Higher learning

Higher learning

Florida nurses below U.S. average for advanced degrees

By Tracy Brown Wright

College of Nursing researcher Donna Neff

Nurses in Florida are falling behind national trends in terms of education — a direction that may affect patient safety and quality of care as well as the ability to educate the next generation of nursing professionals.

A statewide survey of registered nurses suggests Florida’s nursing work force is more diverse than those of other states, which has positive implications for patient care, according to a UF study published online this week in Nursing Forum. However, the study found that the state has a significantly lower percentage of nurses with baccalaureate and graduate degrees than the nation as a whole.

Forty-one percent of Florida’s nurses had either a baccalaureate or graduate degree as their highest degree in nursing versus 50 percent nationally. Previous research has found that patient mortality is significantly reduced in hospitals with a higher proportion of nurses with baccalaureate or higher degrees.

“The lower educational levels are not only worrisome because of possible effects on the quality and safety of patient care, but the pipeline for nursing faculty is greatly hampered when there are fewer nurses with graduate degrees,” said lead researcher Donna Neff, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., an assistant professor in the UF College of Nursing.

Neff says the development of new R.N. to B.S.N. programs in many of Florida’s state colleges is a “positive first step,” allowing more nurses to pursue advanced education.

Study surveys were mailed to a random sample of registered nurses in Florida, resulting in 49,385 responses. Data were collected on demographics, education and outcomes, among other things. Responses were compared with results from a similar national survey of nurses.

In the U.S., registered nurses on the frontlines of care are challenged by changes in staffing, increased turnover, demands on their time and the continual need to update knowledge and training. In Florida, nurses in hospitals and nursing homes were among those with the highest proportion of burnout and job dissatisfaction.

“The outcomes reported by nurses employed in Florida hospital and nursing home settings are consistent with prior research conducted in the U.S.,” Neff said. “These findings can be important to policymakers in developing approaches to retain our state’s nurses and improve patient outcomes.”

A recent Institute of Medicine report on the future of nursing recommended increasing the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50 percent to 80 percent by 2020, and doubling the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020 to add to the cadre of nurse faculty and researchers.

Nursing schools in Florida already turn away thousands of students each year because of a lack of resources, notably a shortage of qualified faculty.

In addition, the greater proportion of elderly residents in Florida and the future possible effects of U.S. health care reform suggest a greater need for advanced practice nurses prepared at the graduate level, Neff said.

“Overall, I think the results of the study highlight the need to address issues of predicted nurse shortage, work environment and educational level for nurses in Florida; this could ultimately lead to more satisfied nurses, higher quality care for patients and improved patient care delivery,” Neff said.