What Is Valued More In Nursing – Experience or Education?

Here’s a question that often spurs on great debate among nurses of all ages and specialties. Experience vs. education. Which is valued more in nursing? Why? What are the pros and cons of either side? We want to hear from you! Remember this is a friendly conversation between nurse allies. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and check back to see what your fellow nurses think.

69 COMMENTS

  1. Neither. What should be valued is an RN who shows empathy or compassion and treats clients as the whole individual and not just the acute situation. I don’t think there is a goal in either education or experience where that mindset is being taught.

  2. I am a BSN degreed nurse but I began my career in nursing with an ADN degree in nursing, I have been practicing for 28 years. Personally, I think the question of which is more important, experience or education is meaningless. Nurses should be educated at the BSN level for entry into the profession, period. Yes, we have all heard it before, “there is no other medical profession that allows entry at the ADN level”, however, that is simply not true. Respiratory therapists, lab technicians, and radiography technicians can all enter their prospective fields with an ADN or a certificate, however, the nurse on the floor is in CHARGE of the care of the patient, regardless of the unit or the specialty. Therein lies the difference, the RN is in charge of the care of the patient and the entry-level should be a BSN. The BSN educated nurse learns the basics of research, and how to locate best-practice information. If entry-level into nursing is the BSN, the experience will come just as it does now with the diploma, ADN, or BSN graduate nurses. I began my nursing journey in 1976 and the nursing profession was talking about making the BSN the entry-level degree even then, but it has yet to happen. While we continue to TALK about it, PT, OT, ST are requiring a Doctorate degree to practice in their prospective fields! How many more years is the nursing profession going to debate education v.s. experience before action is taken? Simply because the BSN is made the required entry-level into nursing, does not mean that experience will suffer, all nurses must work at the bedside to obtain experience regardless of their education.

  3. I don’t know…..here is what working is like now as an older person ….”Here I am in a conversation with some coworkers—There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it. What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA—a transient ischemic attack? I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response. Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we’re invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours.”

  4. Experience is priceless. I think the nurses who are in the trenches prefer experience. Hospitals like the education and degrees because it can boost their ability to look good on paper and attain Magnet status. Have seen ASN prepared nurses with years of experience on a given floor as a student not get hired over a BSN who is green.

  5. Experience…period…..Education is nice….all that nicey nicey talk about nursing ideals and leadership. Whoo hooo…Half of those super educated RNs couldn’t find their butt with a handful of hooks….We need well trained RNs with hands on experience….Hard core experience…Inner city ER experience….

  6. I have always preached that experience is the best education you will ever get in nursing. Education is fine for laying groundwork but new nurse orientation was the beginning of everything for me. Nursing education needs an overhaul. It is outdated and often has very little application to floor nursing. I learn most of what I need to know by going to work everyday and working alongside colleagues. I was so disappointed to find that my masters program to pursue my NP was repetitive content of courses from undergrad degree. No one needs another nursing theory course or 3 semesters of research to be educated as a nurse practitioner. And now the whole ‘doctorate NP’ drive is 100% academia driven to create more income for schools. I was actually jealous of the education I watched my friend get as she went through a physician assistant program. We need to take some pages out of their playbook to properly educate future nurse practitioners at a MASTER degree level.

  7. Personally, I feel experience is more important than education. Unfortunately, currenly, most hospitals require a new nurse have their BSN before even being considered for employment. Perhaps this is one reason the nursing field is so short-staffed. I was a smart cookie when I finished my ADN in 1981 because I started working on my BSN that same summer. I truly didn’t realize how much this would benefit me in the future. Not because I was looking at middle management positions but because it gave me an almost automatic entry into the critical care environment. I have pretty much stayed at the bedside because that is where I have felt I can make the most difference. I like the patient contact the best. There is so many ways we can influence our patients just by providing good care. I did have two middle management positions at one time and would never go back to them. My goals have never been to aspire to upper management. The advance courses I took getting my BSN in Anatomy and Physiology have served me better than any nursing research course. With our

    technology I feel it is more possible for any nurse to get higher education without attending a brick and motor college. I did finish my MSN with an on-line college and did this because I was ready to learn more at my own pace. I remain at the bedside because that is where I get the most rewards. There is absolutely nothing shameful about being a bedside nurse and frankly those who feel they are not achieving by remaining at the bedside really shouldn’t have gone into something like nursing which is a people serving people kind of business. I do have lots of respect for those who want to teach, as we need excellent teachers to help the younger nurses become as proficient as they can. Nursing for forty years and looking forward to retiring but will actually miss the people contact.

