Learn the differences in duties, requirements, specialties, and salaries between an RN and a BSN
Registered nurse. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? For those who reach that level of nursing accreditation, it announces to the world that you have accomplished something truly special. It says you have the education, experience, and licensure necessary to assist doctors and deliver the highest level of skilled care to patients.
But as you already know, not all registered nurses are the same. Registered nurses fall into two categories: registered nurses with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Anyone contemplating a career as a registered nurse will need to evaluate the pros and cons of each pathway and decide which direction is best for them.
This guide will explore the key differences between these two types of registered nurses, the education requirements for each, their income potential, and job outlooks. Armed with this information, we hope to provide you with the information you need to understand the differences between an RN and a BSN and perhaps to help guide the path you take toward becoming a registered nurse.
Click here to learn how to become a Registered Nurse.
RN vs. BSN: Definition
What is an RN?
A registered nurse is a licensed healthcare professional who has graduated from an accredited nursing program (either a two-year ADN program or a BSN degree program). They must also satisfy all the requirements established by the state in which they practice by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). RNs who wish to work within a certain specialty may choose to become certified through that specialty’s professional association. Your state may not require specialty certification, but some employers find significant value in it.
What is a BSN?
A BSN, or Bachelor of Science in Nursing, is a three to four-year college bachelor’s degree that provides a higher level of education and training than that provided by ADN programs. BSN programs cover all the curricula found in an ADN program plus additional coursework that helps round out that student’s education and positions the student for leadership and management roles. After earning their degree, BSN graduates are required to pass the same NCLEX-RN test taken by ADN candidates. As a result of the additional education, BSN-RNs are otherwise better positioned for certain nursing specialties, career advancement opportunities, and better pay.
RN vs. BSN: Duties & Responsibilities
Pick any medical specialty, or pick any healthcare setting, and one thing is for certain: you’ll find a registered nurse playing a key role on the team caring for the patient. For RNs with an ADN, there is a range of employment opportunities, each with their own unique roles and responsibilities.
As with any position, an RN’s responsibilities grow with experience. Early in your career, an RN can expect to be a generalist handling a wide range of basic tasks. An RN will likely spend a large part of their day interfacing with patients with duties like taking and recording a patient’s vital signs, assisting with procedures, discussing and observing patient symptoms and sharing their observations with the doctor.
RNs are also often in charge of diagnostic testing, so they often perform duties like drawing blood and collecting samples for analysis. Additionally, an RN can expect to educate patients about the medical conditions they face and explain any treatment plans necessary to bring the patient back to good health.
All RNs must also be reliable administrators. RNs are responsible for keeping accurate charts for each patient under their care. For example, in a hospital setting, an RN can be accountable for patient intake, which will require documentation of a patient’s important medical history. An RN will also be responsible for charting a patient’s condition throughout their hospital stay, administering medicines as prescribed, and accurately charting the time and dosage.
RNs who hold a BSN will begin their careers much like their ADN-holding counterparts with many patient-facing duties including taking a patient’s vital signs, discussing and charting symptoms and meeting with the doctor to discuss their observations. In addition, they too may be assigned responsibility for diagnostic testing.
Perhaps the most significant difference between BSN and ADN nurse responsibilities is a function of the position itself. The fact is, more and more RN job postings call for a BSN. So while the duties and responsibilities between the two types of degree holders may be similar while fresh out of nursing school, BSN-RNs have more job opportunities, especially if that position is likely to require a more diverse educational background.
Additionally, healthcare employers want to avoid a turnover rate with their RNs. By hiring and retaining BSN-RNs who can more easily grow into the greater responsibilities (and higher pay) of managerial and director-level positions, those employers save on the significant costs of onboarding, training and retention.
RN vs. BSN: Education
Educational Requirements for RNs
We’ve already touched on the two educational paths you can take to become an RN, but there’s more to the story. Both ADN and BSN degrees require students to complete their clinicals, and both will prepare you to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which all RNs pass to gain licensure.
