What Does Being an RN Entail?
There are two primary ways to achieve your credentials as a registered nurse. You could complete an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) and then pass your licensing examination, or you could complete a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN.) The former is perfectly adequate for pursuing a long and successful career in nursing. However, at some point you might wish to improve your nursing practice and gain more opportunities. In that case, you will want to pursue an RN to BSN bridge program.
A registered nurse (RN) is a healthcare professional who plays a large role in patient care. To achieve this status, RNs have a minimum of an associate’s degree and have also passed the required national licensure examination. RNs can expand their knowledge and credentials with a full four-year degree or even a graduate diploma.Read More
When you become an RN, you are often the that patients see the most. You will also help doctors collect various tissue or fluid samples for the purposes of monitoring or diagnosis. RNs also monitor patients, organize medical record charts, and operate medical equipment, among other duties.
Most RNs tend to focus on a particular ward of the hospital, such as maternity, cancer, or mental health. Others work in more high-intensity areas such as the Emergency Room or surgery. RNs with the proper background and training can specialize in areas such as neurology or assist in heart surgeries. The RN credential is a baseline stepping stone to a long career in healthcare.
What Does Being a BSN Entail?
Being a BSN means that you are an RN who has completed a four-year degree. Since an ADN is the easiest route to becoming an RN, your full undergraduate degree will help you stand out in the pack. When you graduate with a typical BSN, pass the national licensing examination, and start work, your duties will be nearly identical to any other RN performing bedside care.
However, your four-year degree necessarily means you have more knowledge and likely better skills than another RN with an ADN and equivalent experience. However, your BSN means that you can acquire more specialized skills that take you past bedside care and into deeper realms of clinical care.
Your BSN will also allow you to easily apply for a master's degree, if you wish to pursue a specialty that requires graduate work, or you could move into other areas of healthcare. Your four-year degree could help you open a new career in hospital administration, teaching, or healthcare informatics.
Nursing Degrees & Career Paths
Components of A Successful Career in Nursing
A successful career in Nursing first requires that you achieve your credentials as a registered nurse. This can be done with an associate's degree, but you can go past that into a bachelor's or master's degree. Once you've graduated you must then pass a national licensing examination, which will allow you to practice nursing as a fully-fledged RN.
You'll likely start your nursing career performing bedside care. However, many nurses move on to acquire specialties. Your specialty will likely bring in a larger paycheck on top of the added responsibilities. Each specialty has its own specific set of requirements, one of the chief standards being your education.
Successful careers in nursing are also built on certifications which don't necessarily require a four-year or other advanced degree. These certifications may require a specified number of hours in the specialty area plus an examination. For instance, to be certified in GI/endoscopy you need to be an RN with 2 years of full-time work or 4000 hours in that area.
How to Earn a BSN certification from an RN
Typical RN to BSN Program Requirements
If you have an ADN and have passed your national RN licensing examination, you can apply for your BSN. You will need to provide your exam test scores and official transcripts from your previous college(s.) Your transcripts will need to reflect the full list of prerequisites. Those courses may be slightly different from program to program, but you can expect courses such as:
- Anatomy & Physiology, I & II (with lab)
- Microbiology Lab
- Chemistry Lab
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Sociology
Be aware that even if you have taken these courses that sometimes credits won't transfer. However, if your ADN program was fully accredited you should have little problem.
Academic Standards for RN to BSN Bridge Programs
Standards vary from program to program, but some require that you enter an RN to BSN program with a minimum GPA of 3.0. However, a 2.5 is often the minimum standard. Keep in mind that if nursing is in high demand for your area, the official minimum might not reflect the reality for admissions counselors who seek to admit the best students.
Exam/Experience Needed for RN to BSN Bridge Programs
Experience is not a huge factor in admission to an RN to BSN program. In fact, some programs don't require you to be a fully licensed RN. However, any experience you have will certainly help grab the attention of admissions counselors.
As for the examination, there are programs that don't require that you have taken the test, but you should be qualified to sit for it. In fact, many RN to BSN applicants are awaiting their test date.
How Do Clinical Hours Work?
If your program requires clinical experiences, this could be a great benefit for you. Clinical hours are structured as hospital rotations. Rotations can come in a variety of forms. You might experience rotations in an Emergency Room, oncology ward, or any number of environments. In this part of your education, you can work with active professionals and learn firsthand how to address patient needs. For instance, you might be alerted to certain drug reactions and interactions then be able to be on the lookout for any trouble.
Clinical hours are sure to take more time from your day than your standard school schedule, so make sure you are prepared for that. On the other hand, if you are already a practicing RN, your transitional program might waive this part of the nursing curriculum.
