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Keywords:

  • nursing education;
  • retention

Purpose: To compare job satisfaction and career retention in two cohorts of RNs, those whose highest degrees were the associate degree (AD) or the bachelor's degree (BS) in nursing.

Design: Survey.

Methods: Instruments included a career satisfaction scale and questions based on the ongoing U.S. Health and Retirement Survey. Three-thousand nurses in the U.S. state of Vermont were surveyed with a resulting response rate of 56.7%. Of these respondents, 878 RNs fit the study criteria.

Findings: BS RNs started their nursing careers earlier, were employed longer, had held more positions, and in the largest age cohort (age 40–54), were more likely to have been in their current positions at least 10 years. BS RNs scored significantly higher in job satisfaction related to: (a) opportunity for autonomy and growth, (b) job stress and physical demands, and (c) job and organizational security. AD and BS nurses were not significantly different in their satisfaction with supervision; career, continuing education, and promotion opportunities; or pay and benefits.

Conclusions: These findings indicate support of bachelor's level education for individual and social return on investment, and they show that AD education might have unintended consequences. Implications for the nursing shortage and educational policy are discussed.