RN vs BSN: What’s the Difference Between RN and BSN?

RN Vs BSN - What's the Difference?

Nursing as a career path offers a wealth of specialties and paths – from nursing at the bedside, to research, to education, to executive leadership and more.

Depending on the path you choose, you may need different certifications and even levels of education. One question aspiring nurses often ask as they explore their options is ‘What is the difference between RN and BSN?

Below, we break down the difference between RN and BSN and explore what path might be the best choice for you.

Difference Between RN and BSN

When comparing RN vs BSN, first know that we are talking about a licensure versus a level of education. Let’s dive into this main difference between RN and BSN further:

What is an RN?

A registered nurse (RN) is a nurse who has completed all educational and examination requirements, and has been licensed to practice nursing in their state. You will also see ‘registered nurse’ as a job title or position.

The first step to become an RN is to earn a diploma in nursing, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. Once completed, RN candidates sit for the NCLEX-RN Exam, administered by the National Council of States Board of Nursing. Registered nurse candidates apply for licensure in the state where they intend to practice, once testing and education requirements have been satisfied.

What is a BSN?

The main difference between RN and BSN is that a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is an educational degree, rather than a licensure or job title.

Nurses can earn a BSN in one of two ways. You can pursue a BSN and RN at the same time through an entry-level program like Chamberlain’s 3-Year BSN degree. Alternately, you could become an RN through a diploma or associate degree program, and later return to school to complete your BSN through an RN to BSN online program.

So what is the difference between RN and BSN? In a nutshell, a BSN is the degree you earn. RN is the licensure you are granted through your state.

In considering RN vs BSN, your first decision will be what level of education preparation you’d like to pursue. Earning a diploma or associate degree takes less time to complete, may cost less than a BSN and can get you into the workforce faster. Of course, this route has some downsides too – which might include RN vs BSN salary levels. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook: ”Generally, registered nurses who have a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN) will have better job prospects than those without one.”

Increasingly, a BSN is becoming the degree of choice for other reasons as well. Let’s further explore the difference between RN and BSN:  

Why is the BSN becoming the Expected Degree?

A number of forces are driving the RN vs BSN conversation: research indicating BSNs may influence better health outcomes for patients, recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and emerging state legislation.

1. The Future of Nursing Report: A Blueprint for Action

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing, published an influential 600-plus page report entitled, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health.”

One of the recommendations made in the report has been a driving force behind making the BSN the desired entry point for new nurses: “Academic nurse leaders across all schools of nursing should work together to increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50 to 80 percent by 2020.” - The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health

2. American Nurses Credentialling Center (ANCC) Magnet Status

In part to help meet this IOM goal, the ANCC set up a Magnet Recognition Program. This program requires a healthcare organization to undergo a rigorous examination including detailed documentation and a site visit to demonstrate that nurses working in the facility feel that they contribute to decision-making, have opportunities for advancement and are satisfied with their work.

As part of this process, the AANC has stated that organization must document that they have fulfilled the 80% guideline or have a plan to achieve it. In addition, Magnet organizations are required to have 100% of their nurse managers holding a BSN degree or above. - (The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice).

Research comparing Magnet to non-Magnet hospitals concluded that hospitals with Magnet status scored better on nurse participation in hospital affairs, nurse manager ability, leadership and support, and nurse-physician relations. The nurses also reported a lower level of burnout.

3.    Emerging State Legislation

In June of 2017, the “BSN in 10” act amended the education law for the state of New York. The act states:

The nurse of the future must be prepared to partner with multiple  disciplines  as  a  collaborator  and manager of the complex patient care journey...This legislation affects future nurses  graduating  from  associate  degree  or  diploma nursing programs who would be required to obtain a baccalaureate in nursing within ten years of initial licensure.


4. Research Links a BSN Degree to Better Patient Outcomes

Increasingly, research shows that organizations with a large number of BSN-educated nurses better serve their patients. One influential study published in 20132 examined four factors - education, staffing, skill mix, and years of experience as an RN - and their relationship to patient mortality rates and “failure to rescue” (i.e., death following the development of a complication). The only significant factor in decreasing these rates was education.

Another study driving the RN vs BSN discussion was conducted in 20183. Researchers searched, among other sources, 6 databases to find studies that examined the relationship between higher levels of nurse education and patient outcomes. They looked closely at over 2,000 studies and selected 27 that met their inclusion criteria. Among their findings:

  1. “Overall, higher levels of education were associated with lower risks of failure to rescue and mortality in 75% and 61.1% of the reviewed studies…”
  2. “Only one study examined the 80% threshold proposed by the Institute of Medicine and found evidence that it is associated with lower odds of hospital readmission and shorter lengths of stay"

The Difference Between RN and BSN: Final Analysis

The key thing to remember when thinking about RN vs BSN is that a RN is a licensure granted by your state to practice nursing. A BSN is your level of education – and one that is increasingly being seen as the future of nursing.

Earning Your BSN: Q&A

I’m just starting out and I know I want to get my BSN. What’s the best path for me?
We would encourage you to check out an entry-level program like Chamberlain University’s 3-year online BSN program or our BSN Degree Online Option. You don’t need to be a registered nurse to attend – no pre-requisites are needed.

I already have a bachelor’s degree in another area, but I’m not an RN. What program is right for me?
Chamberlain welcomes qualifying transfer credits! Before you enroll in the 3-Year BSN program, your admissions team will do a transcript evaluation to see what credits might transfer into the program. View more of the transfer credit guidelines.

I have an associate degree/diploma in nursing. How long are RN to BSN programs?
The RN to BSN Online Option can be completed in as few as three semesters of year-round study (a little over a year of full-time online classes).

Read more: How Long is RN to BSN?

Can I still work while earning my BSN?
Absolutely. If you’re already an RN, our RN to BSN Option is designed for busy, working nurses. You will have no mandatory log-in times, allowing you more flexibility to complete your weekly assignments according to your schedule.

If you’re not yet a nurse, select campuses at Chamberlain offer an Evening & Weekend nursing program. Our BSN Degree Online Option* also offers a hybrid model, with online coursework and hands-on clinical rotations at Advocate Aurora Health in Wisconsin. This option is available to AL, HI, IL, IA, MN, NM, OK, SD, WI and WV residents only.*

Is someone available to talk through my options with me?
Of course! You’re never alone in navigating your educational options – we're here to support and guide you towards the path that makes the most sense for you. Call us at 877.751.5783.

*Program/program option availability varies by state/location. Chamberlain reserves the right to update information as it becomes available. Information is current at the time of publication.

Take the First Step

Call 877.751.5783 to speak with an admission representative