What is a BSN Degree?

A would-be student just beginning to look into a nursing career gets inundated with letters and acronyms: ADN, ASN, RN, LPN, BSN, MSN – just a flood of letters you can’t make sense of. But those letters have real significance – they stand for education, learning, clinical experience, and the promise of a well-trained, experienced nurse. If you’re thinking that nursing is right for you, you need to know the meaning of BSN, and all those other letters. It’s time to figure out what all the nursing letters are really saying.

BSN Degree Requirements: What’s It Like to Get a BSN?

The meaning of BSN is “Bachelor of Science in Nursing” – that’s the literal meaning. But the meaning of BSN, when you really get down to it, is opening up a whole, wider set of possibilities for your career, including specializations. People who are interested in earning a BSN – and the BSN salary that goes with it – are required to attend a four year university or college, but in the 21st century they can earn their degree online through one of the many top online RN to BSN programs now available.

A BSN is, obviously, a bachelor’s degree, so that means a full 4 years of study. If you know for sure that you want to be a nurse, you can set your course to earn a BSN from the very beginning. Students typically spend the first two years taking the prerequisite courses, as well as general education courses like math and writing – the fundamentals of a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Anatomy, physiology, algebra, chemistry and psychology are just a few of the courses that are required to enter the nursing program.

After students have completed the prerequisites, they are usually required to submit a separate application to the nursing program, although many BSN programs now offer automatic acceptance into the nursing program from freshman year – a way of fast-tracking trained nurses to meet the market shortage. Pathophysiology, microbiology, health assessment and research topics in nursing are some of the courses that are required at most nursing schools. Students are also required to complete clinical rotations so that they can apply the skills that they learned in the classroom.

BSN vs RN (and All the Other Letters, Too)

A lot of students go straight into a 4-year program knowing they want to be a nurse, but it is actually much more common for a person to become a nurse at the RN level, and then go on to the BSN. That means they first earn an ADN, usually at a community college (ADN stands for Associate’s Degree in Nursing). The person who earns an associate’s degree gets all of the credits they need to sit for the NCLEX exam and become a licensed Registered Nurse (RN), as well as taking all of those general ed courses for the first two years of a 4-year degree.

So now you’re a working nurse. Even though an associate’s degree is the minimum education that is required to enter this field, registered nurses are strongly advised to earn their BSN – in fact, the American Nurses Association wants 80% of nurses to have a BSN by 2020. The BSN vs RN issue is one of preparedness, opportunity, and reimbursement. Nurses with BSN may be presented with more job opportunities. The BSN salary is also likely to be much higher than an RN with an ADN. In fact, a nurse with a BSN salary can earn anywhere from $3000 to $8000 more per year than a nurse with an ADN.

In many places, hospitals and clinics are already requiring that nurses have a BSN just to be hired. Even with a shortage, the nursing field is extremely competitive – after all, good nurses are hard to find – and employers are looking for nurses who stand out from the many others who are applying for the same position. For that reason, colleges and universities have developed online RN to BSN degree programs, many quite affordable. To attract professionals from other fields who already have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, and who want to become nurses, accelerated BSN degree programs have also become very common. These programs meet a need, and the BSN salary (at least BSN vs RN salary) makes the extra effort extra attractive.

Other Paths to a Nursing Career

Image by © Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc./Blend Images/Corbis

Many nurses who have earned their BSN go on to earn their MSN. A MSN means a Master of Science in Nursing. The MSN is generally two to three years of schooling beyond the BSN, though (again, to meet the shortage) accelerated MSN programs of only one year are becoming more popular. People who have a master’s degree in nursing have several career options. Some of those options include: nursing educator, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse specialist.

Nurses with a MSN can teach at community and technical colleges, as well as in hospital diploma programs. A nurse practitioner is someone who is trained to perform many of the tasks that doctors perform; they are, essentially, doctors, though by law they must work under the supervision of a doctor. Nurse anesthetists have received training in administering anesthetics and usually work under the direction of an anesthesiologist. A clinical nurse specialist is a nurse who specializes in a certain area, such as gerontology or pediatrics. While in a BSN vs RN situation, BSN salary can be much higher, salaries for these specializations are often in the six figures.

How Can I Prepare to Earn a BSN?

The best thing that students can do to prepare to earn a BSN is to start early. High school students should already be taking courses in anatomy, biology, and chemistry so they are ready for their college-level requirements. Nurses who have already earned their ADN should start doing research on different schools that offer a BSN. The admissions process for nursing school can be extremely competitive, and schools are, in all honesty, happy to cut second-rate applications. If you’re already working as an RN, it’s important to realize that some employers will pay for employees to go back to school and earn their BSN; ask if your facility offers that perk. If they don’t, tell them they’re making a big mistake.