When I went to nursing school (1974) there was no question for me to get through a program as quickly as I could. My training was done at a hospital in Iowa and I received my diploma in nursing. It took three years, with summers off. Today, there are several programs that offer AD (associate degree) in nursing, mostly at community colleges, and it can be competed in just 2 years, going straight through in most cases. Right now, more than 50% of the RN population in the United States has an associate degree (AD) or a diploma as their education level.
A BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) is becoming more popular. What is the difference? More money, more time and an opportunity to advance into specialized fields of nursing, along with climbing the ladder to nurse management and the ability to enter advanced degree programs such as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife or nurse anesthetist. These advanced degrees require a master’s in nursing, and normally take an additional two years of study. In addition, a BSN or higher is required for administrative positions, consulting, teaching and research.
I would advise someone thinking about nursing to consider the associate degree or diploma first. First of all, who knows if you are going to like this field? Second, you can always upgrade to a BSN, and many times your employer will have a tuition reimbursement plan that will save you thousands. The general nursing studies in all degrees are the same – the core curriculum includes med/surg, adult health, peds, community health, maternal and newborn, psych and surgery. A BSN program goes a step further and would typically offer more courses in nursing theory, nursing informatics (examining how nurses use technology) and nursing research. Further, you will receive more training in areas such as leadership, critical thinking and communication.
All programs include liberal arts and students will be required to take classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience in hospitals and/or other healthcare institutions after completing the nursing studies. In addition, all nursing students will take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and other behavioral sciences. Both RNs and BSN prepared nurses start at approximately the same rate of pay, but many advanced positions require a BSN so this does allow the potential to earn more money in the future.
One other thing I’d like to mention is that there are several programs offered for men/women that would like to switch to the nursing field and already hold a bachelor’s degree in another area. Accelerated BSN programs are ideal for this type of person and these programs usually last from 12 to 18 months. Master’s degree programs are also available for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in another field. Master’s degree programs normally take about 2 years.
It is an ongoing debate about whether to get your RN or BSN degree right from the start. It is really up to the individual and what the long-term goals are. Some choose to go back and get a BSN simply for personal growth, improved ethical conduct, increased self-direction, professional enhancement or further responsibility. Whatever the case, evaluate your options and be sure to consider your personal circumstances. Financial concerns, children, marital status, time-line, health, etc. are crucial elements to ponder when considering what is right for you.