You may encounter the terms ‘RN’ and ‘BSN’ should you wish to pursue a career as a nurse. Here’s a guide to help choose the best option.

Pursuing a career in the medical field is a lifelong commitment. It can take years of education and training before anyone can work as a health professional. Yet, many choose to pursue a career as a health worker despite hardships because of the amount of fulfillment. 

Health professionals are an essential part of society and are well-respected across all industries. One of the most critical jobs in the health sector is nursing. A nurse’s role is vital to ensure the proper care and assistance in any health-related situation. Nurses can work in hospitals and health clinics or in calmer environments like schools, big companies, or long-term care facilities.  

Some people assume that all nurses perform the same tasks when there are different paths a nurse can take, depending on the field they want to enter. You may encounter the terms ‘RN’ and ‘BSN’ should you wish to pursue a career as a nurse. Before choosing which option is best for you, here’s a helpful guide to better understand an RN and BSN’s differences.  

What is an RN?   

An RN or a registered nurse is a nursing professional who provides support and treatment to individuals who need medical attention. Registered nurses may have specialties and work in different medical departments. Specific duties will vary according to their respective fields. Most registered nurses can work in a particular area, such as the emergency room, pediatrics, oncology, or even surgery.   

An RN’s tasks may include assisting doctors on duty, monitoring patients, administering medication, providing assistance to patients and family members, and tracking medical records.  

Before someone can qualify as a registered nurse, one must first complete at least one of these academic titles:  

  • A diploma in nursing  
  • A diploma for an associate degree program in nursing  
  • A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree or RN to BSN program  

Aside from the educational requirement, all aspiring nurses must pass a licensure exam before working as an RN.  

What is a BSN?   

BSN or the Bachelor of Science in Nursing course is an academic program offered to individuals who wish to pursue a nursing career. This program takes four years to complete and is a preferred qualification to become an RN. Registered nurses who hold an associate degree in nursing can also pursue this program to advance their nursing education.    

A BSN degree has become a standard for most entry-level nursing positions. While RNs with a nursing diploma and associate degrees are still licensed professionals, pursuing a bachelor’s degree can lead to more career opportunities. Also, nurses who finished their BSN can pursue a master’s or doctoral degree.   

Several programs and schools help RNs who are working to pursue their BSN. If you want to learn more about the best RN to BSN programs available, click here.   

What are the differences between an RN and a BSN?   

One key difference between an RN and a BSN is that holding a bachelor’s degree in nursing doesn’t automatically make you a registered nurse. You must first pass a licensure exam to be considered an RN. Furthermore, not all RNs hold a BSN degree.   

Many aspiring and registered nurses now prefer to get a bachelor’s degree instead of an associate degree since a BSN is preferred by many employers, with some exclusively hiring RNs who have a BSN diploma. 

Here are other factors that set an RN and a BSN apart.  

1. Educational Background  

To become an RN, you must first meet all the state licensure requirements. All nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a registered nurse. One prerequisite to the exam is an ADN or a BSN from an accredited school or nursing program.   

Nurses who choose to pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can complete their studies in two years. This program teaches the necessary skills and knowledge needed to perform the duties and responsibilities of a nurse.   

A BSN, on the other hand, will require four years to finish. This program will educate nurses on the basic requirements for a nurse and open doors in leadership and administrative roles. The program will also help develop skills beyond their nursing practice, such as research and social sciences. Nurses with BSN degrees can advance to positions in public health, management, or higher education.   

An RN working with an associate degree can always pursue a more advanced education by getting a BSN degree in school or online. Obtaining a degree online is an option for nurses who are working full-time. Completing a degree online can be done in as fast as 18 months.  

2. Skill Set 

Associate degree holders and BSN nurses both possess the core competencies needed to perform a registered nurse’s duties and responsibilities. All RNs train to perform clinical tasks, administrative tasks, and regular care for patients. However, a BSN allows nurses to develop other skills needed on the job, such as social and communication skills.  

Besides patient care, RNs with a BSN degree can also take on more challenging roles in leadership and management. A BSN will also be critical should a nurse decide to pursue a different specialization. RNs with a bachelor’s degree can work as pediatric nurses, clinical nurse managers, surgical nurses, or research nurses upon completing additional training. Specialized fields are only available for nurses who completed their BSN since these require advanced knowledge and practice.  

3. Career Opportunities  

Jobs for nurses will continue to rise in the coming years, according to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The demand is due to the increasing number of individuals with chronic illnesses needing medical attention. There are about 175,900 job openings for registered nurses each year. 

With the current medical landscape, healthcare professionals are more critical now than ever, and this trend will only continue in the years to come. However, there are limited career opportunities for RNs who don’t have a BSN. But there are still several career opportunities available for registered nurses. RNs can choose to focus on a specialty of care. Some options include being nurse practitioners, emergency room nurses, or nurse managers.  

