What is the Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

If you’re looking into the nursing profession, you may have heard the terms RN and BSN used without knowing for certain what makes them different. Like many professions, the nursing world uses a number of abbreviations which may seem confusing until you learn some of the terminology. In this case, RN stands for registered nurse, and BSN stands for bachelor of science in nursing. RN is a designation for nurses who have been trained at certain levels, and BSN is a degree that some RNs hold. Read on to find out more about the differences.

Becoming an RN

RN is a designation given to any nurse who has passed the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination-RN). This is an exam that must be passed in order for someone to work as an entry-level nurse within the United States. In order to take the NCLEX, which tests nursing skills and knowledge, one needs to have completed some nursing training. This can take several forms including a diploma program (sometimes granted by a hospital) or an associate degree of nursing (ADN), which typically takes about two years to complete and is often offered at community colleges. The bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), which is a typical four year degree, is another way to prepare to become an RN.

Moving from RN to BSN

Many nurses who begin with a diploma or an ADN and who are working as RNs go on to complete a BSN. That is partly because the American Association of Colleges of Nursing now recommends the BSN “as minimal preparation for professional practice.” Due to the increased demands on nurses, particularly as primary care givers involved in many different types of nursing care both in and out of hospitals, the bachelor’s level has been shown to provide the broader education that a professional nurse needs to be effective in today’s health care system. This is not to say that RNs who do not hold the BSN can’t be good and effective nurses, merely that the BSN provides a more advanced preparation and will likely give a nurse more opportunities to advance in their career.

With this in mind, many schools have begun offering programs where nurses who are already working as RNs but do not yet hold a BSN may work toward one. Since these nurses already have some education as well as experience, the RN to BSN program option does not generally take as long to complete as a traditional BSN program. Often nurses who are already RNs who opt to go on for the BSN degree are able to continue working when they go back to school. Some hospitals even offer some tuition reimbursement for nurses who are willing to gain more education.

While there are obviously differences between RN and BSN, the two are related in that many RNs are coming to see the added value of holding the BSN and are finding encouragement and resources to pursue the degree. The AACN feels that a nurse with a bachelor’s degree is better equipped to work in a variety of settings and better provided with crucial skills in decision making, leadership and management. You can pursue both RN and BSN paths in a variety of ways to advance your nursing career.