Becoming a Registered Nurse: BSN or ADN?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (RN) jobs will increase by 19 percent through 2022—faster than average for all occupations. But the educational paths to nursing are varied. Which one should you choose? Should you pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)? Let’s take a look:

How are ADN and BSN degrees the same?

Both degrees allow you to take the NCLEX licensure exam to become a registered nurse. In school, you’ll study the same core curriculum, including: classes in adult health, maternal/newborn nursing, pediatrics, and possibly classes in psychiatric, community health, and gerontological nursing. When you get your first nursing job, you probably won’t notice much, if any, difference in your pay rate.

Advantages of the associate degree

You can finish your ADN more quickly and less expensively than the BSN. The ADN usually takes about two years to complete, compared to four years for the BSN, though, if you already have a bachelor degree in something, you can take an accelerated BSN program and become a registered nurse in 18 to 21 months.
The ADN requires fewer credits—about 70 credit hours, compared to about 120 credit hours—for the BSN. Plus, the ADN is generally offered at local community colleges versus senior colleges or universities for the BSN.

Advantages of the bachelor degree

Because it’s a four-year degree, the BSN offers the opportunity to study more broadly than the ADN. The BSN includes all the coursework of the ADN, plus more in-depth treatment of physical and social sciences, nursing research, public/community health, nursing management, and the humanities.
While starting pay is generally the same, the BSN gives you the potential to earn more money over time.
With a BSN, you can advance to higher-paying positions, such as a nurse manager, researcher, clinical instructor for a local college, or a job in the insurance or pharmaceutical industry. You could also enter an advanced degree program, such as the Master of Science in Nursing—MSN—to become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist.

What about Magnet hospitals?

There’s a common misperception that having a BSN may make you a more desirable job candidate than registered nurses with an ADN, as hospitals strive for Magnet status. The myth is that Magnet hospitals only hire BSN-educated registered nurses or majority BSN. However, there’s actually no such requirement for a hospital to achieve Magnet recognition.

Which will make you a better registered nurse?

Excellent registered nurses come from all educational backgrounds; however, research shows that having BSN training does play a significant role in delivering safer patient care.
Many studies have found that having more BSN-prepared registered nurses at a hospital is associated with less patient mortality, lower readmission rates, shortened hospital stays, and improved patient outcomes.

Returning to school

If you already have an ADN and would like to pursue a BSN, there are many options out there to help you do just that.
Many employers offer tuition reimbursement or other incentives for their ADN registered nurses to pursue advanced nursing degrees while still earning a paycheck. Some organizations even offer BSN programs in the workplace. There are online degree programs that offer more flexibility than attending onsite classes.
Google “RN to BSN” to get an idea of what’s available in your area, and be sure to talk to your employer about incentives. Here’s a great article from the National Student Nurses Association that talks about options for returning to school.