Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
The ASN, depending on the state, is sufficient for taking the registered nurse test and working as a nurse. This degree program may be taken at a community college, vocational school or university. It can be completed in 2 years and typically offers the required classes necessary to work as a nurse, including anatomy, biology, psychology, nursing practice, behavioral health nursing, pharmacology, microbiology and surgical nursing courses.
The associate's degree program will likely take anywhere from 69 to over 100 credit hours to complete. In addition to the nursing courses required, the student may be asked to take some writing, business and oral communication and humanities courses. Graduation from this program allows students to work as entry-level RNs and prepares students to pursue continuing education in nursing.
Although most students pursue the ASN to gain entry-level nursing positions, a nursing diploma program also prepares students for similar careers. The nursing diploma program is primarily offered through teaching hospitals and includes classroom and clinical courses in nursing topics.
Some teaching hospitals that offer nursing diplomas require that general education coursework be completed at a nearby community college. This is essentially a 'learn by doing' diploma and may take 2-3 years to complete.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
A bachelor's degree program in nursing takes 4 years, like most bachelor's degree programs. Some of the required core courses may include philosophy, science, English, theology and sociology.
Coursework in a BSN program can cover topics such as chemistry, microbiology, wellness, illness, nursing process, mental health nursing, professional nursing roles, nurse management and nursing in a specialized setting. This degree program may also lead to a career as a RN, though with a bachelor's degree, more options are available, such as a management role and going to graduate school for a nursing specialization.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
A master's degree in nursing often takes 2 years for full-time students and is designed for those who already work as RNs and would either like to move into leadership or a specialized position. Some specialization options that an RN can pursue are community health nursing, nursing education, oncology, mental health nursing and women's health. Nurses looking to move up in terms of pay and responsibility may also consider master's degree programs in nursing management.
Doctoral Degrees in Nursing
Doctoral degree programs in nursing, such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS), often take between 3-5 years to complete, though this depends on the program and whether a student is enrolled full- or part-time. Students can enter a doctoral nursing degree program upon completing their bachelor's or master's degree in nursing or through an accelerated BSN to Ph.D. program. The program prepares nurses for a variety of upper-level jobs, including nurse scientist, certified nursing midwife, clinical nursing specialist and nurse practitioner.