RN vs BSN, Do the Letters Matter?

If you’re like me, you probably did a lot of research into nurses, nursing and the process to become a nurse. And in fact, when you looked into the different kinds of nursing programs available, one of the most common questions you probably saw was: RN or BSN?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the letters, RN (Registered Nurse) and BSN (Bachelors of Science in Nursing) refer to the educational pathway that someone took in order to receive their title of nurse.

RN in generally used to refer to those who became a registered nurse by finishing a 2 year diploma program or an associate degree while BSN refers to those who finished a 4 year bachelors of science in nursing. There are also programs that will bridge the RN to a BSN so that you can finish with a bachelors in science and many of these programs can be completed within a year all online. But, that’s not quite as relevant for now.

So, the very short answer is that no the letters don’t actually matter because if you successfully finish your program then you can sit for the NCLEX-RN which will allow you to become a licensed nurse who can then work in a healthcare setting.

However, the long answer is that the letters do actually matter and this distinction will grow over time.

In the past, it was common to see people finish with a nursing diploma or an associate degree and not pursue a higher level of education, because at the time, it wasn’t really necessary. Recently, there has been a shift in the nursing industry where nurses are being pushed and encouraged to pursue a bachelors in nursing. Now, there are several reasons for this, but the two major reasons are that: studies have shown BSN trained nurses are associated with better patient outcomes and many hospitals are now seeking magnet designation which is dependent on staff nurses being BSN trained.

In fact, hospitals want their nurses to have a bachelors degree so much that they have begun providing tuition reimbursement options and adding contractual requirements for their nurses to earn a bachelors within a certain timeframe from their date of hire.

But, to go even further into this, many of the higher level nursing positions like nurse anethesist (CRNA) or nurse practitioner (NP), which used to be a masters degree, are now transitioning into a doctorate level degree. Which means that a bachelors will be the lowest level degree required for acceptance and enrollment into these programs. And, many people who go into nursing already have goals to be a nurse anethesist or nurse practioner as their ‘true’ career.

The RN to BSN distinction becomes even more pronounced depending on the region and department that you’re seeking employment at. In a state like California where there’s an impaction of nursing students and nurses, a bachelors is now becoming the bare minimum to even become hired. And in certain departments, like ICU or ER, at minimum a BSN is required to in order to apply for open job positions.

But, in more rural areas like Louisiana, RNs and BSNs get hired at the same rate following graduation. In fact, in some of the local hospitals, new grad BSN nurses only make 50 cents per hour more than their RN counterparts whereas in other hospitals, there is no starting pay difference between nurses who are RN or bachelors educated.

While time and tuition can be a barrier of entry, the flexibility to choose between a RN or BSN program allows greater access for people choosing to enter the nursing profession. And although both are acceptable pathways to becoming a registered nurse, most nurses will find that their careers will eventually require them to have a BSN even if they did not initially graduate with one.

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