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Nursing Education Requirements: What Degree Do You Need to Become a Nurse?

Nurses fill an invaluable role in the medical community. From helping diagnose patients to educating members of the community on how to better their health, nurses are always needed and valued in society. But in the wake of COVID-19 especially, it has never been clearer how valuable their services truly are. These professionals work hard to care and educate those who are sick, injured, and disabled–and must be well-versed in all aspects of patient care. Becoming a nurse, understandably, takes time, dedication, and highly specialized training. For those interested in pursuing a career in nursing, it’s important to know the education requirements expected of future nurses. Here is the primer you need to understand the educational and licensing requirements for nurses, the many degree options available, and the various career options afforded to you based on the degree path you choose.

General Nursing Requirements

Registered nurses (RNs) typically take one of two education paths before earning licensure: an associate degree in Nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN). As long as students graduate from an accredited nursing program, either of these two degree paths qualify students to apply for licensure, issued by the state in which they work.

Licensure is issued by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) upon passing their National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Successful completion of this exam is a requirement to practice as an RN, regardless of state. However, other requirements do vary state by state.

Nursing Education Requirements in Connecticut

In Connecticut, RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and then submit their transcripts and diploma, along with an application fee, to the state. Before they can apply for their license, however, they must complete a degree from a state-approved nursing program. This post-secondary nursing program must meet the requirements outlined in the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies (RSA).

Nursing Degree Options

Associate Degree in Nursing
For students interested in jumping into their degree as quickly as possible, an associate degree in Nursing may be the right choice. The associate degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year degree that gives students the core knowledge and clinical skills they’ll need to work in the field of nursing. Typically, prerequisites are needed prior to enrollment in a two-year ADN program.

The curriculum covered in an ADN can vary by nursing school. However, standard foundational classes students will be asked to complete often include:

  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Foundations in Nursing
  • Behavioral Health

The classes taken in the ADN prepare students for the pursuit of RN licensure, as well as a variety of career paths.

Earning Potential
An RN with an associate degree can work in a variety of positions including as an emergency room nurse, outpatient nurse, public health nurse, labor and delivery nurse, or rehabilitation nurse. The median annual salary for a registered nurse is $75,330. However, nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree rather may find that their earning potential is higher than with an ADN alone.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing
A bachelor’s degree in Nursing is typically a four-year program of study. The BSN provides students with an in-depth understanding of the nursing field and prepares them for upward mobility and leadership opportunities later in their career.

There are various ways to pursue a BSN degree. Many students enter their BSN program before earning licensure. However, working RNs who are interested in pursuing more advanced education may earn a BSN through a specialized RN-to-BSN option.

Aspiring nurses with a bachelor’s degree in another field also have the option to pursue an accelerated BSN degree. The accelerated BSN incorporates students’ previous, non-nursing bachelor’s level education and experience with nursing courses, allowing them to finish their second degree fast. In fact, this pathway allows prospective nurses to earn a BSN degree in as few as fifteen months.

Just as in an ADN program, the curriculum in a BSN program can vary from school to school. However, all bachelor’s degree programs combine general education credits, such as courses in English or Math, with nursing specific classes and advanced topics related to patient care. These classes may include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Health Policy
  • Leadership and Management
  • Nutrition

Unlike an ADN, the BSN prepares students to fulfill leadership roles in addition to clinical roles. This is just one of many benefits of earning a BSN.

Benefits of a BSN
There are a number of reasons why earning a BSN over an ADN can be beneficial. Nurses who hold a BSN are more likely to provide higher quality care to their patients, due in large part to their advanced education. Hospitals staffed by BSN-educated nurses are less likely to experience medication errors and, statistically, patients experience a shorter length of stay. There are benefits to the individual, too. BSN nurses are more competitive in the employment marketplace and as such, have more job opportunities and a higher earning potential.

Earning Potential
As a BSN degree holder, your career options are varied. You can work as a public health nurse, pediatric nurse, ICU nurse, surgical nurse, school nurse, or as an outpatient nurse. However, due to your advanced education, you’ll also be qualified for leadership roles such as nurse manager or military nurse. A BSN who holds RN licensure is eligible for advanced clinical roles, as well. As such, you’ll be highly in demand. The average annual salary for a BSN-educated RN is $87,000 per year, though this figure can increase based on a nurse’s level of experience and whether or not they fulfill leadership roles.

The RN to BSN
Those who have already earned their RN licensure and have been working in the field have the opportunity to expand their career opportunities by completing an RN-to-BSN program. This program can be completed in an accelerated format, and is frequently offered entirely online, providing students with the flexibility to continue working while advancing their education. Courses in the program include:

  • Health Assessment
  • Nursing Theory
  • Population and Global Health
  • Leadership and Management

Upon completing the RN-to-BSN program, students will be qualified to pursue leadership opportunities in nursing. Not only that, but students will have a new perspective on evidence-based practice.

Master’s of Science in Nursing
Though a master’s degree is not an education requirement for nurses, the master’s in Nursing (MSN) provides BSN holding nurses the opportunity to even further expand their leadership opportunities and to work as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), earn licensure as a nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), or certified nurse-midwife (CNM). Upon completion of an MSN, degree holders may also work as nurse educators or nurse administrators. The ideal candidate for this program will already be registered to practice nursing and will hold a BSN. This two-year program can frequently be pursued online, allowing for flexibility for working nurses.

The curriculum for an MSN degree program includes advanced nursing courses as well as leadership-focused classes. Some examples of classes that students can expect to take in this degree program are as follows:

  • Nursing Informatics
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Curriculum Development and Design
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Managerial and Cost Accounting

Career Opportunities
Upon completing the MSN, a nurse can qualify for nurse practitioner licensure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a nurse practitioner is $117,670, making this position among the most lucrative of nursing professions. Nurses with high-level, specialty training are in higher demand than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for nurse practitioners will increase by 45% between now and 2030, making the pursuit of an MSN well worth the investment.

Whether your ambition is to work as an RN or an NP, the first step is to pursue the proper nursing degree. The nursing educational requirements begin with an associate degree. However, for those who wish to provide expert care while keeping their future opportunities open, the BSN is an excellent place to start. Whichever degree you choose, know that you’ll be providing an invaluable service to the medical community and to your future patients, as an educated nurse.

Is a career in nursing in your future? The first step is a first-rate nursing education. Learn more about University of Bridgeport’s School of Nursing, here!