RN-to-BSN: Frequently Asked Questions

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What does RN-to-BSN, RN-to-MSN or BSN-to-MSN for that matter, mean? In nursing, acronyms inform the educational levels you can achieve. You’ll hear all of the above, plus job titles such as LPN, NP, CRNA and CNA. Whew.

Where do you begin to understand and unravel all these abbreviated degrees and roles?

One of the most important in all of the nursing industry is the RN-to-BSN. This functional (and sensible) degree is a gateway degree to advancement within the nursing industry, and if you are ambitious and want to move into nurse leadership roles, is absolutely required to earn.

np-diagnosingLiterally speaking, RN-to-BSN means Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

You may already know you’ll need to earn a two-year associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) and pass the national licensing exam (NCLEX-RN) to attain the “registered nurse (RN)” portion of the degree title. Earning the BSN means adding another two years to your education, where you’ll be rewarded with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

If you’re just starting out in your college education, you can jump right into a BSN program. But the majority of working registered nurses who want to advance, enroll in the RN-to-BSN because this bridge program allows them to jump ahead and graduate with a bachelor’s degree after only two or less years of school.

We’ve compiled a list of practical questions for working nurses and students who are interested in the RN-to-BSN, but need more information in order to make an informed decision about their future.

Getting Started

What are Good Traits for Nurses?
Successful nurses typically have strong critical thinking skills, compassion, emotional stability, physical stamina and solid communication and organizational skills.

  • Critical thinking: You’ll need to assess the status of patients and determine the best course of action to treat them.
  • Compassion: Nurses need to be caring and show empathy toward their patients.
  • Emotional stability: Nurses witness emergencies and human suffering so having the ability to cope with one’s emotions is necessary.
  • Physical stamina: From moving patients to being on their feet, nurses need to be comfortable performing physical tasks.
  • Communication skills: Helping patients understand their health conditions and providing instructions is a crucial part of a nurse’s job. Being able to communicate messages clearly is required.
  • Organizational skills: Nurses juggle many tasks at one time therefore organizational skills are a must.
What degree do I need to become a registered nurse (RN)?

The criteria for becoming a registered nurse includes earning your associate’s degree in nursing, which is a two-year college program. Once you graduate, you can submit an application for licensure to the board of nursing in the state where you want to work. This will make you eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which you must pass to earn licensure to practice.

I’m just beginning nursing college. What degree should I get?

It depends. Do you want to enter the field as soon as possible or do you have the time to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree right away? The beauty of the RN-to-BSN is you can jump into your bridge program while you’re already working as a registered nurse.

Why shouldn’t I just earn my BSN right off the bat?

If you’re in a hurry to move into advanced practice nursing roles, such as a Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Educator, and want to bypass the more traditional route, getting your BSN straight away might be the best option. But if you don’t have the luxury of time and money for school, getting your ADN and then tackling a bridge program such as the RN-to-BSN—or even the RN-to-MSN—can actually help you save time and money and still fulfill your ambitions.

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As an example, you could earn you BSN in as little as one year in an RN-to-BSN program (typically two years), and earn your MSN in three years instead of four in an RN-to-MSN program.

What should I look for in an RN-to-BSN program?

First of all, you should make sure your program is accredited, no matter what degree you’re seeking. Accrediting agencies may be one of the country’s regional associations, which are part of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), or may be industry-focused. Nursing programs are typically accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Secondly, make sure the nursing program you’re enrolling in will teach you about the area of focus you’re interested in. If your end goal is to pursue a master’s degree and become a nurse anesthetist, you’ll need to begin laying the foundation for this career field and find curriculum that will pinpoint your interests.

Are there prerequisites?

Yes. You’ll need to have your license, pass a criminal background check and have maintained a certain GPA, depending upon the school and program you choose. You’ll also need to have earned your associate’s degree and have passed the NCLEX-RN.

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License

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Background Check

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Associate’s Degree

You mentioned the NCLEX-RN. What is it?
In order to obtain licensure, you’ll need to graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). RNs enrolling in a RN-to-BSN program are already licensed.

