The Difference Between RN & BSN

A newly graduated RN may have an associate, diploma or bachelor's degree in nursing.
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Nursing offers great flexibility and variety. It's almost like trying to pick an ice cream flavor among favorites: night shift, day shift, weekends only, full time or part time; hospital, clinic, doctor’s office, industrial health or public health; patient care, management, education. One factor that greatly influences your options is education, but this is another area where you have choices.

"RN" Refers to a License

An RN is a registered nurse. This designation has nothing to do with a particular kind of educational degree. It’s proof that the holder has completed an accredited course in nursing, taken and passed a national licensing exam called the NCLEX-RN, and is licensed to practice nursing. An RN may have an associate degree, a diploma in nursing, a baccalaureate, a master's or even a doctorate. From a licensing standpoint, all RNs are equal. However, a BSN has some advantages that you won’t find with an associate degree or a diploma.

BSN Education

A baccalaureate in nursing is a four- or five-year course of education that includes both the hands-on clinical skills taught in associate and diploma programs and some of the more theoretical nursing and health care topics. Most baccalaureate programs include courses in chemistry, microbiology, anatomy and physiology as well as nursing theory, nursing history, public health, statistics and research. Other topics include professional nursing practice, leadership and management and critical care nursing theory. Many BSN programs are designed to meet the needs of either the first-time student or the RN who has decided to go on for more education, and many classes can be completed online.

Controversy Over Education

Since all RNs take the same licensing exam, there has been much controversy over minimum educational preparation to enter the field. From the student’s perspective, an associate degree or diploma is often less expensive and takes only two or three years. The American Nurses Association has taken the position that the BSN should be the minimum level, and that all diploma and associate nurses should be required to obtain a BSN to practice. However, as of time of publication, no state requires you to have a BSN to take the licensing exam.

BSN Benefits

Many employers and nursing organizations view the BSN as the first step on the professional nursing ladder. Some organizations pay extra for a BSN or specialty certification, according to a 2011 article in “Advance for Nurses.” The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that BSN nurses can reduce mortality rates and medication errors. A BSN also allows you to go on for postgraduate education such as a master’s in nursing, which is required for advanced practice nursing and most teaching or management positions.

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