Deciding to become a registered nurse (RN) is only half the battle once you have decided that this is the career you want to pursue. The other half is navigating your way through all the options available to get you there. The first step, in choosing the path to get you to the destination of being a RN, is to decide which type of educational program you want to pursue.
Being an RN, itself, generally means that you’ve obtained a certain level of competence by passing an examination (NCLEX-RN) which states you have the basic knowledge needed to perform this role. However, the education and training that leads up to this exam can vary.
RN Education Pathways
Each of the following ways to become an RN has its advantages and disadvantages, but as mentioned above, all must take and pass the same exam to earn the designation of Registered Nurse.
Associate degree programs generally take a total of 2-3 years to complete while bachelor degree programs generally take 4 years to complete.
Again, many employers may require at least a bachelor’s degree to advance to a management or administrative position. Also, some jobs, such as those in nursing research and those in public health may require a nurse to have a bachelor’s degree in order to even be considered for a position.
Difference in Pay Between RN’s with a Diploma, ASN or BNS
The pay for the entry level nursing position obtained after each of these programs can vary widely, though in most places the difference in amount is negligible, while in some areas of the country the difference may be noticeable. Different institutions may also put a cap on the highest hourly amount they pay after so many years of service based on the degree of the employee. As far as pay in terms of a degree, if there is a difference, those with a diploma are usually paid the least, associated degree in the middle range, and those with a bachelor degree are generally paid the most among these three nurse education programs.
Furthermore, RN salaries vary greatly depending on location and what type of facility. California, Alaska, & Hawaii are the highest paying states, with southern US states paying the least. Hospitals are usually higher, with public grade schools and government health departments paying the least of the facilities. Salaries can range $25,000 to over $80,000 for a Registered Nurse, with averages being about $58,000-60,000 per yr.
Advancement Opportunities for RN’s
In order to advance after working for a period of time a nurse may need to obtain a more advanced degree. The need for this will vary greatly depending on the employer. Most management positions, though, usually require at least a bachelor’s degree, and often a master’s degree. Which ever degree you obtain in the beginning though, there is usually a path to a more advanced degree, the only difference being in the amount of time it takes. Many programs are available to nurses with an associated or diploma degree who want to advance to a bachelor’s degree. These programs are usually called a bridge program. Again it is important to check the schools requirements, because some do not accept those with only a diploma and not a degree.
For those that have already obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing, there are similar programs available to advance to a master of nursing program, and most are scheduled so that a nurse can continue to work while taking classes either at night, on weekends, or through self-study at home. Some advanced management or administrative positions may also accept or require the nurse to have an MBA, (Master of Business Administration) degree, instead of an MSN degree.
Which ever path to nursing is chosen, becoming a nurse is one of the most rewarding careers that you can choose and most patients will not care or know which type of education you chose, only that you are a qualified and competent RN.