How BSN-Trained Nurses Help Improve Patient Outcomes

A nurse checking a bedridden patient's blood pressure
A nurse checking a bedridden patient's blood pressure

There are multiple educational pathways to becoming a registered nurse (RN). Associate’s degrees in Nursing (ADNs) and nursing diploma programs have helped hundreds of thousands of nurses get started in their careers in the nursing field. But since 1964, there’s only been one degree that the American Nursing Association has advocated for all entry-level nurses to receive: the Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN).

The BSN degree is seen as essential by many employers and most hospitals. It expands a nurse’s earning potential, management opportunities, and career prospects. The BSN degree isn’t recommended by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing just because it is beneficial for nurses, or the colleges themselves. It’s also because, according to a growing body of research, healthcare settings that employ a majority of BSN nurses have improved patient outcomes when compared to their counterparts where fewer nurses have the degree. 

RNs work as a crucial part of a team of other healthcare professionals, typically including doctoral-level professionals such as physicians and pharmacists. These team members understand that delivering care is complex and that higher education isn’t just nice to have—to do their jobs they need a certain level of knowledge and education. Nurses are in a high-stakes position where they are the ones who are providing direct patient care as well as coordinating with these professionals. So it makes sense that RNs, too, need a higher education to communicate at the same level with their colleagues.

Nurses with bachelor’s degrees are delivering quality, patient-centered care that makes a difference. Let’s examine why nurse education matters when it comes to improving health outcomes in every healthcare setting.


Why are nurses so important in the health outcomes of their patients?

Nurses play a crucial role in the success of different healthcare interventions as they assist in executing treatment plans. While doctors (and, increasingly, nurse practitioners) may provide an initial diagnosis and order tests to be performed, it is RNs who are in the room with patients for many interventions and health assessments.

Nurses are the providers taking health histories, asking questions about pain levels, and conducting repeated physical assessments of patients. Nurses document whether certain interventions are working, ensure that medications are being taken with the correct dosage and regularity, and ensure that a patient’s needs are being attended to. Perhaps most importantly, nurses are the ones who are attending to the human need for patient-centered care and in-person empathy during a patient’s time of vulnerability and need. For all of these reasons (and so many more), high-quality nurses make all the difference in delivering quality patient care.


How do nurses improve patient outcomes?

Professional nursing associations have long advocated for the BSN to become the industry standard for entry-level nursing jobs. But a large body of research has emerged for the past several decades to support this position.

Here are just a few of the ways research tells us that nurses can improve patient outcomes.


Reduced mortality rates

Magnet hospitals are hospitals that have been identified by nurses as highly desirable workplaces. To achieve a Magnet designation, 80% of all the nurses the hospital employs must have a BSN or higher education. Since 1994, the medical literature has identified that Magnet hospitals have better patient outcomes, especially regarding mortality rates. Two decades later, in 2014, a newer analysis showed that patients admitted to Magnet hospitals have a 14% lower risk of death within 30 days of admission and 12% lower odds of failure-to-rescue (FTR).

Mortality rates aren’t just lower in Magnet hospitals, either. In Pennsylvania, a 2014 study based on nursing survey data and patient discharge data found that every 10% increase in BSN-educated nurses within a nursing staff resulted in 2.12 fewer deaths for every 1,000 patients. Research published in 2020 showed that patients even have better long-term outcomes after an in-hospital cardiac arrest.


Reduced hospital readmissions

Nurses with a BSN are equipped to educate patients and family members to keep up with their treatment plans and reduce their risk of infection when discharged. A cost-benefit analysis published in 2022 showed that increasing the amount of care a patient receives from a BSN-educated nurse reduced their odds of preventable hospital readmission by 11%. If the patient was in the surgical ward, their preventable readmission reduction jumps up to 43% if they were given just 10% more hours of care from a nurse with a BSN or higher. 


Shorter lengths of stay 

Nurses who have earned a BSN deliver consistent, evidence-based care, which may result in their patients going home sooner. 

A cross-sectional study published in 2013 analyzed data from 21 different hospitals and found that the hospitals employing a higher percentage of BSN-educated nurses kept patients for shorter durations, on average. Patients also had a lower risk of certain complications that can be common in hospitals, including post-surgical deep-vein thrombosis, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary embolisms. A 2021 cross-sectional analysis that included insurance claims data from four U.S. states supports these findings, indicating that hospitals with higher rates of BSN-employed nurses had shorter lengths of stay in the hospital. 


Better post-surgical outcomes 

Nurses who have earned a BSN can recognize the risk factors and early signs of post-operative complications so that early intervention can occur. In the long run, this education can keep surgical patients alive. 

In 2003, Dr. Linda Aiken and her colleagues published a study on how much having BSN-educated nurses on staff made a difference for surgical patients. The study found that surgical patients had a "substantial survival advantage" if they were treated in hospitals with a higher proportion of nurses with a BSN or higher. For every 10% increase in the proportion of nurses holding a BSN degree, the risk of patient death decreased by 5%. These findings were further confirmed by a follow-up study that was published by Dr. Aiken and her colleagues in 2008. 


Why choose Holy Family to pursue your BSN if you already hold a bachelor’s degree?

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and are looking to get started in nursing as soon as possible, there’s an affordable and accredited program made for people just like you. The Online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Holy Family is as rigorous as it is rewarding. Designed to be completed in as little as 14 months, the program maximizes your time investment so that you can quickly start a new career.

The Online ABSN is more affordable than almost any traditional, campus-based program that you will find. Year after year, earns high first-time passing rates for students taking the NCLEX-RN examination. HFU offers clinical placement services so that you can feel secure that you’ll get hands-on experience and the clinical hours needed to graduate. And while some programs require eight or nine prerequisite courses, Holy Family University only requires five. Learn more about HFU’s Online BSN program!