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Registered Nursing Degree Program Overviews

Aspiring RNs can complete diploma programs in nursing from hospitals or opt for associate's or bachelor's degrees in nursing from 2-year or 4-year colleges. Students interested in science and medicine who want to work with people in a fast-paced environment may enjoy RN careers.

Essential Information

Students in registered nursing programs learn to perform diagnostic tests, identify illnesses, assist physicians and follow-up with patients. All of these programs include lecture-based courses and extensive clinical components to prepare students for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Admission requirements for these programs usually include a high school diploma or GED, along with qualifying minimum GPAs and standardized test scores.


Diploma in Registered Nursing

A registered nursing diploma program is a hospital-based program that can be beneficial to those who prefer extensive hands-on experience over classroom learning. During a hospital-based program, prospective nurses receive extra training in patient care, as well as spend more time around doctors and other hospital personnel.

In addition to extensive hands-on practical training, classes in a nursing diploma program may include:

  • Introduction to nursing
  • Sociology
  • Adult patient care
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Advanced nursing practice

Associate of Science in Nursing

An associate's degree program in nursing focuses on patient care and ethical and legal standards in nursing. Throughout the program, students receive classroom instruction in courses such as anatomy and chemistry. Students will also participate in supervised clinical work in real-world healthcare settings. They will practice identifying conditions in patients, reading and understanding medical documents and performing tests and other medical procedures on patients.

Typical coursework in an Associate of Science in Nursing program includes:

  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Foundations of nursing
  • Math for nursing

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Students who wish to go straight into a 4-year university, or those who have graduated from a 2-year degree program at a technical school or college, might consider enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Students learn to treat a range of patients, including infants, mentally ill patients and the elderly, during clinical practice under professional supervision. Additionally, a bachelor's degree program in nursing provides students with extensive practice and preparation for the NCLEX.

Courses in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program may include:

  • Surgical nursing
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Health assessments for adults
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Nursing leadership

Possible Career Options

Registered nurses with an Associate of Science in Nursing can work in a variety of medical settings, including:

  • Doctor's offices
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient centers
  • Schools
  • Home healthcare
  • Clinics
  • Nursing homes

Registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing can work in all the same medical settings as those with an associate's degree in nursing.

Continuing Education

Practicing RNs who are interested in furthering their expertise in the field, as well as those who wish to advance to a higher-paying position, may consider gaining their nurse practitioner master's degree.

A nurse practitioner master's program allows graduate students to specialize in a number of areas, including cardiovascular care, critical care, adult care, behavioral health, or pediatric care. A licensed nurse practitioner may be able to prescribe medications to patients depending on local laws and regulations.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 2,751,000 employed registered nurses in 2015, with roughly 61% working in medical and surgical hospitals. With many areas of the country showing a demand for registered nurses, future job opportunities for RNs are expected to be good. In fact, the BLS predicted a 16% increase in employment openings from 2014-2024. The median salary for an RN in May 2015 was $67,490.

Much of the education for RN programs comes through hands-on experience as opposed to the classroom, and aspiring RNs can look into diploma programs, associate's programs and bachelor's programs for their training. Graduates can look forward to good job prospects, and they can also pursue nurse practitioner degrees in order to further their careers.


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