Earning either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in nursing will equip students with the knowledge and experience necessary to perform the job duties of a registered nurse (RN). However, associate's programs are often two years in length, while bachelor's programs require about four years to complete. To become licensed as a registered nurse, you must earn at least an associate's degree in nursing and pass a national examination, though it's important to note that registered nurses with a bachelor's degree may have better job prospects.
To get into an associate's or bachelor's degree program in nursing, students need to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Other requirements for these nursing programs include completing clinicals, earning licensure and becoming an RN. Graduates may continue their education and earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and a Ph.D. in Nursing, including a degree as a Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
Associate Degree in Nursing
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) qualifies students for entry-level nursing positions. ADN students explore fundamental health care skills, including patient relations, medical technologies and basic medical procedures. Because nursing students typically log a lot of clinical hours, many ADN programs offer work-study programs with the cooperation of nearby hospitals.
It is recommended that applicants to ADN programs have a background in chemistry, biology, computer science and mathematics.
Associate's degree programs in nursing include a combination of labs, lectures and clinical work. You can expect to see courses like the following in an ADN program:
- Adult health nursing
- Current trends in nursing
- Family health nursing
- Mental health nursing
Bachelor's Degree in Nursing
RNs already working might pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to bolster their knowledge or secure a raise or promotion. BSN students often pursue a specialty, like gerontological nursing, palliative care, pediatrics or alternative nursing. Additionally, as technology continues to advance, BSN programs equip students with current, relevant technical skills.
With high school diplomas and strong grade-point averages, students can enter BSN programs directly out of high school. However, many students who enroll in BSN programs already have completed an associate's degree in nursing.
In addition to prerequisite courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry and nutrition, BSN students might be required to complete these courses:
- Ethics in nursing
- Health assessment
- Nursing technology
- Public health nursing
- Reproductive health care
- Research in nursing
Popular Career Options
After gaining registered nurse experience, BSN graduates might be eligible for jobs like the following (may require additional education and licensure and/or certification):
- Nurse case manager
- Nursing director
- Nursing instructor
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) predicted that job opportunities for registered nurses would increase 16% from 2014 to 2024. The median annual salary earned by registered nurses was $67,490 in May 2015, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% of registered nurses earned just over $46,360 annually, while the top 10% brought home more than $101,630 per year (BLS).
Continuing Education Information
To qualify for registered nurse licensure, ADN graduates need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam, NCLEX-RN. Additional licensing requirements will vary by state.
RNs who would like to move on to advanced nursing positions, such as certified nurse midwife or nurse practitioner, may pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Several doctorate degrees in nursing also are available, including a Ph.D. in Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). For students seeking specialty training, nursing graduate certificates are offered in a variety of subjects like nursing education and nursing management.
Individuals wanting to start a nursing career and become an RN my choose to enroll into a two-year ADN degree or a four-year BSN degree. Students who already have a ADN degree may pursue and advanced BSN degree, just like BSN degree holders may pursue a MSN, DNS or DNP.