A guide to help you distinguish the different paths to becoming a nurse

The Difference Between an RN and BSN

A Guide to Help you Distinguish the Different Paths to Becoming a Nurse

A guide to help you distinguish the different paths to becoming a nurse

You might think all nurses are the same. But the truth is, there are many different types of nurses with various education, certification, and specialties.

At the first level of nursing practice, there are Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). These nursing positions typically require a certificate or diploma from an approved educational program. The responsibilities of LPNs/LVNs include basic patient care, routine procedures, and supporting doctors and other nurses. LPNs/LVNs can also specialize in various areas of medical practice.

Stepping up to the next level of nursing expertise, there are Registered Nurses or RNs. Registered Nurses are qualified to provide and coordinate a higher level of patient care than LPN/LVNs. They also advise and support patients and their families, and educate the public about health conditions and promote preventive healthcare. RNs can also focus in a variety of medical specialties. Even among RNs, however, there are different levels of qualification and competency. This includes:

RN-ADN: The first level of Registered Nurse is the RN-ADN which indicates an RN who has earned an Associate Degree in Nursing or ADN.

RN-BSN: The next level of Registered Nurse is the RN-BSN which designates an RN who has earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN.

APRN: The highest level of Registered Nurse is the APRN or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse. These are RNs who have completed post-graduate education such as a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing program. They must be licensed as an RN and be board-certified in their area of specialization. APRNs are qualified to provide the highest level of patient care with high levels of autonomy, while still working under physician supervision. APRNs often specialize in areas such as:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)
  • Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)

This guide provides a comprehensive overview on the differences between an RN and a BSN. Understanding this nursing license and this degree will better prepare you for a bright future in nursing.

What is an RN?

Registered Nurses provide hands-on care in a variety of medical settings, including nursing homes, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and clinics. They also educate their patients and the general public about various health conditions, risk factors, and tips for leading a healthier life. Their responsibilities often include assessing patient symptoms and conditions, recording medical histories, administering treatments, and setting up patient care plans alongside doctors and other nurses. In addition, some RNs may operate medical equipment or help perform diagnostic tests.

Registered Nurses typically hold an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) or a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), and have passed the NCLEX-RN exam.

What is a BSN?

BSN stands for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. It’s usually a three or four-year educational program for those who are looking to become registered nurses (RNs), or for those who already have their Associate Degree in Nursing and would like to take their nursing education to the next level.

While RNs with associate degrees are still licensed nurses, a BSN degree has become standard for most entry-level RN positions. Also, RNs who hold a BSN degree are more likely to be hired than RNs who hold an associate degree. Furthermore, RNs who hold a BSN may continue their education with a master’s degree or a doctoral degree.

RN vs. BSN: Job Responsibilities

Nurses who earned their ADN share some similar job responsibilities with nurses who hold BSN degrees. Registered Nurses with either an ADN or a BSN might have the following job responsibilities:

  • Review and maintain medical records
  • Administer direct care to injured, disabled, or ill patients
  • Educate patients about their medical conditions and treatment
  • Monitor patient health statuses

Job responsibilities begin to vary between an RN and an RN-BSN because an RN-BSN has more job opportunities in the nursing field. Having a BSN under your belt can provide more opportunities for career growth, which may lead to a greater set of job responsibilities over time.

RN vs. BSN: Educational Requirements

It’s important to recognize that an RN with an ADN and an RN with a BSN are both RNs. They are both required to complete the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is the national test required for licensing and practice as a nurse in the United States.

You can become a Registered Nurse by obtaining your ADN or BSN degree. Students can earn their Associate Degree in Nursing through a college or university program. ADN programs can typically be completed in as little as 18–24 months, and cost significantly less than a four-year BSN program. If you’re looking for a cheaper and faster route to becoming a RN, earning an ADN might be the best move for you.

However, due to their higher educational status, a BSN-trained nurse can meet more complex demands of healthcare. In order to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, you must have already completed your ADN, or you must have already committed to the four-year BSN program after graduating from high school. Overall, BSN students receive more training in managerial and administrative roles compared to ADN students.