  8. If I were a patient I would prefer experience. Institutions prefer education though. As a leader in my organization when given the opportunity to pick I always go with experience. Proven commitment to the bedside care is important to me as a bedside nurse as well as a leader.

  9. Experience. All day. Everyday. Of course a nurse must have some smarts(in education) but it does not take a degree for a nurse to be able to assess and treat their patients.

  10. Both experience and education go hand in hand.In a clinical setting ,the knowledge that you got through experience combined with your education makes you a better nurse whereas in an educational institution, your level of education matters a lot although your experience does count.I would rather hire first an experienced nurse who is open to getting more education than a new nurse that has the education but with no experience. My humble take on this

  11. Education is more valued in terms of the degree versus experience from what I have seen. I currently work on a hospital setting with an Associate’s degree in nursing, 25 years experience, and a Masters Degree in healthcare law. Because I do not have a BSN, I am not eligible for management positions despite being in management for over ten years.i am not eligible for career ladder, charge, or any other leadership position unless I obtain a BSN. This is current common practice in most hospitals, unfortunately.

  12. I am dealing with a younger just graduated RN who sometimes seems to act like I have nothing to offer since I have been an LPN for 19 years. What do I do to deal with this situation?

  13. I am at a large teaching institution – hands down education. If you are masters prepared and not a lick of experience,( or common sense for that matter) will get you a mangers position over any tenured nurse. More over, they will hire an assistant manager with same lack of insight. Then when plans fail, blame the bedside nurses.

  14. Hello All,

    Well, as a nurse with over 21 years experience who in 4 days will official have completed my Masters of Nursing Education, I say that they are both essential. Before being convinced to accept a Directors position with a small hospice, I thought my 19 years in hospice had prepared me for this role.
    Thankfully, I was a year into my Masters program and had learned valuable tools to help me to navigate through. May I add that I was in an accelerated, or bridge, Masters program. I had never returned for my BSN after acheiving my ASN in 2000.
    Now that I have completed this program, I understand the value of the graduate degree. I feel that I have the tools necessary to move into leadership and not feel so stressed or burdened by what I don’t know.
    I do believe that had I received the proper training and support in my first directors role, that I would not have experienced such a level of burnout. However, I have learned over the years that proper training and support are NOT the norm in nursing. We all know, and research has shown that education, training and support equate to safe and quality nursing care. But, organizations are still “throwing us to the wolves.” Resulting in fast-turnover and poor retention in leadership and in nurse staffing nationwide.
    It is time for nurses to receive the education, training and support necessary to promote quality and safe nursing care. When transitioning to a new employer, role, or environment the orientation received can make or break a nurses future.
    With my MSN I feel that I can make a positive impact on the future of nursing.
    I recognize the importance of mentoring, and the role it plays in supporting nurses to make smooth transitions and to explore options in leadership. Mentorship is essential, but with burnt-out and stressed nurses at every level…who will mentor?
    Our value is too great to continue to overwork, and overburden. It is time that we promote education, training and support one another.

    If I lost you in my advocacy for mentorship, let me be clear: the nursing profession needs BOTH. We need experienced and educated nurses to mentor, support, and educate one another. We must use our experience and our education to advocate for safe and quality nursing, and we must support one another to prevent nurse burnout.

    • Well said. It is this lack of support from unqualified nurse managers that burned me right out of the profession in spite of having a BSN! I saw that one PhD nurse was doing their thesis on how nurses mentor their new nurses. She said that “We tend to eat our young!”. This is what I experienced.

  15. Obviously both are important. With that being said–when you are in an emergency you do not care who has an associates, bsn, masters degree…you want experienced, smart, caring, capable nurses by your side. I have seen very high level nurses barely able to function at bedside–and LPNs that can jump in and kick ass!

  16. I think that you cant beat an experienced nurse. How many patients would rather have an experienced nurse or one that has many letters after his or her name. Im sure most would want the experienced one.

  17. Getting a LPN/RN license is the first step.
    After that working in a health care setting and learning to transfer theory into practice is vital.
    I have only three years in the field.
    I have much theoretical knowledge but few experience.
    My education has helped me to better understand why and how to do certain tasks.
    Experience comes with time and patience.
    To answer the question I would put both on a scale that is equally balanced.
    Dianne RN,BSN
    Best wishes to everyone.

