Nurses with a bachelor's of science in nursing have more career opportunities.
Nurses with a bachelor's of science in nursing have more career opportunities.

Nurses are health care professionals who work alongside doctors and other medical professionals to help treat patients’ illnesses and injuries. Some nurses do not work directly with patients. Instead, they have jobs as consultants, researchers, medical writers or educators. Nurses can also specialize in specific health conditions, body parts, workplaces or groups of people.

Minimum Education Requirements for a Registered Nurse

Nurses can begin their careers by earning either a two-year associate degree from a community college or vocational school, or a diploma from a hospital-based nursing education program. Either of these educational programs prepare a nurse to take the appropriate NCLEX licensing exams required to be a registered nurse. These programs are an excellent way to enter the field.

Pros of a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

The bachelor's of science degree in nursing, or BSN, is another way to enter the field of nursing. If a student decides to make the bachelor’s degree their first educational experience, it will prepare them for any entry-level position as a staff nurse. The bachelor’s degree in nursing also prepares the student for administrative and supervisory roles that are not readily open to nurses with only an associate’s degree or diploma. For nurses who wish to go even further in their careers as advanced practice nurses, a master’s or doctorate degree will be necessary. Nurses who already have a bachelor’s degree are able to complete their graduate program in less time. The BSN degree also gives the nurse a higher level of critical-thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the influences that affect health care delivery.

Cons of a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

Most bachelor’s degree programs in nursing require four years of full-time study. The associate’s degree only requires two years of full-time study. Pursuing a bachelor's degree means two more years out of the workforce and two more years of tuition payments and possibly student loan debt. The salaries of entry-level registered nurses, whether they have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree are not always substantially different, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. A nurse with a bachelor's degree may start at a slightly higher salary than a nurse with an associate’s degree in some jobs, but it may not be enough to make up for the two years away from the workforce and additional debt.

Other Options

There are RN-to-BSN programs out there that allow a nurse with an associate’s degree to work toward a BSN part-time while working. Since many employers offer tuition-reimbursement programs, this could resolve the problem of loss of income and increased debt while simultaneously preparing the nurse for future promotions into leadership positions or for graduate work.

2016 Salary Information for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $68,450 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, registered nurses earned a 25th percentile salary of $56,190, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $83,770, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 2,955,200 people were employed in the U.S. as registered nurses.