RN vs BSN: Understanding the Difference


As healthcare delivery grows in complexity and expands in access, the demand for qualified and educated nurses also increases exponentially. Nurses are needed in all areas of healthcare: in hospitals, nursing care facilities, outpatient clinics, schools, doctor’s offices, and home healthcare services. Nurses must achieve a certain level of education, clinical training, and licensure before they can practice.

Nursing candidates can take any of several different paths to become licensed. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) have similar roles in healthcare facilities but different levels of training and education. Licensed practical nurses — or licensed vocational nurses — complete a yearlong training program before entering the medical field. LPNs attend to and provide care for patients but are supervised by RNs. RNs complete two to four years of education and have a higher level of responsibility than their LPN counterparts.

Licensed nurses with higher levels of education and experience can pursue nursing management and instructional roles. Nursing students interested in furthering their education, expanding their career horizons, and earning a higher salary may benefit from exploring AdventHealth University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing Online (BSN) degree. To know if this is the right next step, it’s important to first consider an RN vs. a BSN.

Similarities Between the RN and BSN

When comparing an RN to a nurse with a BSN, there are clear differences between the two roles in terms of educational requirements, but the actual foundation of the education is the same for both. Also, there is a significant overlap between the necessary career skills needed for both an RN and a nurse with a BSN.

Skills Earned Between an RN and BSN

RN and BSN students share many skills and personal characteristics. They can perform technical patient care, such as taking vital signs and handling charting duties, like accessing and making changes to patient records. Some states allow LPNs who aren’t RNs to administer medications and set up intravenous drips. Others only allow RNs to perform these duties.

Nurses, like doctors, must demonstrate professionalism as well as intentional bedside manner. They must display excellent interpersonal, verbal communication, and critical thinking skills and they must be proficient at multitasking.

Differences: RN vs. BSN

While all nurses share a common foundation of education and training, there are differences in their levels of education. Nurses, including RNs, can work toward moving into more advanced nursing roles — such as nurse supervisor or clinical educator — by furthering their education, such as through a BSN program. They can perform more important tasks and take on more responsibility in the medical field with higher levels of education.

When it comes to an RN with an associate degree vs. a nurse with a BSN, an important distinction relates to the growing need for BSN graduates in the medical field. According to the Journal of Nursing Regulation’s “2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey,” having a bachelor’s degree is becoming more common among RNs.

In 2013:

  • An associate degree was the highest degree level for 32.4% of surveyed RNs.
  • A bachelor’s degree was the highest degree level for 40.3% of surveyed RNs.

But seven years later, in 2020:

  • An associate degree was the highest degree level for 28.1% of surveyed RNs.
  • A bachelor’s degree was the highest degree level for 48.1% of surveyed RNs.

The increase in the percentage of bachelor’s degrees reflects RNs’ desire to grow in their careers and move into positions that require higher levels of education. It also is a reflection of employers’ preferring or even requiring that RNs have more advanced skills and higher levels of education. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing polled nursing schools in 2019 regarding their graduates’ ability to find employment. According to the survey results:

  • The percentage of employers requiring new hires to have a BSN was 43.2%.
  • The percentage of employers strongly preferring that new hires have a BSN was 82.1%.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Nurse

All nursing students share a common foundation in education, knowledge, and experience. All participate in classroom instruction as well as supervised clinical training in hospitals. Nurses must complete at least one year of training through a certified program. Some technical and vocational schools offer yearlong programs, while other colleges and universities specialize in two- to four-year programs. Nursing programs must be accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Upon completion of a nursing program, a graduate can apply for a license.

While all nursing students must devote time to their educational programs and supervised clinicals, RN and BSN students pursue different levels of training and education. A nursing candidate studying to be an RN must attend a program accredited by the ACEN or the CCNE. Depending on the program, the student can earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which takes about two years, or a diploma in nursing, which takes about three years. Upon completion of their various programs, RN students must apply for a license and take the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX-RN). A nursing student pursuing a BSN must also attend a program accredited by the CCNE or ACEN, and can take the NCLEX-RN to become an RN if they aren’t one already. BSN programs usually take four years to complete.

Differences in Career Growth Between an RN and BSN

As a nursing student prepares for a rigorous education and demanding clinicals, it’s encouraging to know that the field is expanding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of RNs is projected to grow 7% from 2019 to 2029. With an aging population, the career outlook for nurses is growing faster than many other occupations. As of 2019, more than 3 million RNs were employed in hospitals, educational settings, nursing facilities, residential facilities, and healthcare services. As the field grows and nurses compete for better positions, employers look for education and experience. Nurses with a BSN are likely to have better job prospects.

RN vs. BSN Salary Information

A review of RN vs. BSN salary information reveals an important distinction: Earning a BSN helps nurses earn a higher salary. Comparing the salaries of RNs with ADNs to that of RNs with BSNs, the disparity is clear. The Journal of Nursing Regulation’s “2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey” determined that, in 2020, the median annual salary for RNs with an associate degree was $63,000; the median annual salary for RNs with a bachelor’s degree was $67,000.

Benefits of a BSN

The benefits of holding a BSN are extensive for nurses. The primary benefits consist of extended career opportunities and higher salaries. However, another benefit is that earning a BSN allows nurses to bring a higher level of competence to their careers. Nurses with higher education are trusted with more responsibility and can assist patients with less supervision. By receiving more education and training, BSN graduates are more prepared than nurses with an ADN or diploma in nursing.

Different facilities may seek awards such as Magnet Recognition through the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC). Organizations that have met certain criteria for providing quality healthcare for patients can be eligible for this award. The ANCC looks for facilities where 100% of nurse managers and nurse leaders have a baccalaureate or graduate degree in nursing. By earning a BSN, nurses can help qualify their facilities for awards such as Magnet status.

Benefits of an RN to BSN Program

Continuing education is becoming more accessible for students through RN to BSN programs. As the field of nursing recommends that more RNs earn their BSN in the upcoming years, programs now cater to the busy working schedules of RNs. Universities offering online BSN programs allow RNs to continue working while advancing their education and furthering their careers.

The RN to BSN degree at AdventHealth University is fully online, allowing full-time RNs to earn their degree while working. The curriculum has been accredited by CCNE. With online access to distinguished faculty and professionals in the medical field, students in the program will advance in their careers while becoming more effective nurses. Discover more about AdventHealth University’s program and how you can take the next step toward expanding your career horizons and increasing your earnings.


Recommended Readings

Nursing Career Paths: What You Can Do with a BSN or MSN Degree

Registered Nurse Responsibilities

Tips for Registered Nurses Applying to Nursing School



Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Magnet Recognition Program: Eligibility Requirements

National Council of State Boards of Nursing, NCLEX and Other Exams

The Balance Careers, “How to Become a Nurse: Education, Licenses, and Other Qualifications”

Journal of Nursing Regulation, “The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey”

Supplemental Health Care, The Benefits of Earning a BSN

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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