  18. I have been a diploma nurse for 51 years. I lived in a nurse’s residence and the hospital used us as staff from day 1. We interacted with physicians. Invaluable. Nurse’s with more education graduate with little hands on experience but catch up as they are exposed more to reality. I enjoy teaching them

  19. Without education none of us would have become nurses. Although, once the institution of higher learning is complete, experience trumps all. We have all been new nurses, it is the experience that enhances your comfort level and the ability to give great patient care in a competent manner. The more experience the better you get. It is unfortunate to see organizations wanting higher level degrees to satisfy their own requirements. Additionally, a degree doesn’t teach you leadership which is something I see a lot with new grads they want to lead the pack without one ounce of leadership experience. Leadership is earned, not learned. You learn through mistakes and self evaluation. Alas, gone are the days when experience means everything.

  20. I don’t think education and experience can be separated, to be an excellent nurse you need both. Nursing is a formative process, and necessitates commitment to life-long learning. Florence Nightingale said it best, ““Let us never consider ourselves finished nurses…we must be learning all of our lives.”

  21. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? Education must precede practice but after licensing it really takes both whether formalized training on the job or academic attainment of higher degree status. Formal education leads to higher levels of accountability e.g. a licensed RN with an ADN degree vs. a Licensed NP with a DNP. Even within practice to become certified in an area of practice such as Oncological Nursing takes a higher level of education. Nursing is an Art and a Science.

  22. I believe both are equally important however I believe institutions value education over experience. After 28 years with the same hospital I was forced to resign when I attempted to go back to bedside nursing in ICU after 10 years in an outpatient setting. I had the most seniority but was thrown to the wolves and recieved really bad re-orientation. I know they could hire 2 new nurses in place of me. It’s been 2 years and I am still affected by the way they ran me out. I recieved my BSN 2 months after my forced resignation.
    I have always learned more from experienced nurses than “book smart” nurses! The healthcare industry is a mess and I am actually happy to be out of it!

  23. I think experience is more important because education changes especially in nursing. Policies and evidence base information forever changing.

  24. I believe that the best nurses come from the crossroads of both Experience and Education. Education is great for theory, but without the practice of application it can be an awkward and sometimes dangerous for both the nurse and the patient. This is evident in even small tasks such as setting an IV; inserting a urinary catheter; sealing a wound vac. dressing; pushing medications, etc. Education is great, but experience is “Knowledge in Action”. We need BOTH Experienced and Educated nurses, but only the experienced are qualified to impart the “This is how we do it” knowledge to the new nurses coming aboard.

  25. There is very little substitute for experience. Education will put your mind in patient focus but experience will wield the individualized treatment specific for your patient.

  26. In my view, experience is the better. I value education as well, but without experience, it’s worthless.
    I went to an associate degree program in the 1970s. I became a RN when I was 19. But the best teacher I had was a fatherly orderly who taught me what I needed to know in practice, from bed making to (more importantly) assessments of patients.
    While I was in the associate program, I attended a speech given by Virginia Henderson. She was speaking out for the 1985 Proposal, that would have mandated a BSN Requirement for nurses after 1985. (“Monkeys are trained, nurses are educated”) That speech made me want to get a BSN. After graduating with my AAS & RN, I began taking 1-2 courses a semester towards my BSN. After 15 years, I got my BSN, despite illness, surgery, marriage, childbirth, while working full time. I was determined to get that BSN, and I did. The BSN gave me confidence in what I was practicing. It explained the why I was doing it.
    So while I said experience is what I value most, education is right up there. One without the other just doesn’t do it.

  27. There are too many variables to give a short answer. As a co worker, I prefer a person who has some experience, but is teachable. The last two hospitals for which I worked had very informal, sink or swim type orientation. Sadly, there were not enough nursing staff to formally precept. It was a horrible experience for the patients, let alone the new nurses.

    If a nurse is entering a field out of his/her area of experience, education will be preferred.
    Myself, I have 40 years of experience in management, case management and utilization. I was a hands on manager who would work in staffing when needed. Today, having been terminated as a manager due to CODID 19, I cannot even get an interview. I am convinced it is due to my age. My degree, certifications, excellent employment record, and experience mean nothing to the hospitals in the Nashville, TN area.

