While nursing students who receive a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and those students who receive an associate degree in nursing (ADN) are both fulfilling the educational requirements to become registered nurses (RNs), a BSN may offer nurses a greater opportunity for career advancement, and more often than ever before, hospitals are looking for potential nurse candidates with higher degrees.
“Repeat studies over the years have shown that there are fewer patient safety issues if the patients are cared for by nurses with higher degrees, like BSNs,” said Cheryl Wagner, PhD, associate dean of graduate nursing programs at American Sentinal University in Aurora, Colo. “These findings, along with a realization within the profession that you can’t learn all you need to learn about nursing in two years, has really caused a push among hospitals for all nurses to have a BSN in order to be considered entry level.”
Wagner said a BSN degree makes RNs more desirable for advanced career options in nursing specialty fields such as pediatrics, geriatrics and infection prevention and control and also offers an opportunity to explore a specific type of interest rather than just general practice.
Nurses who graduate with a BSN degree will also find it easier to enter faculty teaching positions, higher-level administrative roles in hospitals or other healthcare environments and state and federal government nursing jobs, she said.
Additionally, today more hospitals are expecting RNs to be able to make business decisions that impact the bottom line and patient outcomes, not just clinical or acute care.
"ADN programs prepare nurses for basic bedside clinical care of patients, which is slowly moving into the realm of the nursing assistant or the licensed practice nurse," said Wagner. "Registered nurses are required to know more about the overall condition of the patient as well as being able to work independently in the community and make leadership decisions."
While an experienced, talented nurse with an ADN can move up the nursing ladder into management and leadership roles, those nurses with a BSN can make the climb a little less steep and much quicker, she said.
"Whatever career path nurses take, the essential wisdom is for them to continue enhancing their skills and education so that their community, organization and patients benefit from their broadened view of the world," she said. "Nurses have to step up to the plate or the ability to make decisions about the nursing profession will be taken from their hands."
"The educational credentials demand has been increasing, and I don't think that is going to change," said Peter McMenamin, senior policy fellow and health economist at the American Nurses Association, but the recession is the reason many hospitals are hiring more nurses with BSNs than ADNs.
"A lot more nurses are deferring retirement right now. So if a hospital has one job opening and five applicants, they are going to hire the nurse with the BSN because they have more education and experience. ADNs, at least in the short run, are seeing the brunt of things," he said. "I have seen some hospitals only hiring BSNs and holding out for more experienced nurses."