What Is the Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

While nursing can sometimes be a challenging career, pursuing this path within the health care field can provide you with opportunities for advancement, job stability, and impactful work. All nurses are not the same, however, and young professionals who hope to work in nursing often wonder: What’s a BSN, what’s an RN, and what’s the typical RN vs. BSN salary difference? This guide is here to help.

Although all nurses are rigorously trained to provide patient care, each nurse can take a specialized path to work in their desired area within the health care system. The main difference between a registered nurse (RN) license and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is simple: An RN is the license granted by the state you work in, while a BSN indicates your level of education. While an RN is able to practice nursing with only an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a BSN is generally the preferred level of education for nurses throughout the medical field. 

Let’s take a closer look at some key RN vs. BSN differences. By definition, an RN is a nurse who has completed all educational requirements, including examinations, and been licensed to practice nursing in their state. RNs typically evaluate and monitor patients while maintaining medical records for other health care professionals. A BSN, on the other hand, is an educational degree — not licensure or a job title. Typically, a BSN is a four-year program for students who seek to become an RN, or for registered nurses who have their associate degree in nursing. Both RNs and BSN holders are required to take the NCLEX exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, before they can apply for licensure in the state in which they plan to practice nursing. 

Pros of Becoming an RN With a BSN

In 2011, the National Academy of Medicine (previously known as the Institute of Medicine) published a report titled “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” recommending that the BSN become the standard degree for nurses across the medical field. The report also recommended that 80 percent of nurses be BSN-prepared by 2020, making the BSN favored over an ADN for many entry-level nursing jobs. Employers typically look for nurses who have their BSN, since it’s a higher level of education. An ADN is a diploma from a two-year nursing program that is usually considered a pathway to becoming an RN. 

When enrolled in a BSN program, students have the chance to train in the speciality field they hope to work in — this way, they can gain the experience needed to provide the best patient care possible once they’re officially licensed. Nurses with BSNs are also able to branch out into patient education, with a focus on providing improved patient outcomes in the field. 

A BSN may also give you career flexibility — for example, you might choose to become a nurse educator or obtain a master’s or doctoral degree down the line. Not only do RNs with a BSN potentially have greater room for career growth and other opportunities, but they often have higher salaries than nurses who only hold an ADN. The median annual salary for RNs was $77,600 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment of RNs is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, a result of increased demand for health care services due to the aging population and increasing levels of preventative care. 

RN to BSN Programs

There are different paths that students can take to become a registered nurse or advance their studies as a professional nurse. Typically, RN to BSN programs cater specifically to experienced or newly graduated nurses who wish to obtain a BSN while working as a licensed RN. 

The requirements for RN to BSN programs vary by school but typically include minimum GPA, prerequisite courses, and clinical hours. All programs require students to have their ADN from an accredited nursing program, as well as a passing grade on the NCLEX. RN to BSN programs are typically completed in one to two years. Students can opt for full-time or part-time enrollment and can even complete their degree program online. The time it takes to earn your BSN depends on how many courses you take per semester, general education requirements, the structure of the program, and if you are working full time or part time. 

Whether you obtain your degree online or in person, all RN to BSN programs are intended to help you hone your ability to provide top-notch patient care — strengthening your nursing skills while helping you gain greater confidence as a nursing professional. Designed for busy nurses, RN to BSN programs cover topics that ADN programs don’t, such as public health and administration, research, community health, and cultural awareness within the medical field. Through RN to BSN programs, nurses will build on their foundational knowledge and focus on the in-demand skills that employers seek. 

Careers for RNs With a BSN

Once you’ve completed your degree program and earned your BSN, what can you do with your degree? Opportunities for nurses with a BSN include:

  • Registered nurse: Registered nurses care for patients, communicate with doctors, administer medicine, and check vitals, among other important responsibilities. 
  • Nurse administrator: In charge of supervising nurses and other health care professionals, nurse administrators recruit, hire, and train nurses — as do health services managers. They’re also responsible for motivating their staff and serving as a resource and liaison between the nursing team and other workers within the facility. 
  • Nurse educator: Working in nursing departments at four-year universities, colleges, community colleges, and technical schools, nursing educators or instructors teach aspiring nurses in clinical settings and classrooms. They work closely with undergraduate and graduate students to aid in their journey toward becoming licensed RNs. 
  • Travel nurse: Travel nurses have the unique opportunity to work in the medical field while exploring the country, making travel nursing an attractive career choice for many. Travel nurses can be found in a variety of employment settings, from pediatric and public health to the military and government, applying their skill set and nursing knowledge in diverse environments across the country. 
  • Legal nurse consultant: Dedicated and persistent, legal nurse consultants work with attorneys on nursing malpractice or other health care-related legal cases. Their primary responsibilities are evaluating cases and identifying medical records to bridge the gap between the law and health care. 
  • Pharmaceutical research nurse: Also known as clinical nurse researchers, pharmaceutical research nurses develop and implement studies on new medications, vaccinations, and other medical procedures. They provide scientists and medical practitioners with opportunities to innovate new treatments and lifesaving vaccines to gain a better understanding of disease prevention. 

Get Started 

Are you a busy nurse looking to expand your knowledge in the medical field? As a student in Simmons University’s online RN to BSN program, you’ll attend virtual face-to-face classes and expand your existing knowledge — ultimately growing your ability to provide lifesaving patient care. The 128-credit program will prepare you to rise within the nursing field. Once you finish your BSN, Simmons also provides a streamlined process to continue into an online MSN or online DNP program. Ready to complete your BSN online with Simmons? Apply today. 

Last updated September 2022.