The NCLEX exam covers four “categories of needs,” according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing:

  • Safe, effective care environment: Management care and safety and infection control
  • Psychosocial integrity: Coping and adaptation and psychosocial adaptation
  • Health promotion and maintenance: Growth and development through the life span and prevention and early detection of disease
  • Physiology integrity: Basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential and physiological adaptation
How long does it take to earn this degree?

You’ll already have two or three years under your belt as a practicing RN as you research this bridge program. A BSN typically takes four years to earn, but in an RN-to-BSN you’ll be looking at a one- to-two-year program, depending upon whether you choose an accelerated program, online program or classroom-based program.

Is this an accelerated program?

Again, your degree program can be accelerated and such programs are available. It will be up to you to evaluate your circumstances and discern whether you have one year, 18 months or two full years to devote to earning your bachelor’s in nursing.

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Are there online RN-to-BSN programs?

Yes. These are great programs for people who need to continue to work while attending school, or who have special circumstances, which may include family responsibilities, disabilities, or those who are in the military or live in remote areas. Just make sure your program is accredited so you can apply for federal financial aid if you need it, and all your credits will transfer to another school if you need to change programs or decide to pursue a higher degree later.

 

The RN-to-BSN Program

What will I study in my RN-to-BSN program?

You’ll take basic courses dealing with such topics as biology, chemistry, psychology, physics and other courses that fulfill liberal arts requirements, but you’ll also begin tackling upper-level nursing courses that will focus on areas such as these:

  • Nutrition and dietetics
  • Leadership
  • Geriatric nursing
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Community and global health
  • Health informatics
  • Ethics

You’ll choose nursing electives as well, which will depend upon the area of nursing you’re interested in pursuing. The RN-BSN Taskforce also enforces practical learning experience, which consists of students being supervised by a staff professional in a hospital or clinic, where a set number of hours are required.

Will a clinical internship or externship be part of my program?

Yes. You’ll be required to complete a set number of hours in clinical, hands-on practice, where you’ll perform tasks and duties applicable to your area of specialization. For example, you’ll complete simulations or laboratory procedures, and perform set tasks in both direct and indirect care under the supervision of hospital or clinic staff.

Does earning an RN-to-BSN degree in one state allow me to practice in any other state in the country?

Your degree should transfer as long as you earn it from an accredited school or program. Note that states may have different criteria for licensing to practice in that state, however.

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What certifications or professional practice exams will I need to take?

No matter what area of nursing you choose, you will need to have passed the NCLEX-RN exam, which is a standardized test that each state uses to determine whether a candidate is fit and ready for entry-level nursing. You must first complete an accredited nursing program to be eligible. After, you can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program and start fine tuning your skills toward the specialty you’d like to practice. There are many certifications available for nurses going into areas of nursing. Some examples of professional certification include the following:

  • Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
  • Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

There are untapped opportunities available for certified nurses, and these specialized certifications usually require passing a rigorous exam administered by an associated professional agency.

Following Up

Will earning this degree increase my salary?

Yes. Some variance in nursing salaries comes from years of experience and location, but the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics cites the median annual salary for registered nurses as $67,490.

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Nurse Journal says the difference in salary between the two is around $9,000 a year, and the salary aggregate company Payscale says the difference is even greater. They cite a median annual salary of $39,000 for RNs and $69,000 for BSN-holders.

Can I advance in my career if I earn the RN-to-BSN?

Yes. The RN-to-BSN’s primary goal is to provide professional development and skill-building in order to ready you for the rigors of advanced practice nursing and nurse leadership and administration roles.

What education step is next if I’m even more ambitious?

Your next step will likely be the BSN-to-MSN, or a master’s degree in nursing program. If you want to teach at a college level or conduct research, you may go on to earn a DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice.

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What careers will an RN-to-BSN enable me to pursue?

Once you earn your bachelor’s in nursing, you can take steps to move into management, advanced practice and administration careers. Some of the job titles you may pursue include Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Anesthetists, Clinical Nurse Manager and Head Nurse. Your options are vast and the areas you may choose from cross a wide range of clinical and non-clinical roles.

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