  28. When I was an experienced nurse with an AD, I didn’t think much of education. I got paid the same as the BSN nurse and we both did the same job in an ICU. Then my job forced me to get more education in order to stay in my position because we were a Magnet facility.

    I grew with the BS degree in ways I never anticipated and I became a much better nurse as a result of that education. Finally, I had to get more education to maintain another position in management. Again, I grew to understand the value of evidence-based nursing and the need to elevate our profession with advanced practice.

    Experience reflects the competence of a polished professional. Experience provides for positive outcomes in patient care that cannot solely be learned through education. Education gives us the ability to grow in new directions and to surrender our experience to the naive learner through competency-based credentials.

    • Nursing is a lifelong dedication to improving the profession and practice to improve patient outcomes. There are always different levels of competency in practice.. novice to expert practice together and must support each other , realizing that as you progress you may be a novice at some skills. Education allows us to excel in this knowledge and professionalism.

  29. Education is important theoretical knowledge without experience to guide critical thinking, problem solving and clinical judgements skills that are so important in our role as nurses, but also as educators. As an educator, my vast experience at the bedside allows me to be able to think on my feet and not just rely on theory to guide practice for me and my students…it keeps it real and supportive.

  30. I personally believe that experience is best over education. Although a person needs theory behind everything they do in nursing, the wealth of information you obtain being at the bedside and getting experience is golden and cannot be replaced. For example, a nurse manager cannot address the needs of a unit without having been at that bedside to experience what it is truly like actually caring for patients.

    • I spend three years as a case manager under a manager with two master’s degrees, but no CM experience. Worse three years of my career!

  31. RrBoth experience and education are necessary to be effective as an RN. That is why there is an orientation and mentor ship for new nurses. While it is important to have task skills down cold it is also necessary to understand anatomy and physiology etiology and pathophysiology of diseases. When you know why you are doing things it makes the task easier to complete. Education is necessary to develop a care plan, but skill is needed to place an I dwelling Foley catheter in a contracted patient. If all that was needed was skill there would be no need for certification. Anyone can be taught a skill. Why you need the skill is the difference that makes us RNs.

    I am going with education as being most valuable.

  32. I think both are valued and necessary. Personally, I received my diploma, then went on to get my BSN and MSN. I have provided value at each milestone. I have also been certified in every specialty that I have worked in (OCN, CGRN, CENP). Being a life-long learner and striving to provide quality care to every patient is most important.

  33. I couldn’t say it better than Michael and Marcus below.
    Remaining teachable is key. Experience would tip the scale for me but if we don’t stay teachable then the experience may not keep up with best practice.

  34. I have been an RN for 35 years. I would have to say common sense and critical thinking skills are most important, real experience especially in floor nurse is of great importance, you need to be able to notice signs of patient decline w/in minutes to give effective care. My elderly mother was recently hospitalized for 3 days, I was sad to see the decline in the RN role, RN never completed head to toe assessment, would walk into room, ask my mom how she felt and went straight to her computer to chart. RN could have been an aide.

    • I so agree; now we have virtual wellness exams by physicians which I refuse to participate in. If you don’t have hands on exams and ability to see/hear the nuances of the patient’s issues, it is worthless. A patient may minimize or exaggerate a symptom; there is no substitute for in-person care. If you think you can really get to know someone virtually, then watch “90 Day Fiancee” and see how wrong you can be!

    • I was an ER patient a few weeks back due to an nasty eye infection. Nurse decided to take my BP with the automatic cuff then left the room. Except she forgot to put the cuff on my arm. She just pushed the button on the monitor to start. The next 15 minutes, I watched her whooping it up in the nurse’s station right in front of my room…while the monitor beeped. When she finally came back, she tried to call the doctor STAT because my BP reading was so low. I really try to avoid healthcare settings if I have to be in the role of patient.

  35. I am 77 years young. I manage In-Home Aides for a State/Federal funded Program. I started in the hospital as a Nurses Assistant, became an LPN, A Hospital Based 36 Month
    Diploma Registered Nurse, and Last but not least a University Educated BSN. Education is important but experience along with is the icing on the cake. I still love to learn,
    “Study to show thyself approved. A workman who need not be ashamed”.

