June’s guest, Donna Cardillo, MA, RN looks at higher education and whether it lures nurses away from the bedside.
There is a widespread belief among nurses that once a nurse has a BSN or MSN, he or she will no longer want to work at the bedside. In other words, the degreed nurse will not want to “dirty” his or her hands and will seek to move on to management, administration, education, or something else. That viewpoint has always fascinated me because the implication—intended or not—is that a nurse with minimal college preparation is the only one who will find direct care appealing. This perspective trivializes the bedside role implying that it’s only for the uneducated—ouch! It also implies, whether one realizes it or not, that direct patient care is menial and not worthy of the nurse with an advanced college degree. On the contrary, the more a nurse knows about the science behind the practice and the bigger world of nursing and healthcare, the more interesting and meaningful the work can become.
Let me be clear on a few things. This discussion has nothing to do with who the “better” nurse is. That debate is outdated and irrelevant. Nor does it have to do with what should be minimal entry to practice. This post is specifically about the notion held by some nurses that furthering their education (or other nurses doing same) will change their perspective and passion for direct care and, in effect, draw them away from the very thing that drew most of us into the profession.
So back to my point, which is that higher education can only enhance the bedside experience for the individual nurse rather than repel her or him from it. For starters, I personally know and regularly encounter hospital (and alternate care setting) nurses providing direct care who have BSNs, MSNs and yes, even some with doctoral degrees. Most love what they do and have no current or future aspirations to move on. I’m not talking about advanced practice nurses here, although some of them are at the bedside as well.
Another compelling point is that many second career nurses are entering the profession. My own informal research has shown that second career nurses are staying at the bedside longer than traditional first career nurses and they are planning to stay there for the foreseeable future. That’s interesting considering the fact that most second career nurses are coming into the profession with previously obtained advanced degrees (bachelor’s, master’s and even a few doctoral degrees) in non-nursing majors along with additional degrees in nursing and prior work experience including management experience in many cases. They are enjoying the direct care role, finding it both challenging and rewarding.
Simply stated, there is no evidence to support the belief that higher education lures nurses away from direct patient care. And perpetuating that belief demeans the true value of what we do. If you think nursing care is only wiping, cleaning, administering medication, doing procedures, and following orders, I could understand that you might think that way. But if you see bedside care for what it truly is—the high level, critical thinking, life-saving, clinically astute, evidence-based, complex, collaborative, primary care role—then anyone could see how an advanced degree would only support and enhance that role.
Nursing practice is constantly advancing so it makes sense that advanced education would only help the bedside nurse to keep up. Higher education gives one a broader sense of self and life. Education helps you to communicate better. It does not make one nurse better than another but rather makes the individual nurse a better version of him- or herself. When bedside nursing is recognized and appreciated by individual nurses for the vital and substantive role that it is, this discussion will no longer be needed.
Donna Wilk Cardillo is the Career Guru for Nurses and “Dear Donna” columnist for Nursing Spectrum, NurseWeek, and www.nurse.com. Donna is also an ‘Expert’ Blogger at DoctorOz.com. She is author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, Your 1st Year as a Nurse, and A Daybook for Beginning Nurses. Ms. Cardillo is creator of the Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminar and home-study program. You can reach her at www.dcardillo.com.