Besides the necessary skill set needed to become a nurse, many hospitals and healthcare facilities now prefer to hire nurses who hold a BSN over RNs with an associate degree. Furthermore, higher positions are more likely to be offered to nurses with a BSN, such as leadership and managerial roles.   

A study suggests that 39% of hospitals and healthcare settings require BSN, with 77.4% favoring RNs with a bachelor’s degree over other nursing credentials. BSN graduates also have a higher job placement rate. These findings mean that holding a BSN degree can lead to better job advancements.  

4. Salary   

Nurses with a BSN degree can work in specialized fields that may not be open for nurses without this qualification. On average, an entry-level RN will earn USD$73,300 annually, while RNs with a bachelor’s degree can earn up to more than USD$100,00 a year, depending on their assigned department. Surgery, pediatrics, and gynecology are popular fields for RNs with a BSN. 

Higher management positions offered to nurses who hold a BSN will also have a higher salary than an entry-level nurse. The pay grade is one reason why many RNs still prefer to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing.   

5. Professional Growth  

Many individuals who wish to become an RN faster will usually get a nursing diploma or associate degree since this will enable them to graduate earlier and start working as a medical professional.   

Choosing a career path to become a nurse usually boils down to personal preferences and circumstances. However, getting a BSN will help broaden job opportunities and growth in the long run.   

Nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree can pursue higher education or take up specializations in their chosen field. It will also open doors and opportunities that will contribute to professional growth, allowing new work experiences and challenges.

Taking on new responsibilities will allow an individual to further grow and improve in their careers. Those who wish to have career advancements in life should obtain a BSN as soon as they can.   

6. Work Performance 

Studies conducted by The American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) show that BSN-RNs perform better in quality and safety areas. Hospital units with a 10% increase in the proportion of BSN graduate nurses also have lower patient mortality odds.  

Some medical fields will also require more experienced nurses. Those assigned in pediatrics must possess more experience and better educational backgrounds. Not all RNs can fulfill the tasks needed by children, especially those recovering from major illnesses or treatments.   

Should I pursue a BSN?  

The nurses’ performance can contribute to a better environment, which is essential in any patient’s recovery. The skills of BSN-RNs are why many hospitals prefer to hire BSN graduates over RNs with a nursing diploma. Thus, pursuing a BSN may be a smart move, considering the opportunities available for degree holders. 

However, there are factors you may need to consider before you enroll in a BSN program. Before you decide to pursue a career as a nurse or wish to take an RN to BSN course, here are a few things to consider.  

  • School Fees

The first thing to consider before pursuing higher education is the school fees. Tuition rates for a four-year nursing program will vary depending on some factors. On average, a BSN degree in the US will cost anywhere from USD$40,000 to over USD$200,000. A nursing program offered by a public college may be cheaper compared to a private college or university. If you wish to take your degree in a private school, you can look for schools that offer grants and scholarships.  

You should also consider other expenses you’ll incur while pursuing your degree. Fees for living expenses, curriculum materials, and miscellaneous fees will also affect your decision in selecting your school.

Most RNs choose to work for a few years to save up for their tuition before enrolling. If you’re worried about the expenses, online courses are available and cheaper than on-campus programs.  

  • Schedule  

Class schedules for campus classes shouldn’t be a problem if you’re not working. But if you’re working full-time, a critical factor to consider is your work hours and class schedule. Classes held on campus will have a set time and day, which you may end up skipping due to your working hours.  

Taking your BSN degree online could be a better option since most RN to BSN programs are designed with flexible schedules. The program duration will also be shorter if you’re already an RN. Thus, check for schedule conflicts, and prepare options before deciding on a school.  

  • Commitment 

Pursuing a career as a registered nurse is very demanding. It will take long hours dedicated to studying and mastering job skills. It requires at least a two year-commitment to complete your studies.  

Once you start working, you’ll also perform many daily tasks. Advancements in your career will also mean new challenges and responsibilities. The workload can sometimes cause burnout for nurses. The job’s physical and emotional requirements could be exhausting, which is why you need to seriously ponder on the strength of your commitment before pursuing this field.   


It requires years of training and expertise to become a registered nurse. Individuals who want to pursue this career choose a nursing diploma or an associate degree so they can qualify for work faster, while some opt to earn a bachelor’s degree first.

Various opportunities that aren’t limited to hospital or health clinic work await registered nurses, as they can work in a private company, school, or a long-term care facility. They can also work under a medical specialization, such as surgery, pediatrics, or oncology. For those who wish to pursue other career tracks, teaching and managerial posts are available.

Overall, an RN with an associate diploma or a BSN are both qualified to perform the duties and responsibilities of a registered nurse. But if you want to pursue a higher career in the future, it might be best to have a BSN degree.

Originally published at The Science Times