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The Difference Between an RN and BSN

June 23, 2020

Nurse talking with doctor.

Education plays a crucial role in the preparation of most professionals, including nurses. Developing the knowledge, competencies, and clinical skills necessary for their profession requires aspiring nurses to make careful choices about their educational path. To choose the most suitable degree program and adequately prepare for their state licensure exam, future nurses must understand key nursing terms and distinctions, but sorting through the healthcare industry’s many acronyms can cause confusion. To begin with, what’s the difference between an RN and BSN?


What Is an RN?

Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients and coordinate treatment. This involves recording medical histories, evaluating conditions, administering medication, and collaborating with other healthcare providers. RNs may work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, nursing homes, and schools.

To become an RN, individuals must complete certain educational requirements, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN), and then apply for a license in the state where they plan to practice. Some states have other requirements, such as background checks.

RNs can fulfill the educational requirements in different ways. At a minimum, they must earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN). They can also complete nursing diploma programs. These two- to three-year programs offer similar coursework to associate degree programs but add additional clinical hours. However, they do not provide a degree. Although nursing diploma programs were once a popular step toward becoming an RN, few of them exist today. Finally, RNs can meet the educational requirements by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).


What Is a BSN?

BSN degree programs offer students a comprehensive curriculum that covers physical, social, and behavioral sciences. Courses teach anatomy and physiology, as well as psychology and microbiology. Additionally, these degree programs feature clinical practicums in which students apply what they have learned under supervision. Nurses can typically earn a BSN in four years.

A BSN makes graduates eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for an RN license. It can also serve as a stepping stone for nurses interested in pursuing supervisory roles or positions that involve more intricate nursing practices. With a BSN, RNs are also eligible to get certifications in specialized areas such as anesthesiology, obstetrics, and gerontology.

Nurses interested in earning an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) need to first hold a BSN. MSN and DNP programs greatly broaden a nurse’s scope of practice and allow graduates to serve in a wide range of leadership roles, including nursing administrator and chief nursing officer.


RNs With and Without a BSN

The primary difference between an RN and BSN is that an RN is a type of nurse and a BSN is a type of degree. Nurses can be RNs with or without a BSN; however, earning a BSN can create opportunities for RNs. Some healthcare organizations will not hire RNs without a BSN, even for entry-level positions. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 43.2% of hospitals and other healthcare providers would not hire nurses without a BSN in 2019. That’s a considerable jump from 2011, when only 30.1% required new hires to have a BSN. Hiring practices that exclude RNs without a BSN will likely increase, considering 82.1% of healthcare organizations prefer to hire BSN graduates.

The salaries for RNs with and without a BSN can vary as well. RNs without a BSN earn a median salary of approximately $69,000 a year, while RNs with a BSN earn a median salary of approximately $83,000 a year, according to PayScale data from April 2020.

The National Advisory Council on Nursing Education and Practice (NACNEP) has found that the scope of practice for RNs has increased in complexity. As such, today’s RNs require an especially strong foundation in the sciences as well as advanced critical thinking skills. BSN graduates hold an advantage when it comes to meeting these requirements and fulfilling the complex demands of nurses.


Career Paths for RNs

The job market for RNs looks bright. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses will experience a 12% increase in jobs by 2028. Additionally, the field of nursing offers RNs an array of employment options that cater to various interests and skills. With the right education and certifications, RNs can choose to work in areas ranging from mental health to cardiovascular care. The following positions may be available to nurses with a BSN, depending on their qualifications:


Public Health Nurses

Public health nurses focus on disease prevention and health promotion. They engage community members through outreach programs and education, and they may work on health campaigns addressing everything from opioid abuse to obesity.


Quality Coordinators

Quality coordinators work to ensure that nurses comply with quality standards as well as regulations regarding medical records and performance. They conduct quality reviews, investigate complaints, and develop plans to improve the quality of care patients receive.


School Nurses

Schools nurses work in elementary, middle, and high schools, caring for student injuries in emergency situations, providing routine screenings, and organizing support groups for issues such as eating disorders and substance abuse. They also may administer medication and care for students who become sick during the school day.


Case Managers

Case managers can work with a range of patients, including homebound elderly people and hospital patients with complex needs. These nurses assess patients’ needs and connect them with the appropriate services and resources.


The Benefits of an RN to BSN Program

As healthcare organizations increasingly require nurses to have a bachelor’s degree, RNs without one should consider the best paths to fulfilling this requirement. Fortunately, many universities offer programs designed to help working nurses earn their BSN. RN to BSN programs allow practicing nurses to earn their bachelor’s degree by completing core nursing courses and general education requirements.

Discerning the difference between an RN and BSN is the first step aspiring nurses need to take when planning their career paths. To secure higher-paying positions and expand their scope of practice, nurses can cultivate the skills required in healthcare by earning a BSN.


Completing an Online RN to BSN Program

LSU Online’s RN to BSN program focuses on the skills and training today’s nurses need to succeed. By completing 45 online credit hours, students cultivate the information-management, analytical, and problem-solving skills that can empower them to advance their careers and reach new professional goals. Courses such as Informatics and Community Health Nursing deepen their knowledge of clinical practice, while courses such as Communication Fundamentals and Cultural Diversity prepare them to better respond and adapt to their increasingly complex work environments.

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