ADN programs are offered by colleges and universities and can usually be completed in 18 – 24 months. The cost of earning an ADN is also significantly lower than a four-year BSN degree. The shortened timeframe and lower cost for an ADN degree makes it an ideal choice for many students seeking the fastest route to a rewarding career as an RN.
Typically, ADN programs require nursing students to possess a high school diploma or GED certificate with a certain minimum GPA. Many schools also require written essays, school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores. A typical ADN curriculum begins with a mix of liberal arts and science courses, including:
- Human Anatomy & Physiology
- English Composition
The nursing-focused coursework for an ADN may include:
- Nursing Ethics
- Psychiatric Nursing
- Pediatric Nursing
- Emergency Nursing
BSN programs also require students to hold a high school diploma or GED certificate, provide transcripts that show a certain GPA, include an essay with their nursing school application, provide their SAT or ACT scores as well as multiple letters of recommendation.
A BSN degree expands on the educational foundations of the typical ADN program. Its curriculum is more broad-based and includes additional coursework that varies by program, but may include such courses as:
- College Algebra
- Nursing Theory
- Healthcare Administration
- Humanities electives
- Social Science electives
- Communications electives
RN vs. BSN: Salary
How Much Do RNs Make?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the national average annual income for all RNs in 2020 is about $80,000, with an hourly rate of around $38. For those RNs who earn salaries in the highest 10% make as much as $116,000. This BLS report does not differentiate between ADN-RNs and BLS-RNs, so these figures represent the combined average earnings for both categories of degree holders.
How Much Do BSNs Make?
Because a BSN degree carries more weight than an ADN degree in the eyes of prospective employers, chances are that RNs with a BSN will earn more than those nurses with an ADN. In fact, according to bsnedu.org, the 2019 Medscape RN/LPN Compensation Report indicates that RNs who hold a bachelor’s degree earned an average salary* of $80,000, while those nurses who hold an ADN-RN earned $75,000 annually.
RN vs. BSN: Job Outlook
RN Job Outlook
According to the BLS, the estimated overall employment for registered nurses will grow 9% by 2029, which is close to twice the average growth rate across all other jobs during the same time period (4%). They predict that the aging of the overall population, and the increased instances of medical problems that go with it will likely result in increased hospitalizations, long-term care facilities and healthcare in home settings. The BLS anticipates increased demand for RNs in these areas for some time to come.
BSN Job Outlook
By virtue of their educational leg-up over their ADN-RN counterparts, BSN-RNs enjoy more than an advantage in entry-level employment, they carry that advantage throughout their careers. Their BSN degrees also make them eligible for positions of greater responsibility and pay as they gain work experience.
Certain specialized nursing positions are becoming the exclusive domain of BSN holders. So if your career goal is to grow into any of the following nursing specialties, a BSN degree will significantly improve your future employment opportunities:
- Occupational Health Nurse
- Clinical Nurse Manager
- Research Nurse
- Informatics Nurse
- Critical Care Nurse
- Nurse Advocate
- Oncology Nurse
- And more
The Pros and Cons of Becoming an ADN-RN versus a BSN-RN
|Length of education||18 – 24 months||36 – 48 months|
|Cost of education||Less expensive||More expensive|
|Pay||Lower salary||Higher salary|
Everyone’s career goals and life priorities are different, so the decision to choose between an ADN-RN or a BSN-RN is a very personal one. However, either career path is more than honorable and is a major accomplishment with nothing but upside for personal and professional development.
If you are an ADN-RN looking to earn your BSN degree, click here to learn more about our RN to BSN program. For those with even higher aspirations, the hybrid (80% online/20% in-person) format of our Bachelor of Science Nursing program gets their careers launched while accommodating a busy work/life schedule.
Click here to learn more about all the programs and opportunities available to you at Provo College.