The path to becoming a nurse is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, each nurse takes a unique pathway to work in their desired nursing field.
For example, a registered nurse (RN) has the option to earn an associate degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or in rare cases, a diploma from an approved nursing program. A nurse’s education level determines the type of nurse they can become. Many nurses start with a shorter-term degree, such as the ADN, and advance their education later through an RN-to-BSN program.
The nursing field offers opportunities for prospective nurses to pursue different career paths through courses and other training options. While both RN-to-BSN and BSN programs lead students to fulfilling nursing careers, there are a few key differences between these two journeys.
Let’s discuss the differences between an RN-to-BSN program and a BSN program to determine which is better for your needs.
What is an RN?
An RN is a licensed, registered nursing professional who medically treats patients and provides educational and emotional support for patients and their families. RNs work in various environments, such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, home care, clinics, rehabilitation centers, and outpatient centers.
Depending on their specialty and duties, an RN might:
- Administer medications and treatments
- Evaluate and monitor patients
- Coordinate plans for patient care in collaboration with physicians
- Perform diagnostic tests and analyze results
- Educate patients and family members
- Maintain medical records for other healthcare providers
To become an RN, you must earn an associate degree in Nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN). Upon earning one of those degrees, RN candidates are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam, governed by the National Council of States Board of Nursing. Then, subject to results and completing the necessary education requirements, RN candidates can apply for licensure in the state they wish to work.
What is a BSN?
A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. It typically takes four years to complete at the entry level for aspiring RNs. A traditional BSN program prepares aspiring nurses for success, offering both classroom and clinical experiences. In a BSN program, you can expect to learn the ins and outs of:
- Fundamental sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology
- Health promotion, assessments, and maintenance
- Specialized nursing fields like nutrition, mental health, family nursing, and more
- Leadership topics, including health policy and the current issues affecting health care
Of course, not all aspiring BSN holders are starting from the ground up. Nurses with an associate degree in Nursing, who are licensed as an RN, can complete an RN-to-BSN program in a shorter amount of time. Many RNs enroll in RN-to-BSN programs to further their education in the nursing field and open up better job opportunities.
Completing your BSN makes you more competitive in the job market and opens up career advancement opportunities, among other advantages. In addition, many hospitals require BSN degrees as part of their education requirements for the RNs they hire.
Nurses with a BSN degree can also choose to further their education with a master’s or doctoral degree to become nurse educators or nurse practitioners.
Like the RN career path, entry-level BSN graduates can sit for the NCLEX-RN exam after completing their degree. While graduates of an RN-to-BSN program already have this licensure, they may be eligible to pursue advanced certifications or specializations with a BSN degree..
Pros and Cons of an ADN + RN-to-BSN Degree
One of the significant benefits of becoming an RN, with an associate degree as the stepping stone, is the initial time commitment. Candidates can earn the degree that qualifies them to take the NCLEX-RN exam in a shorter time than someone earning a BSN degree. An ADN typically takes two years of study to complete.
By entering the workforce sooner, RNs gain practical, hands-on experience, build connections, and make money to aid in future schooling expenses when they decide to pursue their BSN later. Remember, though: Earning a BSN degree is highly recommended. For example, 88 percent of modern employers strongly prefer BSN degree holders.
Higher education allows individuals to receive more training within their specialty field and log more clinical hours under the watchful eye of experienced professionals before being wholly responsible for their patients.
This, in turn, gives employers peace of mind knowing their employees have more experience practicing what is required to provide optimal patient care.
But it’s only one of the many reasons RNs with an ADN pursue an RN-to-BSN degree—a flexible program specially designed for already licensed nurses. In addition, nurses who have completed their RN licensure and earned an associate degree in Nursing (ADN) qualify for degree advancement through the RN-to-BSN.
Some universities, like the University of Bridgeport, offer an online RN-to-BSN program that can be completed based on a candidate’s working schedule and other needs.
Pursuing an associate degree in Nursing allows you to enter the workforce sooner. Still, it can result in being less available for jobs, making less money, and needing to pursue a BSN at some point if you want to advance in your career or take on leadership positions. This is where an RN-to-BSN program can come into play. An RN-to-BSN program can be completed entirely online, so you can continue working as a nurse while going to school. It’s also possible to earn your RN-to-BSN degree quickly in just one academic year plus one summer semester.
Pros and Cons of BSN Degree Programs
A nurse with a BSN degree will have more job opportunities than one with only an ADN. In addition, because there are more job opportunities available for RNs with BSN degrees, the level of pay available for those jobs can be significantly higher.
BSN degree holders can qualify and pursue more opportunities and better-paying jobs in:
- Specialties at clinics and other healthcare settings
- Senior positions, including nurse managers, nursing directors, and different leadership roles
- Research positions and specializations at an institution or university
- Office and administrative roles
Earning a BSN also places you amongst the majority of RNs. The Institute of Medicine has set a target of increasing the overall percentage of BSN nurses to 80%, making it very likely that a BSN will be an essential requirement for employers moving forward.
Lastly, a four-year BSN program ensures a comprehensive education and instills critical thinking skills, allowing you to adapt to any inpatient or outpatient setting.
RN-to-BSN vs. BSN: Which is Right for Me?
Completing your BSN will open up more opportunities while making you a competent and highly employable nurse. The path you choose to take to gain your BSN is up to you.
If you want to enter the nursing field quickly, start with your ADN and work through your BSN later, with an RN-to-BSN program. However, a traditional BSN program may be best for you if you prefer to study in a controlled environment longer before working with patients.
The decision to pursue an RN-to-BSN or BSN degree is ultimately up to you and your needs. If you are an aspiring nurse, consider the following:
- Affordability of courses
- Location of the college or university with the desired degree
- Time it takes to earn the desired degree
- Career needs, ambitions, and goals
- Where you envision a career in the world of medicine
Whether you are a current nurse seeking an RN-to-BSN degree or an aspiring nurse looking for a BSN, the University of Bridgeport is here to help you. Our comprehensive support services and staff will ensure you get through college and into a meaningful nursing career.