Registered Nurse (RN) Degree

Curious about Registered nurse degrees? Explore the requirements for each type of degree and what each degree type can do for your career.

Registered Nurse Degree

Working as a registered nurse (RN) work entails teaming up with doctors and the rest of the medical team to monitor and treat patients. Additionally, RNs also commonly work with families and patients to make sure that at-home care is understood. There are several programs to become an RN and to earn your associate or bachelor's degree in nursing. Both associate and bachelor's degrees will prepare you to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) certification exam in order to become a full-fledged RN.

Registered Nurse Degree Pre-Requisites and Requirements

Every college has its own RN degree program requirements. Because of this, you'll find that there are often varied GPA requirements between schools and different educational requirements for RN programs. For instance, some Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs will want you to be a licensed practical nurse (LPN) prior to entering an RN ADN program. Some BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degrees will require you to already be a licensed registered nurse with an associate's degree under your belt. It's important to note that completing these degrees do not make you licensed; certification exams, specifically the NCLEX-RN exam allow you to become an RN. Also, different states may differ in prerequisites, so be sure to check with your state's RN licensing requirements to see if you meet all of the criteria to take the test.

If you know you want to be a nurse early on, consider taking courses in human anatomy, biology, and health in high school. Becoming certified in CPR and first aid can also be very beneficial when entering a post-secondary program.

Registered Nurse Associate Degree

An associate degree is a good first step for those who want to become a registered nurse, as an associate's degree in nursing is the minimum requirement for taking the certification exam. There are a few degree options for RN associate's programs, including an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN), and an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Perhaps the most common for nurses is the ADN degree.

While you can take both brick-and-mortar and online ADN programs, you'll find that no nursing program can be fully completed online. This is because there is always a clinical aspect or a simulation course that requires on-campus study. Simulation labs often include high-tech dummies that can provide specific symptoms and illnesses that cannot be easily duplicated in a clinical setting. Other courses you'll likely study during an ADN program include:

  • Fundamentals of nursing
  • Surgical nursing
  • Health assessment
  • Phlebotomy
  • Nutrition
  • IV therapy
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology

Once you've completed your courses and earned your degree, you'll be eligible to sit for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NBCSN) NCLEX-RN exam, which will certify you nationally as a registered nurse.

Registered Nurse Bachelor's Degree

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is not necessary to become an RN. The difference between an RN and BSN degree is that a BSN is an advanced degree that will put you on course with taking more leadership or teaching roles as a nurse. As with an ADN, many of these programs can be found online; however, these are still hybrid programs that require some experience in a clinical or campus setting. There are a few different types of BSN programs. Perhaps the most common is for those who already have their ADN and want to get an advanced degree. Another common BSN program is for students who already have a bachelor's degree, but not in nursing. You'll also find that many BSN programs are accelerated, being able to be completed in as little as 15 months. BSN programs will include clinicals, but will also include courses in such as:

  • Human anatomy
  • Nursing informatics
  • Microbiology
  • Nursing management
  • Therapeutics
  • Genetics
  • Community health nursing

Registered Nurse Master's Degree

RNs can continue their education with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Online RN to MSN programs generally require clinical requirements that can be completed on campus or in hospital settings. This program is very common for those who are working fulltime and would like to continue their education. Having an MSN degree will open you up for management positions and other career opportunities, like nurse practitioner. MSN salaries also tend to be higher than other lower degrees. If you want to move from an ADN or BSN to an MSN, common courses include:

  • Health promotion
  • Nurse education
  • Nursing management
  • Health assessment through the lifespan
  • Healthcare systems
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Technology in healthcare
  • Applied research

MSN degrees usually require you to already have either an ADN or a BSN. Most MSN degrees can be completed in as little as 15 months. Once you have completed this program, you will be set to take the NCLEX-PN (for nurse practitioner) certification exams.

Registered Nurse Certification Programs

There are two types of RN certificate programs out there. First, there is the one that is typically completed by those who are already licensed practical nurses (LPNs). A certificate and diploma program in nursing can be completed much more quickly because the basic foundations and practices of nursing are already known. Through continuing education nursing courses and certificate programs, you can improve on an already existing degree or refresh your skills before entering an RN program. Some of these courses may include pain management, mental health, pharmacology, or special topics on trending medical practices. These certificate programs can result in more job opportunities, higher pay, and certification renewal.

Other certificate programs can focus on a specific area of nursing, such as pediatric certification. These programs tend to look at a specific area within the medical field and provide you with the specific knowledge for that demographic, anatomy, or illness. For instance, an oncology certificate would look at working with cancer patients, the common terminology, medicine, and treatments. Often, these programs will include clinical work within the area you want to specialize in. Upon completion of these programs, you can seek out additional voluntary licensure in your area, such as the Dermatology Nursing Certification Exam given by the Dermatology Nurses' Association.

Online Registered Nursing Programs

Many colleges and universities offer online ADN degrees, BSN degrees, and MSN degrees. These online RN colleges are not always equal, so it is important that you check to make sure the program is accredited. Some of the common accreditation bodies include the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the Accreditation Commission in Nursing Education (ACNE), and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). If your school or program is accredited by one of these institutions, you can be sure it is a safe program.

As mentioned before, there is no such thing as a wholly online RN program. You will need to complete at least the clinicals and simulations on campus. Beyond this, all prerequisites for online RN programs should be the same as other colleges. You will need a high school diploma, and for upper level programs, such as the BSN and MSN, you'll often need to be a registered RN as well.

These programs are also great if you want to get an online RN refresher course online. These courses can count as credit toward future degree programs if they are accredited. These can also be great ways to find out more information on a nursing focus or to meet continuing education credits required to maintain and renew your nursing license.