Nursing bags are famous for having a hodge-podge of items, helping their owners prepare for just about any scenario they might fac
MEET THE EXPERT
If you feel the calling to become a nurse, you’ve probably already done a bit of research. You know that you need to pursue some form of higher education before putting on your scrubs and stethoscope, but which degree do you need? There isn’t just one answer to this question. The degree you need to enter the nursing profession depends on a number of factors. What type of nurse do you want to become? How quickly do you want to begin working? How much do you want to earn? There’s a lot to figure out before you enroll in a nursing program, but finding your path isn’t as complicated as it may seem. To learn which degree you need to make your personal nursing aspirations a reality, keep reading.
Paths to Earning Your RN Licensure
There are two main paths to earning your Registered Nurse (RN) license. One path is completing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and the other path is earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). No matter which path you choose, you’ll gain the knowledge and understanding necessary to sit for the NCLEX. Once you’ve succeeded in passing the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible for licensure and ready to begin entry-level nursing work. Here’s a more detailed look at your possible paths to licensure.
Starting with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is an undergraduate nursing degree that allows students who complete it to take the RN license examination. An ADN is sometimes achieved prior to obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, but not always.
An ADN degree prepares students to take the national exam to earn a RN license. You may begin practicing as a registered nurse after completing an ADN degree and passing the NCLEX exam. After acquiring a RN license, students may pursue a BSN degree or continue practicing as an ADN. Some students choose to continue their education with a BSN degree.
An ADN degree is considered a lower-level degree in comparison to a bachelor’s degree. BSN degrees are becoming more popular and even necessary among hospitals and other healthcare facilities hiring new graduates.
Standards of care are being compared to those with BSN degrees with a collective national push to get more BSN nurses. This is why it is so important to earn a BSN degree if you pursue a nursing career. Even if you choose to begin your nursing career as an ADN, it is advised to further your education with a BSN degree.
While a BSN is becoming a standard in the nursing world, earning your ADN can still be a good way to get your foot in the door quickly. Online ADN programs make it especially convenient for students to start earning credits will maintaining a full family or work schedule.
Leveling up with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is an undergraduate-level nursing degree offered by 4 year-universities and online colleges. A BSN is the only bachelor level nursing degree offered in the United States and is unique to nursing. You can’t obtain another healthcare related bachelor’s degree to sit for the NCLEX, it must be a BSN.
If you are looking for a non-traditional route to obtain your BSN, nurses with ADN degrees can complete “RN to BSN” bridge programs. ADN nurses can achieve a BSN degree after obtaining a RN license through this type of program.
A “bridge track” or “bridge degree” is becoming more common among colleges and universities, especially online universities. Online RN to BSN programs are readily available and often more affordable than traditional BSN programs.
Advancing to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate level degree obtained after undergraduate degree completion. MSN degrees are obtained after RN licensure has been obtained and some bedside or clinical experience is achieved. Online MSN programs are also offered to help working RNs advance their careers.
Nursing science offers many MSN degree programs for various types of specialties and interests. This degree is obtained after clinical experience is acquired. Several Master’s level nursing degrees are available including:
- MSN-Nurse Practitioner
- MSN-Clinical Nurse Specialist
- MSN-Nurse Midwife
- MSN- Nurse Anesthetists
- MSN- Nursing Education
- MSN- Clinical Management and Leadership
- MSN- Nursing Informatics
- MSN-Forensic Nursing
An MSN is considered a graduate degree but is not a terminal degree in nursing. A terminal degree is the highest-level degree offered in a field of study. Examples of terminal degrees in nursing include:
- PhD- Doctor of Philosophy
- DNSc- Doctor of Nursing Science
- DSN- Doctor of Science in Nursing
- DNP- Doctor of Nursing Practice
- EdD- Doctor of Education
- DNAP- Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia
Terminal degrees take years of study and research. You are also required to publish your own dissertation at the end of the degree program in efforts to enhance nursing practice and nursing science. Once obtained, your title is “doctor” and may be addressed as such.
Career Options for Nursing Degree Holders
Nursing is known for its countless career paths and opportunities. The choices are nearly endless. You can pursue clinical or non-clinical paths with numerous specialties in each. Most nursing mentors will advise new graduates to get at least one year at bedside completed before moving onto non-clinical roles.
There are many non-clinical nursing careers you can get with a nursing degree, so it’s a good idea to start on the clinical side and then go from there to non-clinical options. Some non-clinical opportunities for Registered Nurses include:
- Legal nurse consultant
- Nurse content writer
- Medical writer
- Documentation review (insurance companies)
- Medical device sales
- Pharmaceutical sales
- Nurse analyst/ data abstractor
- Nurse educator
Clinical nursing includes taking care of patients directly. Examples of clinical nursing include:
- Inpatient hospital settings
- Outpatient clinics
- Surgical centers
- School nursing
- Telehealth nursing
- Public health
- Skilled nursing
- Nursing home
- Long-term care facilities
- Correctional facilities
Ready to decide which nursing degree is right for you? Here a few final questions to ask yourself before you enroll.
ADN or BSN- Which path to take?
A nurse who obtains an ADN or a BSN will take the same NCLEX exam. The difference lies in the curriculum each student takes on their educational path. A BSN prepared nurse will take more leadership and management classes while an ADN nurse prepares mostly for bedside nursing with little preparation in leadership or management classes.
Although the licensure is the exact same, an ADN and BSN degree are not considered the same credentials, unfortunately, one holds more opportunities to advance within the profession.
Why would you consider a BSN?
You should consider the BSN track to start your nursing career as most hospitals are moving towards hiring only BSN nurses.
One reason for the BSN push is so that hospitals can proclaim “MAGNET” status, a prestigious accolade. A “Magnet” hospital is stated to be one where nursing delivers excellent patient outcomes, where nurses have a high level of job satisfaction, and where there is low staff nurse turnover rate and appropriate grievance resolution.
Nursing culture is changing, and that change is geared and favored toward the BSN nurse.
Which degree is right for me?
Earning a BSN degree is a good route to take if you are interested in becoming a nurse. Hiring BSN nurses will only increase, as administration continues to get higher hospital revenue down the line.
You may choose to go the traditional route and complete a BSN at a four-year university or complete your ADN and then complete a RN to BSN bridge program.
Either way, the smartest choice is to have a BSN as your end goal. Both are acceptable but the means in which it is done depends on personal preference, budget, goals, and expected timeframes.
Arguably, nurses have the most flexible jobs offered. You can work in clinical or non-clinical settings. Most will advise new nurses to start out in the clinical setting to gain valuable experiences before moving to non-clinical jobs. Overall, earning a BSN degree is the best way to start your nursing career.
Ready to choose your nursing specialty? Find where you fit with the nursing niche quiz.