Study Identifies Factors That Best Predict if Nurses Will Return to School During Their Career


A key recommendation of the Institute of Medicine’s landmark report “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” is to have nurses achieve higher levels of education, with a goal of 80 percent of nurses holding a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2020.

Now, a new study published in the November/December issue of the Journal of Professional Nursing identifies the factors that best predict whether nurses will return to school to earn those degrees.

According to the study—part of the RN Work Project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—there are a variety of motivators, from desire for advancement to job dissatisfaction, that influence registered nurses (RNs) to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree or higher. The study’s lead investigators were Christine T. Kovner, professor at the NYU College of Nursing, and Carol Brewer, professor at the School of Nursing, University at Buffalo. Kovner and Brewer direct the RN Work Project.

Motivators cited in the study include an interest in career and professional advancement, gaining new knowledge, improving social welfare skills, and being a positive model for one’s children. RNs identified a desire to achieve personal and job satisfaction and professional achievement as important intrinsic motivators. Nurses with graduate degrees are more likely to report being extremely satisfied with their jobs, compared with nurses who hold associate’s degrees, who more frequently report moderate to extreme dissatisfaction with their jobs.

The research team also asked nurses about barriers to returning to school and getting an additional nursing degree. The two most prevalent responses were “cost” and “family/children.” A “lack of time” came in third. Of those reporting cost and time as significant barriers, many cite difficulty scheduling classes around their work schedules as a significant challenge.   

RNs report that support from employers and educational institutions increase the likelihood that they will return to school. RNs who say they are undecided about continuing their nursing education identify organizational incentives and rewards as important motivators. Those include tuition reimbursement, compatible work and class hours, paid sabbaticals, forgivable loans for service, pay for attending class, and Web-based and worksite classes.

“As our health-care system changes, the need for more nurses with bachelor’s degrees or higher is increasing,” says Kovner. “The patient population is aging and more patients are presenting with more and more complicated conditions. Not only do we need more BSN-prepared nurses to provide care in this increasingly complex system, we need more nursing faculty at our institutions of higher education to educate the next generation of nurses. Knowing what motivates nurses to seek BSN and higher degrees is crucial.”


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