Important Questions to Ask
How much does an RN to BSN Programs cost?
The cost of your RN to BSN program will depend on the school you choose. Private schools can often charge many times what you can find at public colleges and universities. Further, many RN to BSN programs are offered online. Those programs frequently allow you to work as an RN while not paying any extra out-of-state fees
What types of schools offer these programs?
A wide range of schools offer RN to BSN transition programs. Thus, you can choose between large state universities, smaller nursing colleges, and online degree programs offered through all sorts of institutions.
How many students graduate “on time”, in about 2 years?
It's very difficult to determine how many students complete their RN to BSN program in the prescribed two years. However, in the case of four-year degrees, it has been shown that women and students at highly competitive colleges tend to graduate within a six-year window.
If you have your RN and are seeking a more advanced degree, do your best to attend your BSN program on a full-time basis. If you wish to work while completing an online program but find it difficult to make enough time for your studies, consider cutting your work hours before reducing your course load. After all, your education is something you'll have forever. A minor financial setback will be forgotten as soon as your nursing career reaches the next level.
What kind of accreditation should the program have?
Your RN to BSN nursing program should be accredited by a national accrediting agency. That is, your program should meet the standards of the US Department of Education and be nationally recognized. National accreditation will serve you very well as your degree will be recognized by graduate schools nationwide, and online. Employers will also need to see that your coursework was approved by an independent accrediting body. Make sure you thoroughly research your program's accreditation. Here are the primary national accrediting bodies for nursing programs:
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (formerly National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission) (ACEN)
Software, Technology and Skills Needed
As a nurse, you will need to have special skills that aren't always taught in school. These are personal characteristics that you can develop. As your career progresses and you develop in these ways, you find that they help you are able to provide better, more efficient patient care:
Every nurse must be able to have patience when their patients are misbehaving. Often patients will not behave exactly as you need them to, or their conditions may mean they are very slow with some, or all of their actions. When you can take the time to listen and attend to an individual’s needs, you will be all the more effective as a registered nurse.
All registered nurses are expected to treat their patients with compassion. You will need to strive to put yourself in a patient's shoes so that you can be of optimal service to them. If you are attentive to specific patient characteristics, you will be able to tailor your care so that they are as comfortable as possible.
Very often, nurses are the eyes and ears for the doctors. You must be able to accurately assess each patient and be on the lookout for abnormalities that deviate not only from the broader scientific norms but which are unusual for a specific patient.
You will need to have very strong communication skills. Your patients will likely come from a wide range of backgrounds and have conditions that may hinder their ability to articulate themselves. On the other hand, you will need to speak with doctors who are highly educated and often very articulate.
Nurses work in high-stress environments with patients who are often experiencing extreme physical and/or mental trauma. You will thus need to always be the coolest head in any given situation, including high-intensity emergency situations where a life (or lives) hang in the balance. This is particularly true if you work in the Emergency Room, but it applies even if your specialty is in surgery or the maternity ward.
Nurses not only monitor medical equipment and provide bedside care, but they also keep track of medications and medical records. You must be able to keep meticulous records so that patients aren't over, or under, dosed on their medications and that they otherwise receive proper care.
All Bridge Program Options
LPN to BSN
There are both traditional and online programs available that will help you take your career in nursing from the LPN level through to your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. With a BSN, you will be better prepared to take your national licensure examination and your job prospects will improve, as well. Your experience as an LPN will serve to help you both in your studies and your later job search, as any clinical experience is valued in the workplace.
Where programs are found: You can find programs like this offered by colleges and universities that feature a strong medical or nursing school. There are many schools that specialize in Nursing alone, and you might find a program that is either solely offered online or which is a hybrid of online and classroom offerings.
Required Credit Hours: Altogether, a typical BSN degree will likely require 120 semester hours from start to finish. However, since you already have some relevant credits on your transcripts, your remaining hours may be cut a bit. You'll have to discuss your transcripts with an academic counselor and determine which of your previous courses will count towards your BSN.
Length of Program: Given that it takes approximately a year to attain an LPN, you can expect to spend at least another three years in classes before you earn your BSN. This assumes that you take a full load of classes each term. Alternately, you could opt to take lighter loads each term but never take a break for summer. Regardless, while it's not recommended that you overwhelm yourself with academics, it is wise to focus on your studies and finish in a timely fashion. That way you can move on to the next chapter of your exciting career.
