Is a BSN the Key to Nursing Leadership and Management Positions?

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There are many pathways to a satisfying career in nursing. Some nurses want to hit the floor as soon as possible and are happy with whatever credentials will get them there. Some nurses want to spend a little more time on their training to increase their career options down the road. Still other nurses work toward a particular goal they have in mind—like nursing leadership and management positions.

Nursing is an amazing field because there are so many options. Whatever your priorities are, there are nursing pathways to help you get there.

Of course, the more information you have on the career options for nurses, the better! You can become a registered nurse (RN) for example, without a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). But with so many healthcare institutions pushing for more BSN nurses, many are wondering if nursing leadership and management positions are only going to be accessible for nurses holding a BSN.

We asked experts in nursing to share their insights to help inform you about the best way to achieve your career goals. Read on to get a better picture of what nurses need to advance into leadership positions.

How do nursing leadership and management positions work?

If you are already working as a nurse, you might know what these positions look like. “Leaders or nurse managers are responsible for guiding, organizing and supervising nurses,” says Rebecca Lee, RN and founder of Remedies for Me. Lee says nurse managers and leaders also oversee ancillary staff, which includes nurse’s aides, licensed practical nurses, unit clerks and other administrative staff.

“They also keep the organization and staff members up to date on quality standards and maintaining national patient safety goals,” Lee says.

Because these roles take on some of the administration duties for a unit, nurses in management positions may spend less of their time tending to direct patient care. That being said, it’s not all paperwork and managing schedules—nurse managers still train staff nurses and get their hands dirty. Like other industries, the higher up in the hierarchy of leadership you are, the less hands-on your work will be.

What are some common nursing leadership and management job titles?

Of course, not all positions that fall under the umbrella of management come with the straightforward title of “nurse manager.” There’s a variety of titles that fit the bill—here are a few of the most common:

  • Patient care director
  • Head nurse (in many different units and specializations)
  • Chief nursing officer
  • Nurse unit manager
  • Nursing supervisor
  • Lead charge nurse

“It is very rare that a nurse without a BSN would be hired for a leadership or management position,” Lee says. Even then, Lee adds that many hospitals search for nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing to fill important, higher-level management positions.

Why does a BSN matter?

“Most nurses, whether BSN-prepared or not, will start working at the same level as a staff nurse,” says consulting nurse practitioner Yvette Conyers.

It’s true the starting point for RNs—working as a staff nurse—remains the same for both BSN and ADN nurses. So why do healthcare providers care if nurses have a BSN? Conyers says part of the reason traces back to employers aligning with The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 recommendation, which is to have 80 percent of nurses holding a Bachelor’s of Science by 2020.

Additionally, some research has shown that increased nursing educational attainment leads to lower patient mortality rates.* While this research does focus on a specific area of nursing, it does give additional support to push for more BSN nurses. Additionally, some states are looking at creating a mandate for new nurses to have a BSN—one of which was recently signed into law in the state of New York. Yet another factor in the push for BSN nurses is a desire from administrators to be designated a “magnet hospital,” which requires high standards for patient satisfaction and staff education.

Future-proofing and aligning with what employers may demand, rather than prefer, is rarely a bad idea. But as things currently stand, the best reason for earning a BSN may be its ability to remove barriers to nursing career advancement.

“Job opportunities may vary as one continues in their career, but BSN-prepared nurses may have more of them,” Conyers says. “They will be able to climb their career ladders quicker and move around within the organization with more ease.”

“A BSN is important since nurses will explore leadership styles and understand how their leadership will affect the institution as a whole,” says Dina Waltz, MSN, RN-BC and instructor at Rasmussen University School of Nursing. “There is no ‘wrong’ entry point into the nursing profession, but if you envision yourself in a specialized care unit, leadership or management position or in academia, the best degree to begin with is the BSN.”

Is it practical for nurses to return to school for a BSN?

Okay, but what if you have already been working as a nurse? Do you have to start over to earn a BSN? Is it practical to return to school when you already have a job?

For many nurses, it is actually very common for working RNs to return to school, Waltz says. “As nurses, we must commit to professionally maintaining standards of practice, as in today’s world, best practices continually update. By continuing our education, we can deliver the highest and safest level of care for patients.”

Waltz says many RNs manage to balance their work, family lives and education because they’ve realized that a BSN will pay off.

If you are already working, you might find some financial (or at least moral) support from your employer if you return to school for a BSN degree. “Many employers have a tuition benefit to help cover the costs of furthering your education,” Conyers says. “This may be a perk for you if you have an Associate’s degree and would like to return back to school.”

“Most institutions support this endeavor of working nurses,” Waltz says. “They acknowledge the benefits obtained for the patients, the organization, the employee and the community. It’s a win-win situation.”

Why nurses return to school for a BSN

Employment opportunity

You’ve been getting the vibe that hospitals especially prefer BSN nurses—but in any healthcare institution, a BSN makes a big difference on your resume as you look to grow in your career.

 “Whether you desire to focus your practice at the bedside or within leadership or management ways, a nurse with a BSN will have more choices for advancement,” Waltz says.

Earning potential

Not only is it potentially easier to get a job with a BSN, it can also lead to additional earning potential. The difference in pay may not be huge for staff nurses just starting out, but the potential for additional advancement opportunities in management or other specialized roles means there’s also the potential for the increased pay that comes with them.

Advancing their nursing practice

“Nurses who desire management or leadership roles will be exposed to these courses in their BSN program,” Conyers says. “Learning about leadership theories, conflict resolution or finance is necessary for nurses who desire a leadership role.”

Conyers says leadership positions and management positions are different from each other, and learning more about how they work in the nursing world will help you decide what is best for you.

Growing with your nursing practice

Nursing is not a static profession. Your skill and your knowledge will grow in so many ways every year you work as a nurse. New patients and new experiences—not to mention nursing industry changes and safety practices—allow nurses to get better and better at their work as they go.

Nurses who earn their BSN, however, gain the additional benefit of having education and time dedicated to nursing best practices and nursing leadership and management. And the degree really can open more doors in the field.

“Although it may take a little bit more time, studying and money to get your BSN degree—do it,” Lee says. “It will definitely pay off in the end.”

And the best news is—if you are already an RN, you don’t have to start over! Gather some information and check out the shorter time frame and specific features of the RN to BSN program at Rasmussen University.

*Aiken LH, Clarke SP, Cheung RB, Sloane DM, Silber JH, Journal of the American Medical Association Educational Levels of Hospital Nurses and Surgical Patient Mortality, [information accessed June 12, 2018]

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

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