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RN vs BSN: Understanding the Difference

November 22, 2019  |  Category: Nursing

Two nurses regroup at a hospital work station.

As healthcare delivery grows in complexity and expands in access, the demand for qualified and educated nurses simultaneously increases. Nurses are needed in all areas of healthcare: in hospitals, nursing care facilities, outpatient clinics, schools, doctor’s offices and home healthcare services. Nurses must achieve a certain level of education, clinical training, and licensure before they can practice.

Nursing candidates have several different paths they can take to become licensed. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) have similar roles in healthcare facilities but different levels of training and education. Licensed practical nurses — or licensed vocational nurses — complete a yearlong training program before entering the medical field. LPNs attend to and provide care for patients but are supervised by RNs. RNs complete two to four years of education and have a higher level of responsibility than their LPN counterparts.

Nursing students interested in furthering their education, expanding their career horizons, and earning a higher salary can explore AdventHealth University Online’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. To know if this is the right next step, it’s important to first consider an RN vs. BSN.

Similarities Between the RN and BSN

When looking at an RN vs. a nurse with a BSN, it’s clear that there are differences between the two roles in terms of educational requirements, but the actual foundation of the education is the same for both. Also, there is a significant overlap between the necessary career skills needed for both an RN and a nurse with a BSN.

Educational Requirements

All nursing students share a common foundation in education, knowledge and experience. All participate in classroom instruction as well as supervised clinical training in hospitals. Nurses must complete at least one year of training through a certified program. Some technical and vocational schools offer yearlong programs, while other colleges and universities specialize in two- to four-year programs. Nursing programs must be accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Upon completion of a nursing program, a graduate will apply for a license.

Career Skills

RN and BSN students share many skills and personal characteristics. They can perform technical patient care, such as taking vital signs and charting duties, like accessing and making changes to patient records. Some states allow LPNs who aren’t RNs to administer medications and set up intravenous drips. Others only allow RNs to perform these duties.

Nurses, like doctors, must demonstrate professionalism as well as intentional bedside manner. They must display excellent interpersonal, verbal communication, and critical thinking skills and they must be proficient at multitasking.

Differences: RN vs. BSN

While all nurses share a common foundation of education and training, there are differences in the levels of education they achieve. Nurses can expand their career horizons and enhance their earnings by furthering their education. They can also perform more important tasks and take on more responsibility in the medical field with higher levels of education.

Educational Requirements

While all nursing students must devote time to their educational programs and supervised clinicals, RN and BSN students will pursue different levels of training and education. A nursing candidate studying to be an RN must attend a program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Depending on the program, the student can earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which takes about two years, or a diploma in nursing, which takes about three years. A nursing student pursuing a BSN must also attend a program accredited by the CCNE or ACEN. BSN programs usually take four years to complete. Upon completion of their various programs, RN students must apply for a license and take the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX-RN).


When it comes to an RN vs. a nurse with a BSN, an important distinction relates to the growing need for BSN graduates in the medical field. In the 1980s, 22% of RNs obtained their BSN. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the number of RNs earning their BSN increased to 36.8% in 2008. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80% of nursing students obtain a BSN by 2020. During the last decade, the percentage of BSN nurses increased from 32% to 41%.

Career Growth: RN vs. BSN

As a nursing student prepares for a rigorous education and demanding clinicals, it’s encouraging to know that the field is constantly expanding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the nursing field is projected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028. With an aging population, the career outlook for nurses is growing faster than many other occupations. As of 2018, over 3 million nurses were employed in hospitals, educational settings, nursing facilities, residential facilities and healthcare services. As the field grows and nurses compete for better positions, employers look for education and experience. Nurses with a BSN are likely to have better job prospects.

Earning a BSN also helps nurses earn a higher salary. Comparing the salaries of RNs with ANDs vs. BSNs, the disparity is significant. The DailyNurse 2017 Nursing Salary Report reveals that RNs with an ADN make roughly $5,000 less each year than their colleagues who have a BSN. According to the BLS, BSN graduates earn a median salary of $71,730 as of May 2018.

Benefits of a BSN

The benefits of holding a BSN are extensive for nurses. The primary benefits consist of extended career opportunities and higher salaries. However, another benefit is that earning a BSN allows nurses to bring a higher level of competency to their careers. Nurses with higher education are trusted with more responsibility and can assist patients with less supervision. By receiving more education and training, BSN graduates are more prepared than nurses with an ADN or diploma in nursing. Different facilities may seek awards such as Magnet Recognition through the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC). Organizations that have met certain criteria for providing quality health care for patients can be eligible for this award. The ANCC looks for facilities where 100% of Nurse Managers and Nurse Leaders have a baccalaureate or graduate degree in nursing. By earning a BSN, nurses can help qualify their facilities for awards such as Magnet status.

Benefits of an RN to BSN Program

Continuing education is becoming more accessible for students through RN to BSN programs. As the field of nursing recommends that more RNs earn their BSN in the upcoming years, programs now cater to the busy working schedules of RNs. Universities offering online BSN programs allow RNs to continue working while advancing their education and furthering their careers.


The RN to BSN degree at AdventHealth University Online is fully online, allowing full-time RNs to earn their degrees while working. The curriculum has been accredited by CCNE. With online access to distinguished faculty and professionals in the medical field, students in the program will advance in their careers while becoming more effective nurses. Discover more about AdventHealth University Online’s program and how you can take the next step toward expanding your career horizons and salary earnings.

Recommended Readings

AdventHealth University Online, RN-BSN Admissions

AdventHealth University Online, Benefits of AHU Online

AdventHealth University Online, RN-BSN Curriculum


Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Magnet Recognition Program: Eligibility Requirements

The Balance Careers, “How to Become a Nurse: Education, Licenses and Other Qualifications”

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

DailyNurse, The Springer Publishing Company 2017 Nursing Salary Report, “RN to BSN Programs Benefit Nurses and Healthcare”

Nurse Journal, “Top 9 Advantages of a BSN Degree” 

Supplemental Health Care, The Benefits of Earning a BSN

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses