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RN vs. BSN: Benefits of a BSN for Nurses

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Mar 25, 2024
Three Nurses Talking as They Walk Down a Hospital Corridor.

RN vs. BSN: Benefits of a BSN for Nurses

The results of a 2022 survey in the Journal of Nursing Regulation showed that more than 70% of registered nurses (RNs) held a bachelor’s degree or higher. While this represented an increase in the number of RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), it only told part of the story: The survey further showed that nurses were continuing their education after starting their careers. 

In short, not only do more RNs hold bachelor’s degrees, but many are earning those degrees after they’ve already been working as RNs.

Why are more RNs pursuing BSNs after beginning their careers? The answers lie in the potential benefits that earning a BSN can offer.

RN and BSN: Definitions

When comparing RN vs. BSN and exploring the merits of additional education, it’s helpful to begin with an understanding of what each of these terms means. An RN is a type of nursing career, while a BSN is a type of academic degree.

What’s an RN?

Various nursing roles with different levels of responsibility and authority exist. RNs administer and coordinate patient care and offer wellness education. Some RNs specialize in treating specific populations or types of care, such as pediatric or surgical nursing.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported in 2023 that RNs represented the largest segment of the health care workforce and that the career was one of the largest U.S. professions.

What’s a BSN?

A BSN is a degree from a college or university that can prepare students for a career as an RN. BSN degree programs feature a broad range of coursework and clinical experience, with focuses including the following:

  • Clinical practice
  • Nursing theory
  • Population health
  • Health promotion
  • Critical thinking
  • Case management
  • Communication
  • Leadership skills

Historically, earning a BSN degree has taken four years. However, many of today’s BSN programs — including those for RNs who have other types of nursing degrees but want to add another level of education — provide opportunities for students to complete their degree work in a significantly shorter time frame.

RN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?

The BSN degree isn’t the only educational path that can lead to a career as an RN. For some RNs, their highest level of education is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which is earned through a college, or a diploma received through a nursing school that’s often affiliated with a hospital.

The scope of the education required of associate degree- or diploma-prepared RNs vs. BSN-prepared RNs also differs. Associate degree and diploma programs generally aim to prepare RNs by focusing on hands-on work. These options typically don’t include an emphasis on the social sciences, research, and humanities, often a cornerstone of a BSN program. 

BSN vs. RN Advantages

There are various benefits to consider when comparing BSN vs. RN, even for nurses who started their careers with an associate degree or a diploma. Below are the advantages of a BSN for RNs, their employers, and the patients in their care.

Improved Workplace Preparation

Ever-changing demands in health care — ranging from an aging population with complex needs to social factors that affect physical and mental health — require an increasingly broad range of knowledge and abilities that extend beyond clinical skills. 

Whether they’re just beginning their careers or continuing their education after beginning their careers, RNs can benefit from the expertise and skills that are among the focuses of BSN programs. Among those important areas of emphasis are the following:

  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Case management
  • Socioeconomics and health

Better Patient Outcomes

AACN advocates for increasing the percentage of RNs who hold bachelor’s-level degrees or higher, citing a host of research showing enhanced patient outcomes for those treated by BSN-educated RNs. For example, a 2022 study in Nursing Outlook showed that hospitals with a greater proportion of nurses with BSNs had a 32% lower surgical mortality risk.

More Employment Options

Whether an RN is seeking additional responsibilities in their current role or looking for a different job, a BSN can help. The degree provides evidence to administrators and potential employers of the breadth of knowledge and skill that a nurse has to offer. Some employers — including the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force — require RNs to hold a bachelor’s degree.

Greater Earning Potential

While a BSN isn’t always a requirement for more pay, RNs with BSN degrees have enhanced knowledge and skills that may help them command higher wages. Additionally, for RNs with BSNs who go on to earn master’s or doctoral degrees, the advanced-level nursing roles they can attain typically have salaries that are higher than those for other RNs. 

RNs made a median annual salary of $81,220 in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In comparison, the advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which often require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), had a median annual salary of $125,900.

Expanded Leadership Opportunities

RN leadership roles don’t always require a BSN. However, holding a bachelor’s degree can put nurses in a better position to pursue leadership opportunities, whether in clinical positions or in nonbedside nursing careers. Also, earning a BSN can be a precursor to pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees — and the advanced practice nursing roles and specializations that require those credentials.

Pursue RN Career Growth With a BSN

If you’re an RN who’s compared RN vs. BSN and wants to pursue the benefits that a bachelor’s degree can provide, explore The University of Tulsa’s online RN to BSN program. Designed for current RNs who are ready for career growth, the program can equip nurses with the knowledge and skills to meet the demands of today’s health care in as little as 12 months.

Discover how the RN to BSN program can help you pursue your nursing career goals.

Recommended Readings

Change Theory in Nursing: How It Is Evolving the Profession

The Importance of Developing Soft Skills in Nursing

Non-Bedside Nursing Jobs You Can Get With a BSN


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses Are Essential to Quality Health Care

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Workforce Fact Sheet

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice

Indeed, “ADN vs. BSN: Differences and Which Degree Is Right for You”

Indeed, “BSN Degree: Definition and Program Types”

Indeed, “RN vs. a BSN Degree: What Are the Key Differences?”

Journal of Nursing Regulation, “The 2022 National Nursing Workforce Survey”

National Library of Medicine, The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity

Nursing Outlook, “Variations in Nursing Baccalaureate Education and 30-Day Inpatient Surgical Mortality”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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