- Health Assessment
- Pharmacology for the Transitioning Licensed Practical Nurse
- Adult Care for the Transitioning LPN-BSN
- Professional Practice Practicum
RN to BSN
Once you have attained your RN credentials, you might be interested in pursuing more training. An RN to BSN program can help you build on your academic and professional experience to yield greater opportunities and professional satisfaction. Your BSN degree can open your career up to greater leadership roles in the clinic but also positions in administration. Your BSN also paves the way to deeper focus into the areas you care about the most.
Where programs are found: You can start looking for RN to BSN programs at your local four-year post-secondary institutions. Every state's university system should support nurse training and there are always private institutions, too. You can always investigate online opportunities. Some state university systems offer these transitional nursing programs online and don't add extra tuition fees if you live in a different state.
Required Credit Hours: If you graduated with an ADN, you are about halfway to your BSN. That is, you should be able to complete your BSN with an additional 60 semester hours. Your program might differ in its requirements and some of your credits from your ADN might not transfer, thus increasing that number. However, you can count on taking approximately 20 more courses.
Length of Program: How long a program takes mostly depends on you. However, if you dive in and take courses on a full-time basis, you should be able to graduate with your BSN in two years. Try to focus on your studies and make necessary sacrifices so that you can complete your BSN in a timely manner. Your career is worth it.
- Nursing and Pharmacology
- Leadership in Nursing
- RN Practicum
RN to MSN
This sort of transition program is likely to take longer than a two-year RN to BSN, by at least two more years. However, if you complete your MSN, you will have an abundance of opportunities available upon graduation. One thing you'll have to decide prior to entering the MSN portion of your education is the specific field you wish to pursue. That is, your BSN degree is sure to offer more specialization than your ADN, but with an MSN you can take positions that require very specific skills and knowledge.
Where to find an RN to MSN program: MSN programs are offered by larger universities that have well-developed nursing programs. You can also find MSN programs available online. Investigate your state's university system or even private colleges in your area.
Required Credit Hours: Altogether, your path to an MSN should encompass approximately 120 undergraduate semester hours. Then, your graduate work will take another 30 hours. However, keep in mind that you may need to take more hours depending on the demands of your chosen program and your personal goals. You may end up needing to stay in school a bit longer to complete a specialty focus that will pay off in the long run.
Length of Program: Once you have your RN, you’ll have a minimum of an ADN. That puts approximately two years under your belt. The remainder of your undergraduate training will add at least two more years and then two more for your master's degree. Thus, assuming a full-time load, you can complete an MSN in approximately four years.
Academic Standards: You can likely apply for an RN-MSN transition program without a bachelor's degree. However, your program may require that you have a certain number of post-secondary credits on your transcript. They will also need to see that you have achieved a certain level of academic excellence. Some programs require a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.7, while others may require up to a 3.0. Regardless, you should always strive for the highest grades. Since nursing school is increasingly competitive, you need to make your application stand out with high grades, community service, and even workplace experience.
- Nursing Education
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute or Primary Care
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
- Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Acute or Primary Care
- Health Informatics
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Healthcare Administration and Leadership
In fact, once you select your focus area, you may be able to further specialize within that field. Your program's offerings may vary, but here are a few possibilities from a top nursing program:
Exam/Experience Needed for an RN-MSN Degree Program
To qualify for a transition program, your school will have its own requirements, but in general you may be required to complete a certain number of undergraduate credits. Those credits will provide a GPA that your school can use in its assessment of your admissions packet. Since you will already have your RN license, you likely have some sort of experience either as an employed nurse or at least from doing clinicals during your initial training.
Considering that nursing school is increasingly competitive, you will be well-served by accruing any experience you can. This will help you stand out to the admissions department and provides good conversation in your interview. Additionally, if you are aiming at a particular specialty, you should see if your current credentials will allow you to sit for its certification exam.
Careers and Salaries for BSNs
With each increasing level of academic achievement, you will see your pay and responsibilities increase. If you start out in the field as an LPN, you might earn an entry-level salary of around $40,000 per year. When you then achieve an RN license, your entry-level pay is likely to be in the upper $60,000 range.
While paychecks are very important and can help you decide on your next degree, you should also consider other factors. With higher degrees, you can move into more specialized areas. For instance, an ADN holder who loves kids can provide bedside care on the pediatric ward, but his BSN colleague might be working specifically with pediatric oncology, neurology, or cardiology, for instance. While each specialization has its own academic and experiential requirements, a BSN puts any specialty within reach.
Nursing Salaries by Occupation
With each subsequent degree and within each area of specialization, you will find that the pay, working conditions, and future job prospects vary widely. Generally speaking, however, your salary and responsibilities will increase dramatically as you achieve higher degrees. You will also enjoy greater responsibilities and a deeper impact on patient outcomes.
