What is a BSN? Is There a Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

A BSN, which stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing, is an undergraduate-level degree for registered nurses (RNs) that introduces nurses to topics such as patient care technology, research, health promotion, safety and quality within the healthcare system.
Make Your RN a BSN

A nursing supervisor with her BSN talking to another nurse with the text What does BSN stand for?

Today, both the nursing profession and some employers are calling on registered nurses (RNs) to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to improve safety and help prepare for future healthcare challenges. RN programs teach basic nursing skills that focus on nursing theory and clinical practice, whereas the BSN program expands on that.

Pursuing a BSN degree introduces nurses to topics such as patient care technology, research, health promotion, safety and quality within the healthcare system, said Elizabeth Christman, DNP, RN, CNE, a clinical faculty member of nursing programs at Southern New Hampshire University.

Why Do I Need a BSN?

Nursing is the largest health occupation in the United States today, providing many career options for registered nurses (RNs) to practice in hospitals, clinics and private practices, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). However, RNs are finding that a BSN can offer even more opportunities for career growth and satisfaction beyond RN licensure.

  • In 2011, the Institute of Medicine released its report, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which called for increasing the number of baccalaureate-prepared nurses to 80% by 2020
  • The National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP) calls for at least two-thirds of the nurse workforce to hold baccalaureate or higher degrees in nursing. Currently, 56% of nurses have a BSN or higher degree – an all-time high – and a 7% increase from 2010, according to the AACN.
  • In 2017, after 14 years of lobbying, New York State passed its “BSN in 10 Law.” The state now requires all nurses to earn a BSN within 10 years of receiving an initial RN license. The impetus behind the law is “the result of a growing body of research evidence that additional education results in better patient outcomes.

The complexity of healthcare and the need for strong leadership calls for nurses to sharpen their skills in management and research in years to come, Christman said.

“As a BSN, you have more opportunities than your RN counterparts. You can step up to a leadership position, move into nursing education, work in public health and focus on health education within the community, or even go on to pursue a nurse practitioner or nurse administrator degree,” Christman said.

What Does BSN Stand For? 

BSN is the abbreviation for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and refers to someone who has earned a bachelor’s in nursing in addition to earning registered nurse licensure. It often precedes the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which is available to nurses who wish to further advance in their career.

To become a nurse, you must have graduated from a state-approved nursing school and have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) – a standardized exam that each state board of nursing uses to license candidates for entry-level nursing practice. 

An Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN, can prepare you to take the NCLEX exam and become a registered nurse, as can a hospital-sponsored diploma program. However, to practice as an RN, you must be licensed in your state. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a BSN?

Elizabeth Christman with the text Elizabeth Christman.

You can earn a BSN in a traditional 4-year college degree program, or you can earn your ADN in a 2-to-3-year associate degree program and opt to further your education after you begin working as an RN. RN to BSN programs help nurses earn a bachelor’s degree, bridging the gap between an ADN and BSN.  

Regardless of the degree level, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN© licensing examination, according to AACN.

It's true that earning RN licensure takes less time to complete than a BSN program, but if you are already a registered nurse, you can complete an RN to BSN program in as little as two years without having to put your career on hold or cut back your hours, Christman said.

“One of the strengths of being an RN student pursuing a BSN is that you are able to work as a nurse the whole time you are advancing your education. This provides a very affordable opportunity,” she said. 

What is the Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

Whether you are an RN practicing with or without a BSN, your primary focus is on providing patient care. This includes performing physical exams and taking health histories, providing health counseling and/or education, administering medication and other treatments, as well as coordinating care with other health professionals, according to the American Nurses Association

RNs with a BSN and an ADN can work alongside each other on the same medical team, carrying out similar duties. The difference is BSN-qualified nurses open themselves up to a broader career path that can include administrative positions requiring leadership skills in areas such as research, consulting and education, according to BLS.

What is the Pay Difference Between RN and BSN? 

Registered nurses earned a median salary of $75,330 in 2020, according to BLS, with the caveat that those salaries vary widely according to the type of nurse specialty, geography, facility type and years of experience in addition to education. 

Payscale's salary research showed it pays to advance higher education in the nursing field. The compensation platform reports that BSN degree holders make an average of $86,680 each year, while those with an ADN earn $70,850

A recent survey conducted by the AACN found that 41% of hospitals and other health care settings require new hires to have a BSN, while more than 82% of employers express a strong preference for nurses with bachelor's degrees.

What Does a BSN Do?

Below are some examples of nursing jobs that typically prefer a BSN:

  • Charge Nurse: Nurses working in this leadership role oversee unit operations, monitor admissions and discharges, and oversee the activities of the nursing and support staff. They also may be involved in direct care. While Payscale lists the national average income of a charge nurse at $72,999, big employers can pay charge nurses more. For example, charge nurses at the Veteran's Administration earn an average of $79,668 each year.
  • Nurse Case Manager: In this role, nurses oversee the healthcare needs of patients, acting as administrators of care. A nurse case manager works with both patients and their providers to develop a comprehensive care plan. He or she also communicates with the patient’s health insurance company to determine eligibility for certain treatments or programs. The national average salary of a nurse case manager is $73,694, according to Payscale.
  • Military Nurse: Nurses who practice in a branch of the U.S. military treat service members and their families, monitoring wounds, prescribing medication and caring for them before, during and after surgery. In the interest of providing the best patient care and leadership, the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force all require RNs to hold a bachelor's degree to practice as active-duty nurses. In addition, the Veteran's Administration (VA), the nation's largest employer of RNs, also requires a bachelor's degree as the minimum education requirement necessary to be promoted beyond an entry-level role, according to AACN. Depending on experience, military nurses can earn between $58,000 and $103,000, according to a Payscale salary survey conducted in 2018.

There is strong evidence that shows a BSN provides graduates the skills and education they need to grow as clinicians and make a significant impact in the nursing profession. 

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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