Ellen Ashcraft has always known she’d be a nurse someday.
Ashcraft, a graduating senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho, is one of 15 students in the university’s first group of pre-licensure baccalaureate graduates from its nursing program.
In fall 2015, the university phased out its associate degree nursing program and replaced it with the pre-licensure bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. This degree allows students to gain more clinical experience, add additional education from an RN degree and make them marketable for more nursing positions.
“A BSN degree in general is usually required for supervisors and management positions, and can be more preferred to an ASN (Associate of Science in Nursing) for job positions,” said Shannon Sweat, a resident of Idaho Falls and a graduate from the nursing program this semester.
There are generally three types of degrees that qualify someone to practice nursing in the United States: bachelor’s degree, associate degree or a diploma from a nursing program.
While both RN and BSN programs qualify graduates to be nurses, there is a higher demand for nurses with BSNs. NurseJournal.org, a worldwide social community for nurses, reports that BSN nurses qualify for more jobs and typically make more money than RNs.
A recent study of 187,000 nursing job listings posted during a 90-day period showed BSN nurses qualified for 88 percent of the postings, while RNs qualified for 51 percent, NurseJournal.org reported. It also showed BSN nurses earned a median wage of $69,000 compared to a median wage of $39,100 for RNs.
BYU-Idaho’s RN-BSN program, which opened in 2000, is still offered. It is designed for nurses who already have an RN license, and wish to further their education by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in nursing, the school’s website said.
This semester’s graduating class from the BSN program is intentionally small as the faculty were piloting the new curriculum.
Sara Hawkins, former nursing department chairwoman and current faculty member, said this group of graduates is part of a new generation of future nurses and nurse leaders coming out of BYU-Idaho.
“These first graduates are pioneers,” Hawkins said. “We raised the bar and they exceeded expectations.”
The new degree offering comes just in time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the nursing field to grow 16 percent between 2014 and 2024, “much faster than the average for all occupations,” its website said. It expects nursing jobs to increase by more than 439,000 jobs and to top 3.19 million jobs by 2024.
“Demand for health care services will increase because of the aging population, given that older people typically have more medical problems than younger people,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. “Nurses also will be needed to educate and care for patients with various chronic conditions, such as arthritis, dementia, diabetes, and obesity.”
Ashcraft was drawn to nursing for many reasons.
“You get to be with people during some of their most precious moments,” Ashcraft said. “I am amazed by what the human body can do and I love serving people, so I never even thought about any other career.”
Ashcraft said the faculty in the nursing program at BYU-Idaho have benefited not only her, but her fellow students.
“Since our first semester, the teachers have really emphasized ‘real world’ nursing,” she said. “Most of us have already had real job interviews and some even have offers and jobs lined up.”
Ashcraft has already had two interviews for jobs after graduation.
Sweat said the faculty have had to work hard to make the new program run smoothly.
“Personally, I have been impressed by the hard work and commitment of the faculty in making this difficult change,” she said. “They have put in hundreds of hours to make the transition as smooth as possible.”
Sweat said being a part of a pilot program has not been easy.
“We have had bumps along the way, but it has been extremely fulfilling to see the improvement over the last four semesters,” Sweat said.
Sami Dickson, another soon-to-be graduate of the nursing program, said her journey was harder than she expected.
“It has been somewhat of a roller coaster with all the ups and downs,” she said. “However, my fellow classmates are some of that hardest working people I’ve ever met.”
Dickson said she thinks the experience has been just as stressful for faculty as it has for the students.
“I am thankful to them for all their hard work and help along the way,” she said.
Hawkins said this degree is more than just a piece of paper, but the first step of the journey to a long and successful career in the health care industry.
“For many, this is the first step to other personal goals such as gainful employment and ability to support a family,” Hawkins said. “Ultimately, our graduates will be well poised for success as lifelong learners which brings me back to our mission, leaders in families, church and community.”