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Holy Family College Blog

RN vs. BSN: How to Make the Right Decision for Your Nursing Career

Posted By Brianna Neuser On September 08, 2016


Two Kinds of Settlers 

Imagine two settlers in the early American West. One settler decides that he’ll be satisfied with a simple life at the foothills of a mountain. The second settler chooses to venture onward up the mountain. He wants a grander view of the plains below, and he has the stamina to get there.

Now scratch the settler thing. Settler Number 1 is like a nurse with an ADN (Associate’s Degree in Nursing) and Settler Number 2 is like a nurse with a BSN (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing).

Neither path is inherently superior; it just depends on what you want with regards to your career.

Moving or Staying Put

So the question is really: In what direction do you want your career to go? Will the ADN be enough for the career you want? Or should you go on to pursue a BSN?

If you’re interested in becoming any kind of nurse manager, you’ll need to go for the BSN at minimum as well as gain additional clinical experience by working as a registered nurse (RN) for a few years. This will prepare you to understand a nursing unit from the bottom up, which will later give you the authority to make decisions on all levels.


Did you know Holy Family College just launched a 4-year BSN degree? Click here for more information about this no-wait list program. 


The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) explains why there should be requirements that all nurse managers hold at least a BSN:

“Baccalaureate nursing programs encompass all of the course work taught in associate degree and diploma programs plus a more in-depth treatment of the physical and social sciences, nursing research, public and community health, nursing management, and the humanities … [which] enhances the student’s professional development, prepares the new nurse for a broader scope of practice, and provides the nurse with a better understanding of the cultural, political, economic, and social issues that affect patients and influence health care delivery.”

Hospitals need nurses who have higher nursing degrees to work in those leadership positions. With an advanced nursing degree, the professional doors are open to being a nurse anesthetist, chief nursing officer (in some hospitals), MDS coordinator, nurse manager, or occupational health nurse.

2-Year Nursing Programs Aren’t Always a Shortcut

Another factor to consider when deciding between the two educational routes is the strong likelihood of being waitlisted for 1 to 2 years before starting an ADN program. Because of the brevity and popularity of these 2-year degrees, there are fewer slots readily open to applicants.

Will There Be Job Openings in the Foothills?

To understand the future of nursing opportunities, we need to explain the opinions of a few leaders in the industry. A few years ago, The Institute of Medicine recommended that 80 percent of the U.S. nursing force have a BSN by 2020. This change in nursing credentials was supported by The National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP) and the AACN alike.

So now there are many states and hospitals making concrete changes to meet the 80 percent goal. They are creating more incentives — and in some situations, pressure — to return to school and earn a BSN. For example, Wisconsin is not immune to this trend.

One infographic estimates that 79 percent of all employers strongly prefer BSN graduates to ADN nurses. Hospitals trying to achieve “Magnet” status (the supposed gold standard for quality hospitals) largely prefer nurses with an advanced degree. These hospitals require that all nurse managers and nurse leaders hold a BSN or a graduate degree in nursing, which means that some positions that were previously open to ADNs are now solely open to those holding a BSN.

The military is another institution where the nursing standard is at the bachelor’s level. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force each “require the baccalaureate degree to practice as an active duty Registered Nurse.”

That being said, the job outlook for RNs is estimated at 16 percent growth in the next decade, with 439,300 new jobs opening up around the country — which, is significantly faster than the average profession. With aging Baby Boomers and an increased focus on preventive care, “there is no way that nursing schools will churn out enough new BSN-trained nurses in that short time frame. Hospitals will need all the capable nurse professionals that they can get — including ones with ADNs.”

More Money up the Mountain

Nursing salary gaps really come into play when different levels of education allow for totally different levels of opportunity. As mentioned before, an ADN will allow you to work as an RN — no more, no less. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for an RN is just over $67,000. But a BSN (or even a master’s degree) qualifies you for several more specialized positions that can earn much more: an MDS coordinator can make up to $79,000 a Clinical Nurse Manager can make up to $102,000 and a Chief Nursing Officer will make anything from $82,000 to $182,000.

Although money is a factor in your career decisions, it’s probably not the only one. Other factors include: cost of living, city, location, etc.

Choosing Where to Build Your Cabin

It’s important to remember that pursuing an advanced degree is a commitment. BSNs require approximately four years and the tuition that goes along with that. Many schools offer scholarships and financial aid which help students counter the cost of a degree; but even applying for financial aid requires some time and financial flexibility. After working on a 2-year ADN, you can begin practicing as a nurse immediately after passing the NCLEX. And if you choose to continue on to a BSN, there are increasing options for RN to BSN programs.

Ultimately, you’re the settler in this story. You not only know best the cabin and the view you want, but also the kind of journey you’re willing to take for them.   


Did you know Holy Family College just launched a 4-year BSN degree? Click here for more information about this no-wait list program.


Topics: Nursing

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Deciding where, when and by what means to go to college can be a difficult decision process. We want to help! The Holy Family College Blog is intended to be a resource as you navigate these choices, from what type of school to choose to how to finance your education. Watch this space for helpful tips. 

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