You’ve always been passionate about helping others and you’ve already thought nursing would truly be a rewarding, reliable career for you to do just that – while making a more than decent living. But what to choose in order to follow your dream career: a shorter Associate’s or the next-level Bachelor’s Degree to become a registered nurse?
It has been considerable debate over ADN versus BSN in the past years. An ADN program seems faster and easier, and a BSN prepares qualified professionals to provide complex patient care and earn a higher income.
But there are some major differences between ADN and BSN degrees that you should take into account before choosing the right one for you. Not just in length, number of credits or salaries, but also in the patients’ quality of care, as you will discover below.
Let’s explore the advantages and differences of both ADN and BSN degrees, so you can be a step closer to decide on the right nursing degree!
What do ADN and BSN mean?
There are many paths you can pursue to become a registered nurse. The most well known are through an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) program – here’s what each means:
RN or ADN nurse:
An RN (registered nurse) refers to someone who either has completed an ADN or a BSN degree program (the next-level education program). Usually, people refer to an ADN prepared nurse as an RN.
A traditional RN job includes simple nursing care, for example, recording patient symptoms and medical history, educating patients on diseases, working closely with doctors and using simple medical equipment.
Compared to an ADN-level nurse (RN), a BSN prepared nurse is qualified for more complex procedures under the doctor’s supervision and can manage other nursing staff.
It’s safe to say that the main differences between ADN and BSN nurses are about the perks that come with advanced education such as more leadership responsibilities and higher pay.
A BSN degree can easily take you to the next level as a nurse educator, public health nurse or other specialties you might be interested in. The degree can easily take you from registered nurse to statuses like nurse educator, public health nurse or other specialties you might be interested in that require a BSN degree.
It’s common for new nurses to compare RN vs BSN differences. However, you’ll see that one refers to the job title, and one to the education – hence, the comparison isn’t really apples to apples. A better comparison is ADN vs BSN, both being education levels.
Here are the 6 main differences between ADN and BSN:
1. Patient Safety: Are BSN Nurses Safer & More Qualified to Offer Better Patient Care?
Nobody is claiming ADN nurses offer less care than nurses with a BSN degree.
BSN nurses are simply better trained, prepared and ready to tackle more care jobs thanks to their educational experience. The elaborate curriculum and clinical hours required by academic criteria make BSN nurses highly trained and qualified to meet the nation’s patients’ nursing needs and deliver safe, effective patient care.
Find out more about the experiences of a Nightingale College graduate who tells all about becoming a nurse as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.
Extensive research across the years shows that patient outcomes and quality of care improve with BSN-prepared nurses. Moreover, it was shown that having BSN nurses in a medical facility leads to lower patient mortality in hospitals, fewer medical errors, and better relationships through communication.
For example, in a more recent study published in the October 2014 issue of Medical Care, Olga Yakusheva, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found out that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of BSN-educated nurses on hospital units was associated with a 10.9% possible decrease in patient mortality.
The correlation between a nurse’s level of education and patient mortality is confirmed by the last 10 years of nursing research that the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been collecting. The research shows that higher nursing education is reflected in the quality of clinical practice.
Basically, nurses with a BSN degree tend to earn more and have better patient outcomes, make a proficient diagnosis and quality nursing interventions. Read more about the highly educated nursing workforce on AACN.
Learn more about how nurses’ education improves patient outcomes here.
2. ADN vs. BSN Salary Differences
Both ADN and BSN degrees prepare nurses for entry-level roles. However, a BSN degree is designed to offer more career opportunities for upward mobility, and that comes with a bigger paycheck.
The starting salary for a registered nurse with a BSN can be, at the beginning, similar to what an ADN nurse earns. However, RNs with an ADN degree may land entry-level positions that will provide them with $40,250 on average, while RNs with a BSN can earn up to a mean annual income of about $71,730.
ADN-level RN Salary
As stated in our 2019 nursing salaries study, registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $71,730 — salaries vary by state, specialty, employer and level of education.
According to Payscale, a registered nurse (RN) earns an annual salary of $68,000 on average. Over the years, the average salary has increased steadily. However, it is possible to notice a slower growth for ADN graduates’ salary in the following years because employees are looking for more BSN-educated nurses to hire.
BSN-level RN Salary:
BSN-educated nurses are the top 25% earners in the field. RNs with a BSN degree earn an annual income of $82,000 on average, according to the same source. Because of the growing need for BSN-prepared nurses, the annual salary is expected to grow significantly in the next five years.
Opting for an area of specialization also affects a nurse’s salary. However, a baccalaureate degree gives you the opportunity to explore and expand your horizons and the chance to move beyond hospital employment.
3. ADN vs BSN Competencies Differences
When it comes to professional skills, one can say that an ADN-prepared nurse is a “technical” nurse, while a BSN-level nurse is a “professional” nurse.
The difference is that an Associate degree trains someone mostly on clinical skills, while a Bachelor’s degree is focused on leadership, nursing research, management as well as clinical skills training.
Both degrees prepare nurses to provide patient care that meets generally accepted standards, and that is why nursing training is professional in both ADN and BSN programs.
However, the latter focuses more on research, disease prevention, community health, advocacy, and informatics to better examine data, implement best practices and find better solutions to patient outcomes. As a BSN nurse, you will have a better understanding of the cultural, economic, and social issues that affect patients and influence healthcare delivery systems. This way, you will make yourself open to opportunities and rewarding, specialized roles.
4. ADN vs. BSN Education Differences
The main differences between ADN and BSN programs are the length of time needed to complete each and the number of credits required to graduate from the program.
