With the U.S. now being home to over four million active nurses, nursing professionals represent the most substantial chunk of the healthcare workforce in the today. Yet, the number of people vying to join this profession has been on a steady increase, and it’s not hard to see why.
While being a nurse can be pretty challenging, this career path offers a dependable vocation that is rewarding both financially and emotionally because one cannot overstate the importance of direct patient care.
Furthermore, new nurses are in high demand. With the profession suffering a shortage of capable caregivers due to an aging workforce, career burnout, and increasing educational requirements for practitioners, the field is ever welcoming to new entrants.
However, if you have decided to pursue a career in the nursing field, the chances are that you have encountered a series of confusing issues that every new, aspiring student is sure to face.
With so many different types of nursing to choose from, you can quickly get lost in the details.
In this article, we tackle one of the most prominent debates that anyone researching the field will find: the R.N. vs. BSN issue.
R.N. vs. BSN: Understanding the Acronyms
There are a wide range of nursing degrees and credentials available in the U.S., including advanced ones like a Master of Nursing (MSN,) a Doctorate in the field (DNP) and a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN.) However, once you begin researching a nursing career, the two acronyms you will see tossed around the most is R.N. and BSN.
An R.N. or Registered Nurse, is a person who has passed the national licensing exam (NCLEX) for nurses in the U.S. The National Council Licensure Examination is a required test for all nurses nationwide before the can practice.
Hence, all nurses in the U.S. are RNs, irrespective of their other qualifications. However, when people refer to R.N.s in the R.N. vs. BSN debate, they are typically referring to a registered nurse with an ADN qualification.
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the diploma certification you get from an entry-level 2-year program at a nursing school. Once you complete your ADN and then pass the NCLEX, you become a registered nurse with the R.N. designation.
Like other forms of nursing, an R.N. with ADN certification provides medical, emotional, and educational support to patients and their families. R.N.s with ADN can provide general-purpose care or specialize in units like pediatrics, geriatrics, or oncology.
A BSN, on the other hand, is a certification you get for completing a three to four-year bachelor’s degree program in nursing. Like the R.N. with ADN, BSNs must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination and become Registered Nurses before they can practice.
Furthermore, just like the R.N. with ADN, BSN is also an entry-level certification for nurses and one of the several paths by which you can start your career in the field.
However, since BSNs spend double the time an ADN spends with schooling, they typically get a robust education while often translated to them being the preferred choice for entry-level nursing jobs.
R.N. vs. BSN: Major Differences
The primary educational difference between becoming an R.N. with ADN and an R.N. with BSN is the length and depth of each program. Since a BSN is the equivalent of a regular college degree, you will have to complete the required 120 credits, which typically takes around three to four years.
An ADN, on the other hand, can be completed in around half the time.
Nevertheless, if you already have an ADN, you can fast-track your BSN with special RN-to-BSN programs that can significantly shorten the time required.
The nursing curriculum varies from school to school, and two nursing schools will often have different courses, even for the same program. However, there is a common thread which ADNs and BSNs follow in many American schools.
The ADN curriculum typically includes subjects that provide the basic knowledge you need for clinical care like human physiology, anatomy, psychology, and nutrition. Furthermore, an ADN often also includes experiential learning activities that are vital to the everyday functions of a nurse, like starting an IV, monitoring medical charts, and administering medication.
With a BSN, you typically get the entire curriculum of an ADN program as well as other more advanced courses like Nursing Research, Microbiology, and Pharmacology.
Cost of Schooling
With ever-increasing tuition costs and the growing student-debt menace, the cost of schooling is now as important as ever when considering a new career. However, the price of education as a nurse can vary widely based on the location or reputation of the school.
An ADN program will set you back anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000, while a BSN goes for between $40,000 and $200,000, including tuition, book costs, and other educational supplies.
On average, a BSN will cost more than an ADN, with BSNs typically going for at least a 30% premium compared to an ADN at the same school.
Job and Career Opportunities
There’s never been a better time to be a nurse because of the increasing demand for qualified professionals. Furthermore, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for new nurses has a projected growth rate of 16% over the next five years.
These statistics make nursing a very open field, irrespective of whether you join as an ADN or BSN. However, which route you choose may have a significant impact on the avenue for growth available to you.
While they often consider both BSN and ADN Registered nurses for the same entry-level nursing jobs, American hospitals see BSN as more of a standard, and they will often prefer this certification during their selection process.
Furthermore, many hospitals typically give BSNs preference, sometimes exclusively, for managerial and administrative roles due to their higher educational qualification.
While both qualifications typically get access to the same jobs, many health providers often give preference or primarily offer more specialized and higher-paying jobs to R.N.s with BSN.
Another critical factor to consider is the fact that a BSN opens the door to furthering your educational profile with a Master’s or Doctoral degree, which allows you to take on a higher role as a nurse practitioner or nurse educator.
Since they both start at similar entry-level positions, the remuneration for both R.N.s with ADN and BSN typically start about the same. However, there is a marked difference in how much these nurses bring home, especially over time.
A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics placed the average salary of R.N.s in 2018 at $71,730 per annum. However, in the same year, Payscale estimated the average pay of R.N.s with ADN at $68,000, while BSN-level RNs pulled in an average of $82,000.
Nevertheless, irrespective of qualification, an R.N.s salary can vary greatly depending on other variables like location, specialization, and experience.
R.N. vs. BSN: Pros and Cons
R.N. with ADN Pros
- With an ADN, you spend less time in school, which often translates to spending less money too
- You get to start making money sooner too
- You also get more on the job work experience which goes a long way in the nursing field
R.N. with ADN Cons
- There is often less jobs available to you as health care providers often give preference to BSN-trained nurses
- ADN tends to make you less money over time compared with BSN
- ADN is less future-proof
R.N. with BSN Pros
- You get first pick for almost every nursing job in the U.S.
- Thanks to their beefier curriculum, a BSN gives you better training in specialty areas, making it easier for you to specialize and earn more
- With a BSN you generally earn more
R.N. with BSN Cons
- The one major con with a BSN is that you spend more time and probably more money in school
R.N. vs. BSN: Which is Right for You
The answer to this question is almost always BSN. BSN graduates get first pick for virtually every job, and the chances are that you will have better prospects and earn more with this qualification.
Furthermore, the BSN is increasingly becoming the minimum standard for nurses nationwide, with laws like The BSN in 10 already requiring all new nurses in areas under the ruling to acquire a BSN within ten years of becoming a registered nurse.
Hence, if you are considering a career in nursing, a BSN is a no-brainer as it provides you with the best opportunities and maximum future-proofing. A BSN also virtually places you on the fast track to climbing the ladder with your nursing career.
However, an R.N. with ADN may be an attractive choice for some, especially those who have shorter flexibility with time and money.
If you need to start earning money as soon as possible, the R.N. with the ADN route is the way to go. You get to spend lesser time schools, less on tuition, and you can gain at least a year of experience on your BSN-schooled counterparts.
However, if you go this route, you have to consider the fact that you may have to juggle work and schooling to earn a BSN degree later on if you want to increase your career-building opportunities.