Differences Between ADNs and BSNs

Nurses with both an associate degree in nursing and bachelor of science in nursing degree (BSN) are valuable members of the healthcare system. While many of the core duties and competencies of ADNs and BSNs overlap, the increasingly complex nature of healthcare is impacting the role of nursing and associated career paths. And because of the changes in healthcare, BSN-prepared nurses often have more job opportunities and they’re more likely to gain leadership positions.

How Is the Preparation of ADN and BSN Nurses Different?

ADN and BSN programs both prepare students to uphold the standards of nursing practice. A BSN simply builds on ADN clinical preparation to emphasize the following skills and competencies:

  • Community health nursing
  • Cultural awareness to decrease disparities in healthcare
  • Leadership and management
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Family health nursing throughout a patient’s lifespan
  • Holistic approach to patient care
  • Legal and ethical responsibilities

Bridge programs like Northeastern State University’s online RN to BSN are designed for working nurses who wish to expand their knowledge and skillset.

How Do ADN and BSN Roles Vary?

The Nursing Competencies by Educational Level: Guidelines for Nursing Practice and Education in Oklahoma model, published by the Oklahoma Board of Nursing, identifies common proficiencies for nurses based on their level of preparation. The model shows that nurses with an ADN know how to plan, implement and evaluate healthcare, and they also know how to use information technology. In addition, ADN nurses facilitate and participate in the continuity of care. They understand the importance of intervening on the behalf of a patient when the need arises.

The nursing competencies for BSN-prepared nurses additionally include:

  • Incorporating scientific knowledge and evidence from nursing research into the delivery of care
  • Engaging in developing and changing policies and enabling patients to become involved in healthcare decisions
  • Preventing and resolving ethical challenges
  • Planning, coordinating, organizing and appraising the effective use of resources and finances
  • Using information technology to communicate and improve patient care while protecting patient privacy

Why Should Nurses Obtain a BSN?

Employers and nursing organizations are following Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations. In the landmark report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the IOM (now known as the National Academy of Medicine) called for 80% of all nurses to hold a BSN by 2020. This recommendation was fueled by research indicating a correlation between improved patient outcomes and BSN-prepared nurses. Based on this reasoning, the American Associations of Colleges of Nursing also supports the baccalaureate as the minimum preparation requirement for the professional nursing practice.

For Magnet hospitals or hospitals seeking Magnet status, the majority of nursing staff must hold a BSN, and all nurses in leadership or management roles must be BSN-prepared. New York State was the first to pass the “BSN-in-10” law, which requires nurses entering the workforce to earn a BSN within the first ten years of their career. Several states are considering similar legislation.

Given these factors, many employers prefer BSN-prepared nurses. Nurses interested in advancing their career and increasing their earning potential might want to consider a BSN. Many working nurses, however, are hesitant to enroll in a traditional baccalaureate program because they can be expensive and time consuming. An online RN to BSN is an affordable and convenient option — one that can be completed in as few as 10 months.

Learn more about NSU’s RN to BSN online.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Associate Degree in Nursing Programs and AACN’s Support for Articulation

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Nursing Practice

National Academy of Medicine: The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

Nurse Journal: 10 Reasons Why RN’s Should Pursue their BSN Degree

Nurse Journal: BSN Degree vs RN Differences

Nursing Explorer: ADN vs. BSN – The Big Debate

NursingLicensure.org: ADN and BSN Nursing Pathways: What are the Differences?

Oklahoma Board of Nursing: Nursing Competencies by Educational Level: Guidelines for Nursing Practice and Education in Oklahoma

RegisteredNursing.org: What’s the Difference Between BSN and ADN Nurses? Does It Matter When Looking for a Job as a Nurse?

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