Magnet Hospitals Provide Unique Environment for Nurses to Go Back to School

03/03/16   |  
Hannah Lemon

The nursing field has evolved along with the healthcare industry and patient needs.

With the increasing complexity in the healthcare system, nurses have become an integral part of the healthcare team as peers and collaborators with physicians. As a result, hospitals continue to raise the bar for nurses’ education.

Improving patient safety and outcomes through evidence-based care is a common goal among hospitals and healthcare systems. This requires nurses to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a master’s degree in nursing. The increase in nurses’ education directly correlates with improved patient outcomes. As mentioned in a previous post, the 2014 study, “Economic Evaluation of the 80% Baccalaureate Nurse Workforce Recommendation,” revealed that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of baccalaureate nurses on hospital units correlated with an 11 percent decrease inpatient mortality.1

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that 80 percent of the registered nurse workforce should be baccalaureate-prepared by 2020.2 Taking this even further, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) requires hospitals to have 100 percent of nurse managers with a BSN or graduate degree in nursing to receive its Magnet designation of distinction.

Christi Chaves quote about magnet hospitals

Magnet status is awarded to healthcare organizations for nursing excellence, superior patient outcomes and satisfaction, transformational nursing leadership and a focus on nurses’ professional development.3 Consumers rely on Magnet hospitals to offer the best care and patient outcomes; these hospitals have a lower mortality rate due in part to a keen focus on patient safety. Less than 8 percent of U.S. hospitals have achieved Magnet distinction.3

Hospitals must reapply for Magnet status every four years and complete a rigorous credentialing process that can take more than a year. Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln, Nebraska, has held this prestigious designation since 2004.4 Christi Chaves, MA, RN, FACHE, is the director of the Regional Burn and Wound Center and Ambulatory Care Services at St. Elizabeth, and she credits the ANCC with recognizing how important higher education is in healthcare.

“A BSN degree helps nurses maintain an open mind about what’s happening outside of the nursing world,” Chaves said. “It’s easy to get tunnel vision. When you go back to school, it broadens your vision and knowledge base and allows you to provide better care.”

Chaves is no stranger to taking on the challenge of going back to school while maintaining a career. She started out as a diploma nurse, then completed her Bachelor of Science in Education at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. While she was a director at St. Elizabeth, she went back to complete a Master of Arts in Management and Leadership from Doane College. She started nursing without her BSN degree, and her master’s was in a different discipline; therefore, at the behest of the ANCC and its nursing management requirements, she completed her BSN from Our Lady of the Lake College after 35 years of practice.

“When you look at nursing today, you don’t find a lot of nurses who do not have a BSN,” she said. “You are leaving money on the table if you don’t. Eighty-five percent of the nurses I interview who have completed a two-year program are already planning on going back to school.”

With a waiting list for four-year degree programs, many are looking to online options, which provide a much-needed alternative for working adults. When nurses are hired at St. Elizabeth, they must sign an agreement that they will complete their BSN within five years if they have not already. The hospital offers tuition reimbursement and a supportive atmosphere for these students. For those who have a longer tenure but have not completed their degree, they are encouraged to do so as the hospital pursues the IOM’s goal of 80 percent of the workforce being at least baccalaureate-prepared by 2020.

“A Magnet environment provides unique support to nurses completing their BSN or graduate degree in nursing,” Chaves said. “It’s also beneficial for the hospital as these students are learning the latest research and how to apply it. This leads to innovative, evidence-based care.”

As nurses have become more educated, their role in the healthcare team as a peer to the physician has been magnified. Physicians are more confident in their treatment decisions, and patient satisfaction scores in Magnet hospitals are amplified.  

“Patients are much more knowledgeable as healthcare consumers,” Chaves said. “They are out there doing research for themselves, and they want providers who are knowledgeable. When they understand that you have advanced education, that reduces their anxiety, makes them more comfortable and can even improve outcomes. This is a huge benefit.” 

For more history on the changing education requirements for nurses, read “Healthcare Complexities, Shifts Call for Nurses to Further Their Education.”  


  1. Creating a More Highly Qualified Nursing Workforce. American Association of Colleges of Nursing
  2. The Institute of Medicine’s “The Future of Nursing” report
  3. The Only Magnet Hospital in Lincoln
  4. Saint Elizabeth Once Again Achieves Magnet Designation for Nursing Excellence

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