RN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?

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Nursing is a great career choice, but it has some confusing terminology. What’s an RN vs. BSN? An RN is a registered nurse. A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and is one of the degrees that qualify you to take the nursing licensure exam.

nurse in blue scrubs with patient

Are you dissatisfied with your current career? Are you interested in making a meaningful difference in the lives of others? Consider giving back to your community by becoming a nurse.

A nursing career offers diverse specialties and plenty of room for advancement. Of course, it’s not without its challenges. The first challenge you might encounter is unfamiliar terminology. As you research a possible career in nursing, it’s helpful to develop a basic understanding of terminology, like the differences between an RN vs. BSN.

At Averett University, our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program instills in students the knowledge and skills needed for a nursing career. Students can earn their nursing degree in as few as 16 months, preparing them to confidently take the licensing exam and launch their careers.

Below, we will explore what the RN and BSN designations mean to help you understand the differences.

The Difference Between RN and BSN Designations

So, what’s the difference between a nursing BSN vs. RN? It’s actually pretty simple. An RN is a person who holds a Registered Nurse license, whereas a BSN is a degree. Let’s take a closer look.

What Is an RN?

An RN is a registered nurse. All RNs have met the educational requirements to become a nurse, passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN®) and obtained the necessary state licensure to work as an RN.

There are many different types of RNs, such as oncology nurses, pediatric nurses, emergency medical evacuation flight nurses, cruise ship nurses, and more. A registered nurse's day-to-day responsibilities can vary depending on their nursing specialty and workplace.

nurse looking at her wrist watch

In general, however, an RN is responsible for:

  • Patient assessments and treatment implementation
  • Patient and family caregiver education
  • Healthcare services coordination
  • Patient advocacy
  • Recordkeeping

Along with comparing a nursing BSN vs. RN, it may be helpful to take a quick look at the different types of nurses to better understand where RNs fall in the hierarchy.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
  • Licensed practical nurse/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN)
  • Registered nurse (RN)
  • Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)

CNAs have the least nursing education and credentials and have limited practice authority and scope of responsibilities. As you move down the list, the education and training requirements intensify, and the practice authority and scope of responsibilities expand correspondingly. APRNs have the most training and education and the most professional autonomy.

What Is a BSN?

Now that you know what an RN is, what exactly is the difference between an RN and BSN? A BSN refers to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. It’s a degree program designed to train future nurses to assess and treat patients and apply evidence-based practices to develop appropriate clinical responses to patient care scenarios. Earning a BSN will enable you to sit for the NCLEX so that you can become an RN.

Along with considering the basic differences between a Bachelor of Science in Nursing vs. RN, it can be helpful to know there isn’t only one way to earn a BSN. If you’re a high school graduate with little to no college education, you can apply to a traditional four-year BSN program.

On the other hand, if you have either a completed non-nursing degree or a minimum number of non-nursing college credits, you may qualify to apply to an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program.

nursing student reading textbooks

For example, Averett University in Norfolk, Virginia, offers an ABSN program that allows you to earn your nursing degree in as few as 16 months. Even if you don’t have a non-nursing degree, you may still be eligible to apply for our accelerated nursing program if you have at least 60 non-nursing credits from an accredited institution and a minimum GPA of 2.8.

Although an ABSN program allows you to graduate faster than a traditional BSN program, it’s important to note that the quality of education is the same. You’ll still be taught everything you need to know to be an effective nurse and graduate fully prepared to sit for the NCLEX.

stethoscope on stack of books

Read these top 8 reasons why a BSN is important for your nursing career.

RN vs. BSN: Side-by-Side Comparisons

Now that you know the general difference between a Bachelor of Science in Nursing vs. RN, let’s take a closer look at your potential career pathways. While many RNs hold a BSN, that’s not the only way to qualify for the NCLEX. It’s also possible to sit for the NCLEX with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). But will the outcome be the same? Consider the following:

Patient Outcomes

Although earning an ADN allows you to sit for the NCLEX, the quality and breadth of education are not the same as a BSN degree program. This is reflected in patient outcomes, which refers to how patients do after receiving medical care.

Studies have shown that hospitals with higher proportions of BSN-prepared nurses experience lower mortality rates for surgically treated inpatients. This is true regardless of whether the nurses earned their BSN via a traditional four-year or an accelerated program.

Similarly, BSN-prepared nurses are “significantly better prepared” in 12 out of 16 areas of patient safety and healthcare quality compared to ADN-prepared nurses. In short, earning a BSN instead of an ADN is the ideal choice for facilitating better patient outcomes.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for registered nurses is pretty impressive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job growth rate for RNs is expected to be 6% from 2022 through 2032, faster than average for all professions. This indicates that healthcare employers expect to hire about 177,400 new nurses during this period.

Averett ABSN student standing outside

How do ADN-prepared RNs vs. BSN-prepared RNs compare in terms of career outlook? The BLS doesn’t offer job growth rates according to education levels. However, it’s clear that employers prefer hiring nurses with a BSN.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), numerous healthcare employers have expressed a preference for BSN-educated RNs, particularly those in leadership positions.

In fact, all Magnet hospitals in the U.S. have made the BSN the minimum education requirement for all nurse managers and other nurse leaders. (Magnet hospitals are those recognized for exceptional healthcare excellence and unparalleled support for their nursing staff.)

Other organizations have made similar moves, such as the Veterans Administration (VA), which requires all nurses to hold a BSN before being promoted beyond entry-level positions.

How long does it take to become an RN? Read more to learn how much education is required to become a nurse.

Nurse on phone reviewing paperwork

Salary Expectations

BSN-prepared nurses are inarguably better prepared to be effective in healthcare workplaces than ADN-prepared nurses, contributing to better patient outcomes and a more robust healthcare organization. It's no secret that professionals who are better qualified to do their job tend to command higher salary potential than their less qualified counterparts.

According to the BLS, the median pay for RNs as of May 2023 was $86,070. Additionally, RNs with a bachelor’s degree have opportunities for advancement, which can prompt even higher earnings.

Advancement Opportunities

So many choices are available to RNs, and even more are available to RNs with a BSN degree. Once you have a BSN degree, you can gain clinical experience before applying to graduate school. For example, you could earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Equipped with graduate-level education, you might become a nurse administrator or manager if you wish to move away from providing direct patient care.

two nurses review a tablet and clipboard

If you’d like to continue working directly with patients, you can become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a:

  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
  • Nurse practitioner (NP)
nurse practitioner with child patient and mother

What’s the difference between a nurse practitioner vs. RN? Check it out here!

Become an RN With an Accelerated BSN Degree From Averett

With a vibrant campus, engaged student body and highly supportive instructors (most of whom hold terminal degrees), it’s no wonder why Averett University is a top choice for nursing students. Our accelerated nursing program combines online coursework with on-campus labs and in-person clinical rotations to create a comprehensive and in-depth educational experience for future nurses.

With three start dates per year, you can begin sooner than you might think and graduate in as few as 16 months after completing the prerequisites. Averett aims to graduate compassionate, socially responsible nurse leaders who serve their community with integrity. Join us by contacting one of our friendly admissions advisors in Norfolk, Virginia, today.