BSN Degree vs RN Differences

Are you interested in a nursing career? Then you should know that there are several paths to becoming a nurse. Two of the most common ways are to earn your RN designation through a 1 year program, or to earn your four year bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN. Let’s take a closer look at these two options so you can decide how you want to start your nursing career.

Education Requirements

Earning your RN with a diploma program usually is a one or two year process. Getting your BSN straight out of high school will take four years. The advantage to earning your RN with a diploma program is that it does not take as much time as a BSN. Once you pass your NCLEX exam, you can then start to work as a nurse. This allows you to gain nursing experience faster. This could be a big benefit for you, if you want to see if nursing is the right career for you, before committing to a BSN program.

Many nurses choose to not earn their BSN right out of high school. However, in many cases, nurses decide it will greatly benefit their career if they earn their BSN eventually. The good news is that you can earn your BSN after getting your RN diploma, and it often will take no more than two years. These days, there are many RN to BSN online degree programs available, and many of them are online.

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*Source: (analysis of nurse job postings, 4/25/2013-7/21/2013)

Different Job Types

If you earn a degree or diploma in nursing, you will be doing nursing care, but the type of work you do will depend upon your education level.

People with an RN designation will do simple nursing care, such as recording patient symptoms, working with simple medical equipment, educating patients on diseases and illnesses, and work in close consultation with doctors and other nurses.

If you earn your BSN, you will have many more options with higher responsibility and higher pay. People with a BSN can choose to be a nurse educator, a public health nurse, or to specialize in specific age groups or diseases. A nurse educator has to have a BSN to even be considered for work.

A BSN also is a stepping stone to the best nursing jobs, such as nurse practitioner, nurse midwife or clinical nurse. All of those jobs require you to earn your master of science in nursing, or MSN.

Job and Salary Potential

The field of nursing is a booming field, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics finding jobs will grow at a brisk 19% from 2012-22, which is faster than average. BLS states that 2,711,000 people are working as nurses today, and 3,238,400 will be working as nurses in 2022.

BLS also states that the median salary for nurses is $65,470 per year.

However, your salary and job potential will vary greatly by your level of education. A recent study of 187,000* nursing job postings that were posted over 90 days found the following breakdown of education requirements for the jobs:

  • Diploma or associate’s degree – 51%

  • Bachelor’s degree – 37%

  • Graduate degree – 23%

  • High school – 6%

These stats show that an RN is eligible for 51% of these jobs, while a BSN holder is going to be eligible for 88% of the jobs. Also, the analysis in this study of salary showed that the mean salary for associate’s or RN holders was $66,000, and for those with a BSN, it was $75,000. finds that there are large differences in salary for people with only an RN, compared to a BSN. 2014 data shows that an RN earns a median of $39,100, while a BSN holder earns $69,000:


Evidence Shows That Nurses With BSN Give Better Care

For the last 10 years, the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing has been collecting nursing research that shows that higher education does make a difference in the quality of clinical practice. The studies that they have collected show that nurses who have a bachelor’s degree in nursing have superior patient outcomes, such as lower rates of mortality and lower failure to rescue rates.

Also, research shows that nurses who have a BSN are more proficient in making diagnoses and evaluating nursing interventions.

Another Good Reason to Earn Your BSN – It May Be a Requirement in 2020

If you are debating whether just being an RN is enough, or should you get your BSN, consider the following:

According to the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released a report on the nursing profession. In that report, the IOM recommended that the number of nurses with a BSN increase from 50% to 80% by 2020. Nurses with an associate’s degree or a diploma are to be ‘encouraged’ to earn their BSN within five years of graduation.

According to the AACN, what is happening in the field is that hospitals and other medical facilities are following the IOM guidelines, because IOM is a highly respected institution in the US. Many employers are requiring that nurses have their BSN by 2020, or face termination.

Bottom Line

Earning your RN diploma is a great start to your nursing career. You can graduate quickly, and start earning money and getting nursing experience. This is a good way for you to try out the career, before you commit to a BSN program.

However, your career and salary options will be limited with only an RN diploma. You also will be able to earn your BSN faster once you have your RN diploma. And keep in mind that future requirements look like they are going to be largely mandating nurses have a BSN in coming years.

To meet future health management requirements, recent research and public policy recommendations strongly stress the need for more highly educated nurses. A recent institute of Medicine report recommends that 80% of all nurses hold BSN’s by 2020.


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