What’s the difference with BSN vs RN? This article discusses both. There are a number of important differences when it comes to BSN vs RN. It’s important to understand the difference between the two, in order to pursue the right qualification or certification to support your career goals.
So what’s the difference between BSN and RN? Let’s take a deep dive into the key definitions, daily responsibilities, salary differences, and more.
What’s the Difference Between BSN vs RN
The main difference between RN and BSN qualifications is that while the latter is a four-year degree program, an RN is a professional licensure that will allow you to practice as a nurse.
Key differences between BSN and RN:
A BSN is a university degree, while an RN is a professional certification or licensure
A BSN on its own will qualify you for non-clinical roles in the medical field, but an RN license is required to practice as a nurse
Though you can enroll in a BSN with no qualifications or prior experience in the field, you’ll need a relevant qualification to apply to be an RN
A BSN typically takes four years to complete, but you could become an RN after completing a two-year associate diploma in nursing (ADN)
Registered nurses with a lesser qualification can easily pursue a BSN later
What is a BSN?
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, is a bachelor’s degree issued by a college, university, or other accredited educational institution. It’s an excellent option for people looking to launch a career in nursing.
It can also be a great way for experienced RNs to gain additional qualifications that can help them advance their careers, as this is often a prerequisite for more senior nursing roles.
Increasingly, hospitals and other health facilities look for nurses with a BSN qualification, so this can also put you ahead of the pack when applying for a job in the field. In some US states, a BSN qualification is now a mandatory requirement for all full-time nurses.
What is an RN?
A RN is a license, rather than a degree. It’s a mandatory certification that you need if you want to practice nursing. The exact requirements vary depending on the state. However, generally speaking, you’ll need to first have a nursing diploma, associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree before you can certify as an RN.
As part of the certification process, you’ll need to sit the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). Once you pass the exam and meet other certification requirements, you’ll officially be a registered nurse, which means you’re qualified for a range of nursing positions in hospitals, private clinics, and other care facilities.
While a RN is a licensure granted through your state that allows you to practice as a nurse, a BSN is a bachelor’s degree program that equips you with a solid grounding in key concepts, theories, and practical knowledge associated with nursing.
This is essentially the difference between a registered nurse vs a nurse: a nurse is a general term for anyone with qualifications or experience in the nursing field. On the other hand, a registered nurse is officially registered and allowed to practice nursing in a clinical or medical setting.
Another key RN and BSN difference is that to become an RN, you need to already have some kind of qualification in nursing as a prerequisite. This could be a BSN, but you may also qualify with a lesser degree like an associate degree in nursing or a nursing diploma.
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Both of these types of programs can typically be completed within two years, compared to four years for a BSN. This will usually allow you to become registered as a nurse and start working two years earlier compared to studying a BSN.
Along with a BSN, other types of nursing programs include:
Associate degree in nursing (ADN)
Master of nursing or master of science in nursing (MSN)
Doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
You need to be careful if you want to work outside your state, as not all interstate nursing qualifications are accepted by registration boards in all states. However, a BSN from an accredited institution is universally accepted, so you won’t have to worry about your qualification being valid if you want to register interstate.
Another difference in BSN and RN is that registered nurses who do not already have a BSN can pursue the program. This can allow experienced nurses to advance their careers and pursue more senior healthcare roles. Many colleges offer RN-to-BSN programs that build on students’ previous knowledge and allow them to fast-track their qualification while continuing to work in their field.
You could also sign up for a RN-to-MSN program, a type of bridge program that allows RNs who don’t already have a BSN to earn a master’s degree in nursing. This can be an even more valuable qualification than a BSN for ambitious nurses. Many leadership roles in the sector, such as require a master’s degree as a prerequisite.
RN vs BSN Salary Comparison
There’s usually a salary difference between registered nurses with different qualifications. Typically, registered nurses who hold a BSN earn more than those in similar positions but with a lower level of education, such as an associate diploma in nursing.
Here’s how the average salaries of BSN graduates and RNs stack up:
This salary disparity continues as nurses gain more experience, with a similar difference for RNs with or without a BSN after five or ten years on the job.
How to Get a BSN Without an RN
You can absolutely get a BSN without already being a registered nurse. However, keep in mind that you will need to also secure your RN license by passing the NCLEX before you can practice as a nurse. You will qualify for a variety of roles with a BSN without an RN, including health research, nursing education, health coaching, and health-related content creation.
Here’s how to get a BSN without being an RN:
Step 1: Complete your High School Diploma
The basic prerequisite for any BSN program is a high school diploma, so you’ll need to have this before you can apply. If you’re a mature-aged student without a high school diploma, you can also take the GED to prove your proficiency and get accepted into the course.
Step 2: Do a Criminal Background Check
A criminal background check is another mandatory requirement that you’ll need to practice as a nurse. You can complete this through American Databank.
Step 3: Apply for a BSN Program
Next, you’ll need to apply for one or more BSN programs. It’s important to make sure that each program is accredited, as this will be necessary in order to be certified as an RN.
Choose your preferred program(s), study their requirements and application program, and get organized early to prepare a strong application. You should also check financial aid options and apply for support to help you pay for your degree, if you meet eligibility requirements.
Step 4: Take the NCLEX
Once you’ve completed your BSN, the final step to being able to practice as a nurse is to gain your RN license. This involves sitting the NCLEX, or National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Once you’ve passed this licensure exam, you then need to apply for an RN license in the state where you want to practice.
We’ve already seen that you can be an RN without a BSN: you can take the NCLEX and gain a RN license with a diploma like an ADN. However, If you later want to earn a BSN, you can absolutely do this by going back to study.
Registered nurses with a BSN get paid more on average than those with a lower level of education. Additionally, this can be an excellent career move, as you’ll be eligible for a greater range of exciting positions: many senior and supervisory roles require at least a BSN.
Here are the steps to earn a BSN if you already have an RN certification.
Step 1: Earn an Associate Degree of Diploma in Nursing
If you are an RN, you most likely already have a nursing diploma or associate degree. This qualification should mean you qualify for any BSN program, including RN-to-BSN fast track options.
It’s also important that your RN license is up to date and unencumbered.
Step 2: Do a Criminal Background Check
If you’re working as a registered nurse, you should already have a valid, in-date criminal background check. However, if you don’t, you’ll need to apply for one through American Databank.
Step 3: Apply for a BSN Program
Next, you’ll need to find one or more BSN programs that meet your needs and career goals. When choosing a program, be sure to consider RN-to-BSN options. These will recognize your experience as an RN to let you earn your BSN sooner.
Also be sure to check financial aid options that may be available.
Step 4: Earn your Degree
The final step is to complete the coursework and other program requirements in order to earn your degree. You’ll then have a BSN degree, a valuable qualification that will help you to build a successful career in the nursing field.
What are the Daily Responsibilities of RNs and BSNs
There is a fair amount of overlap between the daily responsibilities of RNs and BSN nurses who also have an RN. Both types of nurses are involved in providing patient care, administering medication, assisting with physical exams, monitoring patient vitals, recording and sharing information with other medical personnel or family members, and supporting medical professionals as required.
Registered nurses with a BSN may hold more senior positions where they’re also responsible for making decisions around patient care, as well as sometimes supervising nursing and other staff. On the other hand, BSN holders may also work in non-clinical roles that do not require an RN license, such as research, coaching, or content creation.
The daily responsibilities of these roles can vary widely depending on the position. Likewise, the day-to-day tasks of an RN depend largely on their specialization.
Having said that, here are some of the common daily responsibilities of RNs and BSN graduates who are also RNs:
RN with ADN
RN with BSN
Provide patient care
Similiar responsibilities to RNs with ADN, but also:
Coordinate patient care at an individual, group, or community level
Assist with physical exams
Make decisions about patient care based on their education
Monitor patient vitals
Supervise nursing and other staff
Recording and sharing medical information
The key difference between a BSN vs RN is that a BSN is a degree that can help you to advance your career in nursing, while an RN is a licensure that will let you practice in a clinical setting.
So who should aim for RN and who is better to pursue a BSN?
Generally speaking, if your nursing career goals are to secure a more senior or supervisory position, or if you’d like to work in a nursing-related role but not actually practice as a nurse, a BSN is your best option.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to get into the workforce and start practicing as a nurse as soon as possible, you may want to consider applying for an RN as soon as you finish your ADN. Keep in mind that you can always go back to study a BSN as an experienced RN, with many RN-to-BSN bridge programs available.
No, you don’t automatically become an RN when you earn your BSN. To become a registered nurse, you will need to sit and pass the NCLEX exam. This is necessary if you want to practice as a nurse.
This is the difference between being a nurse vs registered nurse. If you have a BSN but are not an RN, you can work in non-clinical roles, but you’re not able to practice as a nurse.
Which is Better: BSN or RN?
Many aspiring nurses wonder “is a BSN higher than an RN?”. However, these aren’t really comparable qualifications, as a BSN is a bachelor’s degree, whereas an RN is a professional license granted by your state.
Having said that, it is possible to have an RN with a lower level of education, such as an associate degree or diploma in nursing. Having a BSN with an RN is arguably more valuable than just an RN with an associate degree or diploma, as it opens up a wider range of career opportunities.
What is Higher than a BSN?
A BSN is a bachelor’s degree program. There are master’s in nursing programs which, as graduate degrees, is a higher level of education. Nurses who hold a master’s in the field qualify for a wider range of roles. The majority of better-paid positions, including senior leadership positions, require a master’s degree in nursing.
Yes, you can become an RN without first having a BN. You can become an RN if you have at least a nursing diploma or associate degree. However, it can be a great career move to complete a BSN programme before completing your RN and starting to work in the nursing field (or going back to study if you’re already a professional in the field). This will give you many more opportunities and help you advance your career, whether now or in the future.
Earning an MSN will open up even more opportunities, especially in senior leadership.