees of nursing programs and all currently licensed RNs would be exempt from having to meet the bill’s requirement.

“Supporting and empowering nurses to grow as professionals is central to great patient care,” said Linda McClarigan, chief nursing officer at Adirondack Health. “We applaud Governor Cuomo for signing this critically important bill into law. The increased standards in nurse education will not only benefit our nurses, but the patients and families for whom they care.”

“Health care is changing, and the technologies are growing by leaps and bounds,” said Sandy Gothard, North Country Community College’s nursing program director. “It requires lifelong learning.”

Faculty at NCCC said the law would have a positive impact on the nursing program. NCCC graduates around 150 nursing students every year on its three campuses in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga. Some of those graduates are LPNs — licensed practical nurses — and about 60 are RNs. The LPN can be obtained after one year of courses, and the RN is obtained after two years and passing the licensing exam.

Nurses obtain their register nurse’s license in New York state by passing an exam, but their path to that exam can either be through a two-year associate’s degree program or a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Nurses who obtain the four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree are typically given more responsibility at work and get better pay.

“Nursing education has not been standardized in 40 years,” said Gothard. The law will help NCCC streamline its curriculum, so that students can move smoothly from the associates’ degree program into a four-year course, with their foundation courses already met.

“Research has shown that environments that involved a baccalaureate level degree are safest. Does that mean that our ADNs [associate degree nurses] are not safe? Absolutely not. If you were to tease out the differences between a two-year and four-year degree, the baccalaureate permits a broader understanding of the patient,” said Gothard.

“I like to say to the students when they enter the workforce as graduates of a two-year program, they are working on a treatment team, with nurses with bachelor’s, master’s, even Ph.Ds. They’re the ones spending 90 percent of their time with their patients, and to have a broad understanding would be a great benefit to them and their patients.”

The law will place an RN’s license on hold when the baccalaureate degree is not obtained in 10 years. In extenuating circumstances a person could apply for an extension.

Tana Hare, who teaches nursing at NCCC, said the BSN in 10 requirement puts students on notice.

“We expect a lot from them. The four-year degree sets the expectation for academic excellence,” Hare said.

“For many years HANYS [Hospital Association of New York State] felt it would enhance the nursing shortage,” said Gothard. While some people fear nursing students could be discouraged by having to spend an additional two years in school, Gothard said having a better educated workforce should help alleviate the nursing shortage. Nurses with BSNs stay longer in their jobs and report better pay and better job satisfaction, she said.

HANYS changed its position to support the New York state bill in 2014.

Supporters of the law believe raising the overall level of education for nurses will result in more nurses with higher degrees — masters or doctorates. Those nurses, in turn, can become educators of new nurses.

“The legislation is there to push the whole system forward,” said Gothard.

Adirondack Health employs 229 RNs in its facilities, of which 30 percent hold a specialty certification in their field and 45 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher or are in the process of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Adirondack Health’s director of communications, Matt Scollin, said, “We want our RNs to be as prepared as possible for the constant changes in healthcare technology and to grow comfortably into leadership roles, both within our organization and in the profession as a whole.”

Scollin said Adirondack Health has a very low turnover in its nursing staff. “In 2016, Adirondack Health saw less than 2 percent nursing turnover — a figure of which we are very proud, and attribute to initiatives like shared governance, nurse engagement, shared decision-making and opportunities for professional growth. As for pay, specialty certifications and educational achievements are things for which our nurses are compensated.”

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