  36. As a nurse on a busy PCU unit experience is a plus but keeping your knowledge current is essential. After 34 yrs as an ADN, I completed my BSN. I learned how to write very clear and concise papers. I had hoped to learn about research but if you weren’t already knowledgeable they weren’t willing to teach you. I was very disappointed. Other than that since I am PCCN certified it was a big waste of my time except to keep my employment options open. I had thought about an MSN. I learned most of the work done is in a windowless room with the focus on data and not working with patients unless you become a ARNP.

  37. I believe experience and education go hand in hand , but experience is way more important ,also you need the right personality and temperament, to be a great nurse.

  38. I have been a nurse for 40 years, I believe that experience and critical thinking skills are the most important in a clinical setting. I was recently a patient a couple incidents had me wanting to sign out AMA.

    • Totally agree experience goes over education. I have a BSN and have been a nurse over 40+ years. I work with some nurses that have Masters degree and they do real good with paperwork, but they can’t do direct patient care. Specially the ones that get their degrees from on line programs. They lack of hands on experience and when they come out of school they prefer a management position rather than bedside nursing.

      • I agree with this, I’m a nurse with over 30yrs experience. There is not enough clinical teaching being done in nursing schools. It is noticeable when new graduates are on the floors; poor attitudes and bedside manners also.

  39. I think experience and education are complimentary. It has been true in my life. I have now retired after more than 36 years in the clinical area. The experience, I started to pack in from a diploma school. Continued my education by getting my BSN and eventually my MSN. All along working to continue packing in the experience. That paid off well when I was hired as a Nurse Practitioner for cardiology in a large hospital with a busy cardiology service. I was concerned that the staff nurses might give me a hard time. But, I was wrong. They accepted me and even looked for my help before they would call the cardiologist. It was because of my experience and education that I succeeded.

  40. I think experience is more important. I have worked with RN’s that were very educated, but couldn’t really function on the floor. I have yet to see more educated nurses function at a higher level than experienced nurses. I deal is when a higher educated nurse has experience also.

  41. I would personally want to believe that experience and education have equal value. My own observation has been that of most value is staying teachable.

    • Experience and education are both highly important. Nevertheless, education provides a greater enhancement of knowledge to the experienced nurse and should therefore be recognized and rewarded in a manner that is fair for those nurses who go the extra mile.

  42. I have both…a master’s degree and 40 years of nursing experience. My patient care benefits from both. As far as getting a better job…age discrimination is rampant and therefore I feel that my experience doesn’t end up counting for much and may in fact be a detriment.

      • I think ageism is a real thing as we advocate for Congruous Aging in treatment of our patient it is true we have not turned that focus to the nurses and our institutions! We must fight for acceptance especially around bullying and institutional ageism.

      • After 44.5 years as a PEDS nurse I left nursing because the young inexperienced nurse’s were always complaining to clinical manger that I wouldn’t help them and do their work for them. I was expected to take care of the most demanding and complex patients and their families without complaining and also to do other nurse’s work. I was never rewarded for experience and competence. I was told in my evaluation that I spent too much time with my patients and that my standards of care were too high. This is the thanks I received.

    • This is true. I’ve been a nurse for over 25 years and I am 48. I’ve worked in various specialties. I took a year off for personal reasons and the only job I can get is in Home Health. In which I totally respect. I have my BSN and worked in trauma, peds, & OB PACU. I definitely feel it’s an age thing, but you can’t prove it!

      • We can prove it because we live it! I am similar to Jenn and have been looking for a change in jobs, but have been turned down even though I “was a great candidate, but there was a great pool of candidates to choose from.” So that tells me they chose someone younger that required less compensation than a 25+ year seasoned nurse. It sucks if you are unhappy in your current job and want to make a change.

    • I too have an MSN with Certification as a CNS/NP and 40 years of clinical experience. Many jobs open in FL and nobody will higher me. Everyone says it’s because I only want part time. I believe it’s age discrimination. That’s a shame I have a great deal of education and experience to offer.

  43. Experience is preferred by other nurses. Education is preferred by institutions. Experience is education that has not been formalized.

  44. Both are needed, a good nurse needs to be educated properly first and then builds that experience up after getting into the trenches. I think if I was in a hospital and had flipped into v-fib I would want the nurse that has the experience to recognize and react quickly. If I was in a clinical trial with a new investigative drug then my go to nurse would be one that has the education to understand the nuances of that drug. I think it depends on setting and situation.

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