Aspiring nurses focused on becoming Registered Nurses (RN) must decide between earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both degree programs qualify nursing candidates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam to earn their RN licensure. Deciding which one to choose depends on several factors. Nursing students must consider the differences between ADN and BSN degrees before making the choice that is right for them.
In this article we will explore:
- Benefits of obtaining a BSN
- Program completion timeframe
- Scope of practice and core competencies
- Patient outcomes
- How to go from an ADN to a BSN
- Career opportunities and job growth
- Salary differences
- Determing the right time to earn a BSN
Benefits of obtaining a BSN
Some nursing positions require a BSN. That is perhaps the number one reason most nurses pursue this graduate degree. Other factors motivate nurses to go from an ADN to a BSN.
Advance career. A BSN opens the door to new nursing possibilities, including management positions and an academic career.
Pursue their passion. Some nurses enjoy working in specialized healthcare settings, like oncology or pediatrics. Having a BSN expands the opportunity for specialization.
Program completion timeframe
One of the biggest differences between an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the length of time nursing students spend in school earning their respective degrees. It takes approximately 18 to 24 months to earn an ADN when attending the program full-time. Nursing students enrolled in an ADN program learn the basics of nursing best practices and patient care.
Nursing students can expect to spend three to four years earning a BSN if they choose this path to their RN licensure. BSN programs delve deeper into nursing best practices to improve patient outcomes, making them an asset to nurses who wish to continue advancing their careers. It is worth noting that employers have begun to favor RNs who have a BSN because they have more extensive nursing knowledge than their ADN counterparts.
Scope of practice and core competencies
The best way to describe the professional skill differences between an ADN-prepared RN and a BSN-prepared RN is technical vs. professional. Associate degree nursing programs focus on clinical nursing skills. RNs who complete ADN training focus on day-to-day patient care such as monitoring patients, updating patient charts, and administering medication.
Bachelor’s degree nursing programs teach clinical nursing skills as well, but they also include leadership, management, and nursing research competencies that can fast-track a nursing career. RNs with bachelor’s degrees have a firm grasp on the cultural, economic, and social issues that can affect patient outcomes, which make them more valuable to employers.
At least one study points to improved patient outcomes when BSN-trained RNs handle patient care. Evidence in the research findings indicates that BSN-prepared RNs performed significantly better in 12 of the 16 nursing areas for quality and safety. Baccalaureate-degree nurses were also better equipped to prevent unnecessary deaths and diminished quality of care than their ADN counterparts. The study also found that hospital units with a 10% increase in BSN-prepared nurses lowered patient mortality odds by 11%. Improved patient outcomes may be one reason why healthcare employers favor BSN-educated nurses.
How to go from an ADN to a BSN
An ADN to BSN bridge program is a popular alternative for going from an ADN to a BSN degree. They are ideal for students with previous nursing experience. Bridge programs accommodate practicing nurses who wish to further their education while continuing to work in the field.
Nursing students who attend a BSN program full-time can expect to finish in 12 to 18 months. If you are working a full-time job while earning your BSN, it can take a little longer. Here are the three most popular ways to go from an ADN to a BSN.
1. LPN to BSN
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) can simultaneously earn the credentials needed for their Registered Nurse (RN) licensure and a BSN degree. If this scenario works for you, seek out bridge programs that offer a “credit by exam” option. It works by testing nurses on their existing knowledge of subjects, allowing them to earn credits and skip the course, as long as they are proficient. This can be an excellent way to reduce the number of hours you must spend taking courses and the money you will spend on those credit hours.
2. RN to BSN
The RN-to-BSN bridge program is the most popular option for nurses pursuing a BSN degree. If an RN-to-BSN bridge program is of interest to you, check with your employer before choosing one. Some healthcare systems bring educators to their facilities to make it more convenient for nurses to earn their BSN while working. Others may offer tuition reimbursement for nurses who pursue advanced degrees with the promise of continuing to work with their current employer.
3. Accelerated or direct entry
These programs are for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. You can take your liberal arts and background courses from your previous degree and use them to meet non-nursing course requirements to begin your BSN coursework faster.
Career opportunities and job growth
Career descriptions for Registered Nurses (RNs) who have an associate degree will not differ that much from RNs who hold bachelor’s degrees. Both can expect to have the same job responsibilities:
- Administering medication
- Consulting with healthcare teams about treatment plans
- Delivering 1:1 bedside patient care
- Monitoring and updating patients’ medical charts
That is where the similarities end for RNs who chose different paths to their licensure. Nurses who wish to pursue long-term career opportunities have an advantage if they started with a BSN. Holding a bachelor’s degree allows RNs to easily work toward new job roles like Nurse Practitioner (NP), Nurse Midwife (NM), and Nurse Anesthetist (NA).
Another consideration when choosing between an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is salary.
According to Payscale.com, RNs who hold an Associate Degree in Nursing can expect a median annual income of $71,000. In comparison, RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing earn an average annual base salary of $87,000.
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Determining the right time to earn a BSN
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. What may be the right time for one nurse would not work for another nurse. You must consider things like your family and finances before diving into a years-long commitment to furthering your education. Maybe you have small children at home and want to wait until they are older. You might not have the disposable income needed to finance your advanced degree. Need a little help working it all out? Join the Incredible Health Nurse Community to talk with other nurses who have chosen a similar path and can offer you practical advice on the best way to achieve your goal.
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