Recent Trends in Baccalaureate-Prepared Registered Nurses in U.S. Acute Care Hospital Units, 2004–2013: A Longitudinal Study

Chenjuan Ma, Lili Garrard, Jianghua He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Purpose: To examine the trends in baccalaureate (bachelor of science in nursing)–prepared registered nurses (BSN RNs) in U.S. acute care hospital units and to project the growth in the number of BSN RNs by 2020. Design: This is a longitudinal study using the Registered Nurse Education Indicators data (2004–2013) from the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators. Methods: The level of BSN RNs in each unit was operationalized as the proportion of nurses holding a baccalaureate degree or higher among all the nurses in a unit. Our sample included 12,194 unit-years from 2,126 units of six cohorts in 377 U.S. acute care hospitals. A hierarchical linear regression model was used to examine the trends in BSN RNs and to project future growth in the number of BSN RNs when controlling for hospital and unit characteristics and considering repeated measures in units over time and clustering of units within hospitals. Results: The proportion of BSN RNs in U.S. acute care hospital units increased from 44% in 2004 to 57% in 2013 (a 30% increase); when combining all cohorts, this rate increased from 44% in 2009 to 51% in 2013. On average, the proportion of BSN RNs in a unit increased by 1.3% annually before 2010 and by 1.9% each year from 2010 on. The percentage of units having at least 80% of their nurses with a baccalaureate degree or higher increased from 3% in 2009 to 7% in 2013. Based on the current trends, 64% of the nurses working in a hospital unit will have a baccalaureate degree by 2020, and 22% of the units will reach the 80% goal by 2020. Conclusions: There was a significant increase in the proportion of BSN RNs in U.S. acute care hospital units over the past decade, particularly after 2010. However, given the current trends, it is unlikely that the goal of 80% nurses with a baccalaureate degree will be achieved by 2020. Clinical Relevance: The U.S. nursing workforce is under educational transformation in order to meet the increasing healthcare needs. To help accelerate this transformation, further advocacy, commitment, and investment are needed from all healthcare stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, executives and managers of healthcare facilities, nursing schools, etc.).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-91
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Nursing Scholarship
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018



  • Baccalaureate education
  • nurse education
  • nursing workforce
  • projections
  • trends

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)

Cite this