For aspiring healthcare professionals interested in beginning a career as a Registered Nurse (RN), there are two degrees that can be earned to get started in this dynamic and rewarding profession. The first of these, the Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN), is a two- to three-year professional development program that provides future RNs with the skills, knowledge and experience needed to enter the field. The second, the Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN), is generally a four-year undergraduate program that adds additional academic training to the knowledge provided in an ADN program.
Both degree programs are equally focused on providing nurses with the skills they need to function as RNs. ADN and BSN programs include relevant coursework in nursing, nutrition, anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry and psychology. Both types of program also stress the importance of supervised clinical experience in a variety of hospital departments, care facilities and home health agencies. With such similarities, some may wonder why an aspiring nurse would spend the additional resources and time on a bachelor's degree. There are, however, significant career-related differences which we will discuss below.
The differences begin to show themselves as we look at what a BSN offers aside from RN skills training. One of the key differences is that BSN programs offer more training in leadership, communication, and critical thinking. The RN field has been far from stagnant, and as new technologies are being added and administrators are changing the ways practitioners interact with their patients, some nurses are finding that the flexibility provided in a BSN program is increasingly important. This leadership training is also often required if nurses wish to advance to administrative, teaching or research positions.
In terms of salary for RN positions, BSN graduates in the same position tend to be paid more, but it is important to realize that salary only tells part of the story. Salary for RNs may be similar regardless of educational background, but a BSN degree can offer more potential to move beyond work as an RN if the nurse wishes.
For example, if an RN is interested in transitioning to a teaching or supervisory role, a BSN will likely be required as the minimum qualification. In essence, while both BSN and ADN degrees prepare nurses for entry-level staff positions, the BSN is designed to offer more potential for upward mobility.
In choosing one program over the other, the most important question to ask is whether you see yourself moving beyond an RN position in the future. For nurses interested in working primarily as an RN, an ADN offers the advantages of less program time and cost, all while providing a comparable salary. For nurses interested in transitioning into leadership or teaching roles, however, the additional year spent in a BSN program will likely be necessary, and well worth the effort. Fortunately, for nurses who have already obtained an ADN and are currently working as registered nurses, many schools offer direct RN-to-BSN degree completion programs. If you are on the fence as to which degree to seek, this option would allow you to start your RN career with an associate's degree and then, if the interest in going farther develops, take the additional necessary coursework at a later date.