Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation

January, 2010
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

The shortage of well-educated nurses has been part of the nation’s health care conversation, with policy leaders as well as President Obama noting the essential role nurses play in ensuring patient safety. The President called them “the bedrock” of health care. Now, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is calling for changes in how we educate nurses, referring both to the current nursing shortage and that nurses are ill-prepared for the profound changes in science, technology and the nature and settings of nursing practice. Informed by the results of three national surveys and extended site visits during a multi-year study, the authors of Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation recommend essential changes in policy, curriculum and in the way nursing programs approach student learning.

“We believe that the enormous pressures on today’s nursing profession—the chaotic U.S. health care system and the economic forces that drive it, shortage in the ranks of nurses, shortage of nursing educators, multiple pathways to the profession that discourage rather than encourage practicing nurses to complete post licensure degrees—threaten to compromise nurses’ ability to practice state-of-the-art nursing and enact the profession’s core values of care and responsibility,” the authors write.

Among the recommendations are:

  • that the baccalaureate degree in nursing should be the minimal educational level for entry into practice and that within ten years after graduation that all nurses complete a master’s degree in nursing
  • that nursing program capacities have to be expanded so that students can complete nursing programs in a reasonable amount of time and that the associate of nursing degree from community colleges be re-evaluated in light of the extended amount of time most student nurses spend in completing these nursing programs
  • that coursework be tied to what actually happens in patient care rather than in the abstract, helping students make the connection between acquiring and using knowledge, integrating the classroom with clinical practice
  • that nurses are prepared for the myriad contexts in which they will work, not merely a hospital setting.


“Redesigning nursing education is an urgent societal agenda," the authors write. "The profound changes in nursing practice and health care call for equally profound changes in the education of nurses and the preparation of nurse educators. Unfortunately, the current climate rewards short-term focus and cost-savings over the quality of nursing education and patient care.”

The project was funded by Carnegie and The Atlantic Philanthropies. The book was published by Jossey-Bass.

View a summary of the findings and recommendations.

View sample surveys used in the research for this book.



Authors Patricia Benner, R.N., Ph.D.
Benner was a senior scholar with the Carnegie Foundation and is also a Professor Emerita at the University of California School of Nursing. She is a noted nursing educator and author of From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Nursing Practice, which has been translated into eleven languages. Dr. Benner is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

Molly Sutphen, Ph.D.
Sutphen was a research scholar at Carnegie and is also an assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California San Francisco. She is an historian of public health, medicine and nursing. She has taught history to medical, pharmacy, and nursing students, and taught ethics in the School of Nursing at the University of California San Francisco

Vickie Leonard, R.N., F.N.P, Ph.D.
Leonard is a family nurse practitioner and Child Care Health Consultant at the UCSF California Childcare Health Program (CCHP). She is a trainer for Child Care Health Consultants in California, and does trainings, presentations and writes educational materials on health and safety issues for child care providers in the state.

Lisa Day, B.S.N., M.S., Ph.D.
Day has worked as a nurse in a post-anesthesia recovery room, a medical cardiac intensive care unit, and a neuroscience-critical care unit. She taught pre-licensure nursing in an accelerated second degree program for eight years before recently returning to clinical practice and is now the Clinical Nurse Specialist for Neuroscience and Critical Care at UCSF Medical Center.