The differences between an associate degree in nursing and a Bachelor of Science in nursing

The decision to start training to become a nurse is life changing. Nursing is an excellent career with long-term prospects for continuous work and progression and a vocation that requires commitment, care, and resolve. This is why it is absolutely vital to ensure you make the right decisions about beginning the journey to becoming qualified.

The state will license a registered nurse to coordinate and provide patient care following a period of specialized education and upon passing the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. Once qualified, they will be able to work in a wide range of roles and can also specialize in a particular field if they wish.

Registered nurses can hold an associate degree in nursing (AND) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), although the career outlook and job opportunities will differ depending on which degree a candidate has earned. 

Associate degree in nursing (AND)

An associate degree in nursing is an undergraduate degree that enables students to gain essential clinical skills and core knowledge in nursing. Most associate programs are two-year degrees, but there are some that can be completed in 18 months. Once they have graduated, students may be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed registered nurse.

An AND can be obtained at a community college or similar institution and will equip students with the skills required to jumpstart their career as a registered nurse while also making sure they are prepared if they decide to earn a more advanced degree in the future, such as a bachelor of science in nursing.

The degree is ideal for those who want to pursue a professional nursing career but do not have the money or time to complete a BSN degree. It can also assist licensed practice nurses (LPNs) in qualifying for their RN license. It will also help students qualify for a wide range of other specialty certifications, which will widen their access to career opportunities and an improved salary.

Some of the subjects that are commonly studied as part of the AND curriculum include:

  • Microbiology
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Basic pharmacology

There will also be some nursing clinicals and practicals in varied patient care environments. Nursing skills are generally studied first in a controlled lab environment, where students will be assessed on each skill needed for meeting nursing standards of care. These include:

  • Tube feeding systems
  • Making up a patient 
  • Normal versus abnormal heart sounds
  • Nursing nomenclature and important abbreviations for patient charting
  • Systems of the body – normal versus abnormal
  • Catheters
  • Math for administering medicine

Some nursing schools partner with local healthcare providers, such as nursing homes, hospitals, and outpatient medical centers, where students will gain experience in clinical situations working under the supervision of an instructor and nurse.

Bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is designed for students who want to become a registered nurse or those who have an associate degree in nursing and wish to continue their education. The curriculum varies depending on the school, but all programs involve clinical practice and coursework.

An accelerated BSN (ABSN) program is ideal for those who want to find their way into the nursing workforce quickly, as many take around 12 months to complete.

Standard subjects within the degrees include:

  • Microbiology
  • Statistics
  • Nutrition and diet
  • Basic pharmacology and math for medicine
  • Nursing theory
  • Psychology and anthropology
  • Lifespan
  • Community, family, geriatric and psychiatric overviews
  • Nursing research

In addition, because the BSN is a bachelor’s degree, there will be other required courses such as art, literature, history, English composition, physical education, and social sciences.

Clinicals for a BSN cover a variety of patient care facilities. Advanced clinicals enable students to choose unique environments based on their interests and goals within the field. Opportunities include working in a local hospital, a long-term care facility, or a public health department. 

Students must pass all classes according to their state board of nursing in order to take the NCLEX licensure exam.

Students who have an associate degree and have been working in nursing can finish their final two years of study to become a BSN nurse. Busy students can opt to study online, which will offer greater flexibility. 

An accelerated BSN is suitable for nursing students who already possess a bachelor’s degree in another field of study. It has a curriculum that will build on the foundations from the first degree and provide intensive immersion in nursing theory and practice.

Career prospects for those with an associate degree in nursing

Registered nurses with ADNs are equipped to deal with a wide range of basic tasks, including giving medication, ordering tests, taking health histories, and assisting doctors with exams. Some may also become specialists in key health areas such as gerontology, pediatrics, and women’s health and may also supervise less skilled co-workers, such as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNSs).

They will be able to work in roles such as a community health nurse in campus clinics, public health centers, volunteer organizations, and neighborhood outreach programs. Travel nurses work as staff nurses or specialty nurses to cover staff shortages, crises, and emergency events and will work in rural medical clinics, regional medical centers, and long-term care facilities.

Psychiatric nurses care for patients with a range of symptoms in private practice, general hospitals, psychiatric clinics, and psychiatric hospitals. Hospital nurses work in urgent care clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, and student clinics and care for surgical or medical patients who are stable and recovering from serious illnesses or surgeries.

Care nurses will be employed in long-term care facilities and nursing homes and work to provide care for people of all ages who are recovering from major surgery, dealing with a major illness, or are living with a serious condition. For those who wish to pursue a career in home health, they will provide a range of assistance with medication and medical care services to patients who are recovering from illness or surgery at home or living with life-limiting illnesses or disabilities.

Working as a hospice nurse will mean providing care and comfort to patients and their families during their final months and days. This work may take place in private homes, nursing homes, and hospitals. Rehab nurses care for people who are working to recover from addictions and can be based in recovery centers, hospitals, substance abuse clinics, and public health clinics.

Occupational care nurses will look after patients who have had outpatient surgeries and diagnostic procedures and are mainly based in diagnostic centers, ambulatory surgical centers, orthopedic clinics, hospitals, and health networks. Professionals who want to work as occupational health nurses look after people who are having therapy to regain mobility after illnesses, medical conditions, or injuries, along with those who have to learn new ways of moving following elective surgical procedures. They will be based in occupational recovery clinics, hospitals, surgical centers, physical therapy clinics, and large health organizations.

Career paths for those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

For registered nurses with BSNs, there are a range of jobs available. For example, they can specialize in being a critical care nurse, providing care to critically or acutely ill patients. Those in this role will mainly work in managed care centers, hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities in areas including cardiac care, burn units, intensive care, and critical care transport/flight units. Additional certification may be required for those who are specialists in acute and critical care nursing for both adults and pediatrics.

Charge nurses will oversee a floor or a unit in a hospital or other healthcare facility and may need extra qualifications if they work in units such as oncology or maternity. Nurse navigators assist people who are dealing with life-threatening or chronic illnesses in navigating services for procedures and care involving cancer, organ transplants, and other conditions. These professionals will mostly be based in physician groups, hospitals, and healthcare systems.

Emergency room nurses can be based in emergency rooms in hospitals and regional trauma centers and will work with physicians and medical technicians in assessing, stabilizing, and triaging patients. Trauma nurses care for people with serious and life-threatening injuries and are generally based in regional trauma centers and university medical centers.

Psychiatric nurses work in mental health facilities, community clinics, hospitals, private practices, and many other settings. They care for patients who are receiving treatment for mental illnesses, eating disorders, addiction, or substance abuse. Meanwhile, registered nurses who want to become pediatric nurses work in physicians’ offices, urgent care clinics, and hospitals, ordering diagnostic tests, conducting physical examinations, and taking blood and urine samples.

Staff nurses are based in hospitals and work in areas in which patients are recovering from surgery or a non-life-threatening condition or illness. Their duties will include monitoring their patients, dispensing medication, and checking vitals. 

The role of a public health nurse is to educate communities, help people to gain access to healthcare, and encourage preventative action. These professionals are based mainly in state and county health departments, schools, health agencies, correctional facilities, and federal government facilities.

How job prospects for those with different degrees in nursing compare

When candidates are considering which avenue to take when starting their education in nursing, it is important to think about the benefits of obtaining an ADN vs ABSN. Elmhurst University’s accelerated online nursing programs enable candidates to complete their course within two years. They allow students to complete all coursework online while giving them the opportunity to practice hands-on skills through clinical experiences and residencies.

Registered nurses can hold both an ADN and BSN and still have the same job title and responsibilities, but their opportunities, pay and career outlook are different depending on which qualification candidates hold. Many RNs have a degree that is equivalent to an associate degree and do not continue their studies further. AND nurses have the same hands-on patient care and clinical experience as their BSN counterparts, but most programs within the AND system have fewer courses related to research, community health, and leadership.

In the future, some states may make it a requirement for nurses to have a BSN. The Institute of Medicine recommends that 80% of the nursing workforce be educated to the bachelor degree level. Moreover, many hospitals are seeing magnet status, which means that a large percentage of their workforce has to have earned a BSN, and some hospitals will only hire nurses who are educated to this level.

Although pay rates vary, the average salary of a BSN is generally more than that of an and. In addition, BSN nurses tend to be more attractive to employers because of the educational level they have achieved.

However, studying for an AND will qualify students as registered nurses and enable them to pursue a further qualification so they can become a BSN if required. Therefore, it is vital to consider the relative advantages and disadvantages of each degree. Prospective students should talk to career advisors, read publications and websites about health, and work to keep abreast of what is current and look into what they want to do both in the long and short term as far as their careers are concerned.

Soft skills required by nurses

In addition to gaining the right qualifications, developing certain soft skills is also essential, and the courses that are studied should enable students to improve and identify these as their knowledge and confidence increases.

Soft skills are the personal behaviors, traits, and strengths exhibited in different situations. According to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), soft skills are an essential part of nursing and can lead to improved patient safety and healthy working environments.

Some important soft skills successful nurses have include being a good communicator. Therapeutic communication is an essential part of the role to explain what is going on to patients and their families and guide them through treatment plans in an easy-to-understand manner. Plus, good communication is essential to help understand a patient’s emotional and physical needs and convey a sense of reassurance and support to them while they are dealing with a difficult situation.

Talking to patients and being able to show empathy with them is another essential characteristic of any good nurse. Discussing their experiences with them and sharing your own can help them feel less alone and more at ease.

Being able to talk well goes hand in hand with good listening skills. When patients, doctors, and other colleagues are discussing matters with a nurse, it is vital to listen properly to understand instructions and the needs that a patient may be trying to communicate. In addition to hearing what is being said, understanding body language is important.

The ability to adapt is crucial in nursing. New patients are admitted constantly, people are discharged, and existing patients may experience other health issues or medical emergencies that must be dealt with. Being flexible enough to react to unexpected developments is part of the job and an important skill to learn and improve.

Critical thinking means looking outside the box and is something that will help when dealing with individual patients and their needs, in addition to solving challenges and offering innovative care. Being able to work as part of a team is one of the everyday expectations of any nurse and is essential so everyone can provide high-quality care to patients by working in collaboration and understanding each other’s roles and responsibilities.

Nurses look after people when they are at their most vulnerable, and the job can be stressful and emotionally challenging. Patience is a vital soft skill to have when experiencing frustrating situations such as irritable patients or delays in receiving a diagnosis or test results. Understanding and taking into consideration the fact that everyone is working toward a common end and may be having their own issues will help everyone get through their day more efficiently and successfully. 

Advocating for patients is also important, and nurses need a strong, reasonable attitude and the confidence to put them at the center of what they are doing, whether it is standing up to doctors and administrators or dealing with frustrated and concerned family members. Remaining professional and respectful at all times is the best way to look after the needs of the people in a nurse’s care.

Job prospects for nurses

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of registered nurses is projected to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031, with approximately 203,200 openings projected each year, on average, over the decade. 

Roles will vary within states, but nurses will always be needed, especially as the population of the US ages.

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