Hospice Nurse: In this profession, your duties will be to administer care to patients who are either in their final days, or who are past the point of curing their illness. This is not to say that patients do not experience dramatic recoveries while in hospice care, but the focus of the profession is to provide care and compassion, not cures. With that in mind, your duties might weigh heavily toward providing pain medications.
Surgical Nurse: This is a broad field that can span simple procedures such as gallbladder surgeries or highly technical neurological operations that delve into the brain or spinal cord. You will need a highly specialized academic background that will probably include an MSN, but you should expect to need a BSN at the minimum.
Emergency Room Nurse: These professionals are often considered the most hardened and experienced of all nurses. That's because, if you choose this path, you'll be on the front lines of healthcare. You're sure to encounter many dramatic physical traumas resulting from automobile, and other, violent incidents but patients may also first present with cancer via an ER visit, so you must be vigilant for smaller, less obvious signs.
Psychiatric Nurse: If mental health is your passion, you might wish to pursue an MSN and become a psychiatric nurse. Your job duties might include psychiatric diagnosis, psycho-pharmacology, and even psychotherapy. You could even become a Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurse and open your own counseling practice.
Travel Nurse: Travel nurses work in all sorts of specialty areas. What distinguishes a travel nurse is the fact that they travel to take contracted work. Since these professionals are filling in and providing interim labor relief, they are frequently paid a bit more than their full-time colleagues. Travel nurses often gladly take the reduced job security for the opportunity to move around the nation and learn from a wide range of hospitals.
Foundation of the National Student Nurses Association
Amount: $1,000-$10,000 (Several Awards)
This undergraduate scholarship program awards winners amounts that range from $1,000 to $10,000. To receive an award, your application needs to demonstrate high academic achievement, financial need, and activities related to healthcare and community health. Students currently enrolled in an RN to BSN or MSN program are encouraged to apply.
Western Washington RN to BSN Scholarships
WWU offers multiple scholarships for its nursing students. Each scholarship has its own qualifications for awardees. The Chuckanut scholarship, for example, is for students from Whatcom County high school. You can apply for these scholarships through WWU's RN-to-BSN Program home page.
National Black Nurses Association Scholarship Program
Deadline: April 15
The NBNA awards many scholarships every year to minority students who seek a profession in nursing. The prizes range from $1,000 to $6,000 that can be applied towards tuition or books. To apply, you will need to submit your transcripts, a two-page essay, and two letters of recommendation along with other materials.
Health Resources & Services Administration – Nurse Corps Scholarship Program
Amount: Tuition, Fees, Books, etc.
Deadline: May 21
This program does more than offer a little money for tuition or books. Rather, if you qualify, the program will cover your tuition, fees, books, and award a moderate monthly stipend. In return, you must work in a facility that has a critical shortage of nurses. Check the terms and conditions to make sure that you can fulfill the program's requirements.
Professional BSN Organizations
American Nurses Association
This association has chapters nationwide. As a member, you will have access to free webinars, discounted continuing education units, a career center, and leadership opportunities, among other benefits. The association also offers periodicals and networking opportunities that will benefit your career for a lifetime.
Emergency Nurses Association
If you work on the front lines of the healthcare industry, the Emergency Room, you will want to join your colleagues in this association. Members enjoy free continuing education units every month, online courses, publications, discounts, and career development, among many other benefits.
National Black Nurses Association
Black nurses who join this association receive fantastic benefits including leadership opportunities, continuing education hours, access to a career center, and instructive webinars. The association also supports a range of scholarships to support the future of nursing.
Choosing an Accredited Program
Anytime you wish to advance your nursing career, make sure that your program is fully accredited. When you have a transcript from an accredited program, you will have an easier time applying to master's programs, and your employers will put a higher value on your academic credentials. Two national accrediting agencies for nursing programs are:
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (formerly National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission)
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
When you are looking for a program, you are sure to find a wide variety in terms of what programs have to offer, and how they offer those resources. That is, there are online, on-campus, and hybrid RN to BSN programs.
Online education has the advantage of allowing you to pursue a program that is several states away, often for the same tuition as an in-state student. You can also schedule your coursework around work and family obligations. In fact, online education has been shown to provide the same student outcomes as traditional courses.
You might choose an on-campus program if you don't need to work full-time or if you simply need the structure of campus courses. Another advantage that on-campus work has is in the area of lab science courses.
Hybrid programs don't seem to be very prevalent in nursing, but that might change. This route asks that you spend some time on campus before returning to do the majority of your work online. If you need to put a face to the names you see online, hybrid programs might be optimal for you.