While registered nursing (RN) degree programs vary from country to country, in the US, the most common programs are the diploma in nursing, the associate degree in nursing (AND), and the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Although each of these RN degree programs prepares students to take the RN licensing exam, they differ in length, intensity, and, in many cases, the job opportunities they afford. The diploma in nursing is a short or mid-length degree that may limit one’s job prospects. An AND can normally be completed relatively quickly, and may or may not restrict advancement opportunities. BSN degrees take several years to complete, but they can lead to more advanced careers than the diploma or the AND.
Of the three RN degree programs offered in the US, the nursing diploma program is the least common today. This program is usually offered directly through a hospital or other medical facility. It takes two to three years to complete and involves both classes in science and health care subjects and hands-on training. Many employers regard the diploma as the least advanced RN degree, and consequently individuals with this qualification may find that their ability to get a job and move up the pay scale is limited. As of late 2011, only a small number of medical facilities offer this program.
Many of those considering the different types of RN degree programs ultimately choose the AND. This program normally involves two years of full-time study focusing on hands-on training, classroom instruction in healthcare and science subjects, and, in some cases, instruction in liberal arts electives. Some employers feel that AND graduates tend to be more well-rounded than diploma graduates, and therefore those who hold an AND may find it easier to get a job than those with a diploma. Still, holders of an AND may only be able to advance to a certain level without returning to school for further training.
The BSN is commonly considered the “gold standard” of RN degree programs. During this four-year program, students take a wide range of classes in both nursing-related subjects and other areas such as business or liberal arts, and also obtain hands-on training through clinical hours. Many employers find that the length, intensity, and diversity of this degree produce nurses who are extremely knowledgeable and capable of leading a team. For this reason, holders of a BSN tend to move up the nursing career ladder more easily than those who have completed other RN degree programs. RNs who wish to further their career prospects but do not hold a BSN are often eligible to complete an accelerated RN-to-BSN program, allowing them to earn this qualification in approximately two years.