Context: Growing evidence suggests that nurse staffing affects the quality of care in hospitals, but little is known about whether the educational composition of registered nurses (RNs) in hospitals is related to patient outcomes.
Objective: To examine whether the proportion of hospital RNs educated at the baccalaureate level or higher is associated with risk-adjusted mortality and failure to rescue (deaths in surgical patients with serious complications).
Design, setting, and population: Cross-sectional analyses of outcomes data for 232 342 general, orthopedic, and vascular surgery patients discharged from 168 nonfederal adult general Pennsylvania hospitals between April 1, 1998, and November 30, 1999, linked to administrative and survey data providing information on educational composition, staffing, and other characteristics.
Main outcome measures: Risk-adjusted patient mortality and failure to rescue within 30 days of admission associated with nurse educational level.
Results: The proportion of hospital RNs holding a bachelor's degree or higher ranged from 0% to 77% across the hospitals. After adjusting for patient characteristics and hospital structural characteristics (size, teaching status, level of technology), as well as for nurse staffing, nurse experience, and whether the patient's surgeon was board certified, a 10% increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor's degree was associated with a 5% decrease in both the likelihood of patients dying within 30 days of admission and the odds of failure to rescue (odds ratio, 0.95; 95% confidence interval, 0.91-0.99 in both cases).
Conclusion: In hospitals with higher proportions of nurses educated at the baccalaureate level or higher, surgical patients experienced lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates.