Newsweek

Moving Ahead with Your Nursing Education: Why Accreditation Matters

Moving Ahead with Your Nursing Education: Why Accreditation Matters

By Robert Rosseter, MBA, MS, Chief Communications Officer
American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Registered nurses (RNs) play a vital role in providing essential healthcare services and keeping patients safe.  Among the most trusted of all professionals, nurses are the backbone of the U.S. healthcare system and the single largest component of the hospital workforce. Today’s RN is expected to deliver care to a rapidly aging population with increasingly complex health concerns. Nurses are generally recognized as the key to patient safety since they are the most likely healthcare provider to spot errors and signal the need for life-sustaining interventions. 

Given the expectations for contemporary nursing practice, employers are looking for well-educated nurses to ensure that patients receive the best care possible. National surveys show that many hospitals are now requiring a bachelor’s degree for new nurse hires as well as graduate degrees for nurses providing specialty care and serving in leadership roles. Decision-makers understand that in settings where more RNs have advanced levels of education, patient outcomes are better and few lives are lost.

Fortunately for those considering a new career in nursing or a return to nursing school, your options are many. According to DiscoverNursing.com, a leading career planning site operated by the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future, more than 2,000 schools nationwide offer nursing programs from the associate degree to the doctoral level.

With so many schools and programs available to prospective students, degree seekers are encouraged to consider a number of important factors when planning their education. Before applying to school, applicants should thoughtfully consider key questions including what degree is most appropriate given their career goals; what are the entrance requirements and course prerequisites; are programs offered full- or part-time; are classes held in-person, online, or in a hybrid format; and what forms of financial assistance are available.

Regardless of educational path selected, all are advised to choose programs that are accredited. Currently, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes two organizations as providers of nursing program accreditation: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).  More than 80% of all schools offering baccalaureate, master’s and practice doctorate programs are accredited or are pursuing accreditation by CCNE. (Please note that research doctorates like the PhD are not accredited in nursing).

Why is choosing an accredited nursing program important? According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a national advocacy group for academic quality, accreditation means that a program or institution has gone through a rigorous review and evaluation process by experts in the field.  Accreditation assures that the quality of teaching, student achievement, curricula, academic support, and other criteria meet certain standards of excellence and quality. Though schools may receive institutional accreditation by a variety of agencies, programs with CCNE or ACEN accreditation demonstrate that they prepare nursing graduates with the competency standards set by the profession. 

Those enrolling or graduating from programs that are not accredited may face barriers to degree completion and career mobility. Many financial aid programs, including those offered by the federal government, are not available to students in these programs, and many universities will not accept transfer credits from unaccredited programs.  In addition, graduates may face additional hurdles related to obtaining a license to practice and securing employment.

Completing an accredited degree program is the first step, or next step, towards a fulfilling nursing career with limitless opportunities to practice and make a real difference in the lives of patients . For a directory of accredited nursing programs, see http://directory.ccnecommunity.org/reports/accprog.asp (CCNE) and http://www.acenursing.us/accreditedprograms/programSearch.htm (ACEN).