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

Understanding the Difference Between an RN and a 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; all operating on the same level of certification and education. The truth is, there’s a distinction between being a registered nurse and having your ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) or BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree. Every nurse has their own journey that leads them to their preferred field of nursing. This journey, however, depends on their level of education and experience.

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 (RN) often hold a BSN degree or an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing), and have passed the NCLEX-RN exam. RNs provide medical treatment to those in need. Depending on their location, work setting, and level of education, an RN may perform a variety of duties. These different areas of care include, but are not limited to, oncology, pediatrics, and geriatrics. RNs also work in various locations besides hospitals and doctors’ offices.

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 nursing positions. Also, nurses who hold a BSN degree are more likely to be hired than nurses who hold an associate degree. Furthermore, nurses who hold a BSN may continue their education with a master’s degree or a doctoral degree.

RN vs. BSN: Job Responsibilities

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 ADN-RN and a BSN-RN because a BSN-RN 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 ADN-RN and a BSN-RN are both registered nurses. They are 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. With that being said, the educational requirements for these two degrees will often affect program length and cost.

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. For those 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.

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.% of hospitals and other healthcare settings now require a BSN for new hires, and 77.4% favor BSN graduates over other nursing credentials. They also found that there was an 88% job placement rate for entry-level BSN graduates. There’s also a significant body of research showing that BSN-qualified nurses are linked to better patient outcomes. While there are still plenty of job opportunities for ADN-qualified RN’s, there is significant data to prove that the workforce heavily favors BSN-qualified nurses.

RN vs. BSN: Salary

RN vs. BSN Salary

The BLS reports that the median annual wage for registered nurses was $71,730 in May 2018. The lowest 10 percent of nurses earned less than $50,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,530. The median annual wages for the top nursing industries are as follows:

Government $78,390
Hospitals; state, local, and private $73,650
Ambulatory healthcare services $68,320
Nursing and residential care facilities $63,990
Educational services; state, local and private $61,850

Along with better job opportunities, BSN-qualified nurses have additional earning power compared to RNs with an ADN. When entering the nursing field, ADN-qualified nurses report making around $57,000, while BSN-qualified nurses report making over $70,000. This higher earning potential becomes clearer as BSN nurses can apply for management and educator positions that pay upwards of $90,000.

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 or a 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.