There are two major educational paths to registered nursing: A bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN), and an associate degree in nursing (ADN). BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, typically take four years to complete (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). ADN programs, offered by community and junior colleges, take two years to complete. Nursing students are advised by professional nursing associations to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in a BSN program, because, if they do, their advancement opportunities are typically broader and they are better prepared to handle today’s complex nursing demands.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recently issued a position paper, promoting baccalaureate-level preparation for entry into professional nursing practice (Rosseter, 2004). The organization is making many efforts to increase the education level of the nation’s registered nurse workforce. Efforts to increase the availability of baccalaureate programs and increase the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses nationwide aim to create a more highly educated nursing workforce.
Some career paths are open only to nurses with a bachelor’s degree or higher (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). A bachelor’s degree is often the minimum requirement for administrative positions and is a prerequisite for admission to graduate nursing programs in research, consulting, and teaching, and all four advanced practice-nursing specialties-clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.
In most health care settings, management-level nursing positions require a graduate or an advanced degree in nursing or health services administration. BSN nurses get more extensive training in communication, leadership, and critical thinking, all of which are increasingly important and desirable as nursing care becomes more complex.
According to AACN (Rosseter, 2004), baccalaureate nursing programs are now being offered in community colleges, which must develop these programs with the same scientific and liberal education foundation used in BSN programs at four-year colleges and achieve the same quality standards set by nursing’s specialized accreditation agencies.
The emergence of community college BSN programs highlights the national need for more programs to increase the education level of the nursing workforce (Rosseter, 2004). These programs validate that nurses with associate and baccalaureate degrees are not equally prepared for nursing practice and have distinct differences when it come to competencies. Because today’s increasingly complex health care system requires a more highly educated nursing staff, the need for nurses who hold a BSN or higher is rapidly increasing.
The Associate Degree focuses more on technical skills than theory and is often a stepping stone to the BSN. It lets a student become a Registered Nurse and earn money more quickly than the longer BSN program, so it works better for a lot of students.
The Bachelor of Science degree in nursing is perceived as an important first step for a career in professional nursing (AACN, 2004). The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and other leading nursing organizations recognize the BSN degree as the minimum educational requirement for professional nursing practice. While graduates can start practicing as an RN with an associate degree, the BSN degree is a requirement for nurses seeking to become case-managers or supervisors.
In comparison to nurses with associate degrees, the BSN nurse is prepared for a broader role — The BSN nurse is the only basic nursing graduate who can practice in all health care settings — emergency, ambulatory care, public health, and mental health (AACN, 2004). Therefore, the BSN has more employment options that an RN with an associate’s degree. The BSN curriculum includes a wide range of scientific, critical-thinking, humanistic, communication, and leadership skills, including specialized courses on community health nursing.
These skills are not adequately covered in associate-degree tracks, yet are important for professional nurses today, who must be skilled managers and coordinators of care. Nurses must always think on their feet, making quick and educated decisions. They must also understand a patient’s treatment, symptoms, and danger signs; supervise nursing personnel; coordinate with other health providers; understand advanced technology; and teach patients how to take care of themselves and adopt a healthy lifestyle.
BSN nursing programs are more likely than associate degree tracks to provide students with on-site clinical training in non-institutional settings outside the hospital (AACN, 2004). Therefore, the BSN nurse is better prepared to work in home health agencies, outpatient centers, and neighborhood clinics. In addition, many hospital administrators are requesting that the majority of their hospital staff nurses hold BSNs to meet the demands of today’s patient care.
Rosseter, Robert. (April, 2004). AACN’s Statement on Baccalaureate Nursing Programs. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Position Statement.
American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). (March 10, 2004). Your Nursing Career: A Look at the Facts. American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. (December 20, 2005). Occupational Outlook Handbook.