Healthcare is a wonderful profession. It gives you the opportunity to engage in meaningful work as you provide vital care for others. It also tends to pay well.
Nursing is the area in healthcare with the largest employment, with over four million registered nurses in the U.S. For many seeking a career in healthcare, nursing is their point of entry.
If you’re interested in a career in nursing, however, you might have some questions about the degree you’ll need and what kinds of job opportunities your degree can prepare you for.
Keep reading to find out about the most common degrees earned in nursing and what you can do with them.
What can I do with an associate degree in nursing?
An Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) is typically completed in two years and covers the foundations of nursing practice, including courses in biology, human anatomy and physiology, and health. Programs also include clinical practice to give hands-on experience in the duties performed by nurses on the job.
After completing an accredited program with sufficient clinical hours, a graduate can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become a Registered Nurse (RN). The median wage for RNs is $77,600.
Though many of us think of nurses mainly as those who engage in patient care in hospital settings, there are many different roles RNs can fill. For instance, they might work in an assisted living community or provide nursing care to patients in their homes.
Whatever the setting, the basic responsibilities of an RN usually include assessing and monitoring patient health through observation and basic examinations, administering medications, and providing care and support as needed.
Something you should be aware of, however, is that while it is possible to find a job as an RN with an associate degree, many employers are seeking RNs who hold a bachelor’s degree instead. In the next section, we’ll explain why.
What can I do with a bachelor’s degree in nursing?
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year degree that provides a broader and deeper level of training than the ASN. This higher level of education makes a difference. Studies on nursing practice have found that:
- RNs with a BSN report being better prepared for the job.
- The presence of more RNs with a BSN in a healthcare facility is associated with better health outcomes for patients, including lower mortality rates.
- RNs with a BSN have stronger critical thinking, leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.
It’s no surprise, then, that employers have a strong preference for nurses with four-year degrees. When you earn your BSN, even if you are already a practicing RN, you’ll have a stronger skill set and deliver better patient care.
A bachelor’s degree in nursing will give you more opportunities (and better pay) than an ASN. As you deepen your skills and experience, you can explore specialized roles like a hospice care nurse, who provides in-home care for those with a terminal diagnosis, or a public health nurse, who works within an organization (like a school system) to promote better community health outcomes.
What can I do with a master’s degree in nursing?
A master’s degree in nursing (MSN) provides advanced training to help nurses deepen their expertise in preparation for a specialized role. Many nurses earn their master’s degrees while they continue to work. Completing a program usually takes two to three years.
Nurses who hold this advanced training are called Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) and commonly serve in one of three roles:
- Nurse Anesthetist: These professionals administer anesthesia to patients during surgical procedures. Their work is similar to that of an anesthesiologist.
- Nurse Midwife: These nurses provide care for women’s reproductive health, including during pregnancy and childbirth.
- Nurse Practitioner: Nurse Practitioners provide primary and urgent care to patients, helping to diagnose disease, prescribe medications, and oversee treatment. They often serve under the supervision of a physician.
These specialized roles involve more responsibility and independence. They also offer increased pay. According to BLS data, APRNs earn a median salary of $123,780 per year.
RN to BSN at Athens State
As we noted above, having your BSN is a key advantage when it comes to careers in nursing. Not only can it expand your career options as an RN, but it is a necessary foundation if you want to eventually earn your MSN.
If you’re a practicing nurse who is ready to move forward into deeper knowledge, more responsibility, and greater pay in your profession, Athens State University has created a flexible, convenient pathway for you to earn your BSN.
Our program is available completely online and can be completed in as little as 15 months. Cohorts begin in the fall, spring, and summer, so you can get started as soon as you’re ready.
If you’d like to learn more, visit our program page or contact our admissions team.