Students who already hold their ADN but are looking to continue their nursing education might earn a BSN degree through a bridge program while still working as an RN. If you didn’t have the means to earn your BSN immediately after high school, an RN-to-BSN bridge program allows you to continue working while simultaneously furthering your education and preparing yourself for greater job opportunities down the road.

Hand arranging blocks of wood with healthcare symbols

RN vs. BSN: Job Outlook

Nurses will continue to be in high demand for the foreseeable future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for healthcare services will increase because of the aging population as well as the increase in chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and arthritis.

There are more job opportunities with a higher range in salary* available to nursing students who have earned a BSN versus an ADN. The BLS states that registered nurses with a BSN will have better job prospects than those without one. Some of the specialized jobs for BSN-qualified nurses might include:

  • Educator roles
  • Departmental coordinator roles
  • Management positions

Many employers now require that all nurses hold a BSN degree prior to employment. The AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) reports that 39.1% of hospitals and other healthcare settings now require a BSN for new hires, and 77.4% express a strong preference for RNs to hold a BSN. There’s also a significant body of research showing that BSN-qualified nurses are linked to better patient outcomes, including lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates. While there are still plenty of job opportunities for ADN-qualified RN’s, there is significant evidence that the healthcare industry heavily favors BSN-qualified nurses.

RN vs. BSN: Salary

How Much Do Registered Nurses Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary* earned by RNs in 2021 was around $83,000 or about $40 per hour. RNs who earned salaries in the top 10 percent made more than $120,000 per year.

Annual Wages for Top Nursing Industries

Industry Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Outpatient Care Centers $44.74 $93,070
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $40.88 $85,020
Home Health Care Services $37.59 $78,190
Offices of Physicians $35.51 $73,860
Nursing Care Facilities $34.74 $72,260

Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Registered Nurses:

State Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
California $59.62 $124,000
Hawaii $51.22 $106,530
Oregon $47.42 $98,630
District of Columbia $47.38 $98,540
Alaska $46.74 $97,230

Highest-Paying Cities for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for medical assistants:

City Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
San Jose, CA $74.63 $155,230
San Francisco, CA $72.90 $151,640
Vallejo, CA $70.37 $146,360
Santa Rosa, CA $68.00 $141,440
Napa, CA $67.15 $139,680
Santa Cruz, CA $67.11 $139,590
Sacramento, CA $65.14 $135,490
Salinas, CA $62.75 $130,520
Modesto, CA $61.41 $127,730
Hanford, CA $60.00 $124,790

Along with better job opportunities, BSN-qualified nurses have additional earning power compared to RNs with an ADN. According to PayScale, the average annual salary* for ADN-qualified nurses was $72,000 in 2022, while BSN-qualified nurses was $89,000 in 2022. This higher earning potential becomes clearer as BSN nurses can apply for management and educator positions that pay upwards of $104,000 per year.*

Close up of laptop and stethoscope

The Pros & Cons of Becoming an ADN-RN versus a BSN-RN

ADN-RN Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
18-24 month program length Less job opportunities
Begin working sooner Limited job growth
Gain work experience faster Lower annual wages

BSN-RN Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
More job opportunities 3-4 year program length
Greater potential job growth Higher cost of education
Higher annual wages Longer commitment

RN vs. BSN: The Best Fit for You

The decision to become an RN-ADN or an RN-BSN comes down to your personal preference and financial ability. Obtaining an ADN will cost you less money and save you time. You’ll also gain work experience two years sooner than BSN students. Another benefit for ADN graduates is they always have the option to advance their education and pursue a BSN later in their career though a bridge program.

However, if you have the time and money to complete a BSN program, it will give you a better chance at finding a job post-graduation. A BSN degree will also open doors for job growth and earning potential in both the short and long term.

If you decide to pursue a BSN degree, click here to learn more about our BSN program.