An ADN usually takes 2 years, while a BSN will take 4 years to complete (or sooner). If you’re already an RN and want to improve your outcome in less time, you can complete the RN to BSN Bridge Program in as few as 12 months or 3 semesters, if the required General Education (GE) courses have not been completed.
According to AACN, traditional baccalaureate nursing programs (BSN) include all the course work taught in the ADN program and diploma programs (the most basic nursing certificate) plus a more in-depth training in social sciences, management, research, public and community health, and leadership.
The main focus of BSN programs is for the learner to broaden their scope of practice and have the opportunity for enhanced professional development.
Associate Degree in Nursing
Earning an ADN is a great start to your nursing career. The main advantages of an ADN program are that it’s less expensive and less time-consuming. You’ll become a nurse faster, start earning money and getting nursing experience. You can complete ADN programs in as few as 18 to 24 months.
Many people choose to first pursue the ADN program, so they can enter the workforce, gather experience and go to school later to obtain their BSN in an RN to BSN program.
Read more on how to get your ADN!
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
A BSN program typically takes four years to complete. BSN programs are recognized for giving learners a well-rounded education and preparing them to successfully enter the nursing field. Compared to the ADN-level degree offerings, BSN programs feature more extensive clinical experiences.
There are also accelerated BSN programs, which take around one or two years to complete. You can access this kind of degree only if you have already completed a degree program or a nurse training course.
For second-career seekers looking to switch to the nursing profession, a BSN Bridge program will help segway your acquired skills to the skills required for admittance into a nursing program.
5. ADN vs. BSN Curriculum Differences
Both ADN and BSN programs share the core courses that will teach learners the competencies of nursing, as well as clinical practice to help with hands-on learning in healthcare settings.
However, the BSN programs include some courses that ADN programs don’t offer:
- Management, leadership, public health, and social sciences, critical thinking and communication courses are part of the BSN curriculum. Leadership training helps nurses that wish to advance to administrative, research or teaching positions.
- Nursing theory and nursing informatics that teaches you how to use new technology in the workplace.
- Additional courses advanced from an ADN level that help nurses have a better understanding of the complex issues affecting both the patient and the healthcare environment.
The nursing field is continually evolving as nurses and doctors use new technologies in treating and diagnosing patients. To keep up with these growing trends, hospital administrators are changing the way nurses interact with their patients.
BSN program’s curriculum broad flexibility can make the difference in helping nurses succeed against the continuous challenges involved in patient care.
6. ADN vs. BSN Career Opportunities & Job Outlook Differences
If you graduated from a BSN program but work as a registered nurse, your career description won’t be extremely different from an ADN graduate’s.
Both ADN and BSN graduates working as registered nurses will have almost the same career tasks:
- work side-by-side caring for patients
- administer medication
- monitor and update medical charts and patients’ symptoms
However, things are different when you think about long-term career opportunities.
Most ADN and BSN nurses are employed in hospital settings. As long as a nurse’s degree level will influence your specialty or earnings, it can also influence your employment in different locations and healthcare settings.
Do hospitals prefer ADN or BSN?
Why do Hospitals require BSN-trained Nurses? According to AACN, hospitals and other medical facilities are following the IOM guidelines. These guidelines advocate and validate the need for the ”BSN-in-10” legislation, which is nurses to have their BSN by 2020, or face job termination. Their argument is based on the importance of nursing’s future and healthcare’s importance, which hinges on highly trained nurses.
Can BSN nurses teach or have administrative roles?
If, as a nurse, you’re interested in a teaching or administrative position, a BSN will be the minimum qualification required.
BSN nurses usually get a greater variety of duties than ADN nurses, and they tend to have more jobs to choose from. Nurses with a BSN degree can aspire to administrative and leadership positions or various nursing specialties like nurse education, nurse research, or public health nurse, case nurse managers to name a few.
ADN-prepared nurses have a limited chance of obtaining such roles and responsibilities that require a BSN degree.
When Will a BSN be Mandatory for Nurses?
To meet health management requirements, recent research and public policy recommendations strongly address the need for more highly educated nurses, nurses that have a BSN degree. The Institutes of Medicine recommends that 80 percent of all nurses should hold a BSN degree by 2020.
Everybody’s talking about a proposed BS in 10 law that suggests nurses who don’t already have a BSN degree will need to earn one within their first 10 years of practice. The state legislature has held hearings, but no concrete action has been taken.
The bill came up for debate in 2010 and died in the committee. It was advocated by both Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Morelle of Rochester and Republican Senator James Alesi of Monroe County and has the endorsement of many nursing associations and health policy organizations, such as AACN and the New York State Nurses Association.
The bill, if passed, will be a method used to raise the skill level of today’s nurse workforce. If you want to find out more about this legislation, read the New York Daily News piece on the topic.
Where is a BSN degree mandatory for RNs? See all the nurses qualifications, laws and requirements by state
Why Should You Earn a BSN? It May Be a Requirement in 2020
While every degree matters, higher education opens more doors. Your nursing career depends on your personal choices and professional desires. Keep in mind that holding the BSN degree won’t be just an option for long. If you find yourself choosing one program over the other, you should consider your future and what will benefit you in the long run.
Do you see yourself advancing beyond the registered nurse position?
If your answer is yes, you have a clear path: choose the BSN program.
It will be a requirement by 2020 anyway. Because healthcare facilities already consider a BSN degree as the new entry-level degree, nurses are advised and required by some employers to pursue a BSN degree.
If you are already a registered nurse and would like to advance your nursing career, consider enrolling in an RN to BSN Bridge Program at Nightingale College, which will broaden your nursing knowledge and skills plus advance your career opportunities.
Read the complete guide about the Bachelor of Science in Nursing here.