RN vs BSN: What’s the Difference?

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Are you currently a licensed RN in the U.S.?

It’s a question that many aspiring nurses must address: What’s the difference when comparing an RN versus a BSN? Put simply, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a degree that can help you succeed as a registered nurse (RN), which is a licensed position. Understanding the difference between the BSN degree and the RN job title is critical — especially for those who are considering pursuing a nursing degree or starting their nursing careers — since earning a BSN can aid up-and-coming nurses in achieving their professional goals.

RNs with an associate degree who choose to enroll in an online BSN program, such as Maryville University’s online RN to BSN, will find a curriculum designed to prepare them for higher-level nursing roles such as nurse educator, nursing manager, and RN supervisor. Students are taught skills such as time management, problem-solving, communication, and cultural awareness that are needed to excel in the field.

female nurse practitioner

What’s an RN?

RNs are licensed medical professionals who work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, community care clinics, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation facilities, prisons, and doctors’ offices. Individuals who choose this career path administer medications, answer patients’ questions, prepare patients for exams and medical testing, and provide other types of care as needed. To become an RN, aspiring candidates must graduate from an accredited nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

What’s a BSN?

A BSN includes liberal arts courses and a curriculum rooted in practical nursing, expanding students’ knowledge and preparing them to fulfill the role of an RN. While a BSN isn’t required for employment as an RN, earning a BSN can help RNs stand out from other candidates applying for the same position. Additionally, RN candidates who’ve earned their BSN not only garner higher pay than RNs with an associate degree, but also enjoy enhanced career advancement opportunities. While a traditional BSN usually takes four years, RN to BSN programs for nurses who already have an associate degree can be completed in as little as one year.

Educational Requirements for Becoming an RN

Even with the steadily growing demand for healthcare professionals, currently predicted to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), candidates without a formal nursing education can’t legally qualify for RN positions. While professionals with limited nursing expertise can hold healthcare aide and nursing assistant positions, the role of an RN is available only to individuals with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a BSN who pass the NCLEX and earn an RN license from the states where they reside.

After completing BSN coursework, an RN should have a stronger comprehension of nursing theory, human biology and psychology, and cutting-edge care techniques. As with any professional field, a higher level of education can qualify nurses to take on more workplace responsibilities, allowing them to accelerate their nursing careers and step into more lucrative positions.

Key Differences Between RN vs. BSN

Nurses who’ve graduated from accredited ADN or BSN programs can become RNs. All aspiring nurses must pass a state licensing examination and complete required practice testing to work as RNs. RNs can administer basic care; counsel clients on their options; track paperwork and patient progress; and communicate effectively with those in their care, as well as other staff members.

Beyond these similarities, some compelling differences exist between ADN and BSN programs. BSN degrees generally require four years of education instead of the two to three years required to complete an ADN, although nontraditional paths such as an RN to BSN program can offer different options and timelines. The BSN course of study features more liberal arts courses and a more in-depth nursing education that includes research, theory, care models, leadership training, and management. Thus, BSN graduates are positioned not only to work in direct patient care but also advance into administrative and supervisory positions.

Skill Differences Between RN vs. BSN

BSN graduates develop unique skills that can set them apart from RNs who don’t hold a BSN degree. This includes skills in leadership, management, problem-solving, communication, and critical thinking. As part of their education, BSN students also delve into the medical theory and research behind healthcare processes.

These competencies can be applied across a range of medical settings and roles, such as nurse anesthetist and geriatric nurse practitioner. An RN, on the other hand, will have foundational skills for providing clinical care, but may not have sufficient skills for pursuing advanced nursing careers in administration, education, or specialty fields.

BSN vs. RN Salary and Professional Outlook

As baby boomers age, nurses have become increasingly in demand. Although students who wish to pursue work as RNs are likely to find many professional opportunities, BSN graduates may have more opportunities for advancement due to their expanded education and expertise. Organizations such as the American Nurses Association suggest that all nurses pursue a BSN to improve quality of care. Additionally, some state licensing boards, such as New York’s, require all ADN holders to complete a BSN within 10 years of graduation.

The median salary for RNs in the U.S. was $75,330 as of May 2020, according to the BLS, although RNs with a BSN may earn more as they advance to managerial and specialized positions. Additionally, Indeed reports that the median annual salaries of BSN holders have far greater potential for career and salary advancement. Indeed further reports that as of May 2021, RNs with a baccalaureate degree and more than 10 years of experience may earn more than $93,000 annually.

It’s important to note that pay in all positions can vary with experience and geographic location.

Hiring Potential for RN vs. BSN Nurses

A range of medical establishments, such as government facilities, hospitals, and military organizations, recognize the importance of hiring BSN graduates for their skills and breadth of knowledge in the field. Magnet hospitals, for example, require all nurse managers and leaders to have at least a BSN. The National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP) has created a countrywide call for two-thirds of all nurses to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

BSN graduates not only are better prepared for entering nursing careers, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), but also yield better patient outcomes, diagnoses, and lower mortality rates. As the healthcare field continues to evolve to accommodate an aging population of baby boomers and new technologies, medical facilities will need BSN-educated graduates to navigate these changes and lead groundbreaking initiatives in improving patient care.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) called for 80% of RNs to have BSNs by 2020. As of 2019, the Center to Champion Nursing in America’s Campaign for Action initiative found that number was just 56%. However, in the wake of the state of New York’s 2018 law requiring all RNs to earn a BSN within 10 years of licensing and other states expected to follow suit, more organizations (especially hospitals) are requiring their nurses to have bachelor’s degrees.

Benefits of Earning Your BSN

Completing a BSN program exposes nursing professionals to subjects that enhance their ability to provide quality patient care. For example, liberal arts courses help them improve their communication skills, while courses in pharmacology and nursing management and leadership in contemporary healthcare coach them on how to be leaders in their field.

While a bachelor’s degree program doesn’t always offer students the same hands-on skills they can learn through years of clinical practice, BSN programs are designed to provide in-depth knowledge of evidence-based healthcare processes. All nurses, regardless of whether they approach the field via an ADN or a BSN, must possess a desire to continue learning, because technology and treatment approaches are always advancing.

The primary objective of healthcare facilities is to ensure positive patient outcomes. The comprehensive education provided in a BSN degree program, which typically includes developing soft skills such as creative problem-solving and intercultural communication, can help RNs thrive.

Consequently, BSN degree holders may have more flexibility in the job market because of their higher proficiency in all aspects of nursing. This is a key advantage for those who hope to transition to positions that allow them to treat specific categories of patients in healthcare environments that suit their personal preferences.

Commit to Your Future in Nursing

By completing an RN to BSN program, such as Maryville’s, you can expand your overall mastery of nursing, enabling you to more effectively protect patient populations from adverse health outcomes. This can be personally and professionally rewarding. Nursing students reap many benefits through study at the bachelor’s level, from discussion of ethics in healthcare to practical applications of care techniques.

Find out more about the benefits of earning a BSN to see if it matches your goals. With the right education, graduates can embark on a number of potentially rewarding and lucrative careers in nursing that offer the chance to help others.

Recommended Reading

Leaders in Two Different Worlds: Business Degree vs. Nursing Degree

Importance of Nurse Appreciation: Supporting Healthcare Workers

How Nurses Impact Quality of Care

Sources

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice

American Nurses Association, Nurses in the Workforce

Campaign for Action, New Resource Highlights Nurses Heeding the Call to Earn Their BSN

Indeed, “ADN vs. BSN: Which Nursing Degree Is Right for You?”

Monster, “Where Will an ADN Put You on the Nursing Career Ladder?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare Occupations

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

WebMD, What Is a Registered Nurse?