APN vs BSN: Which Nursing Degree Should You Pursue?

The nursing profession is unique because it offers so many pathways. There are lots of different degree plans you can choose, including a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Advanced Practice Nursing license (APN). 

However, the foundation to all nursing degree types is the Registered Nurse (RN) license. RN can focus on either clinical or non-clinical pathways.

Clinical pathways are geared toward direct patient care. Meanwhile, non-clinical tracks are geared toward patient care from research or academia perspectives. Both types lead to fulfilling and engaging professional nursing practice. 

According to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Registered Nurses have a projected growth of 7%. This is 3% higher than the national average for all types of careers. 

Furthermore, advanced practice nurses have a projected growth of 45%. This is 41% higher than the national average for all career types.

A BSN is seen as an entry-level degree type, while an APN is considered advanced practice. APN’s are usually reserved for those with years of nursing experience, but not always.

In this post, you’ll learn the differences between a BSN and APN and see if one of the pathways is right path for you.

What Is A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)?

A BSN nurse is a registered nurse with an undergraduate degree in nursing science. This is considered the entry-level degree for nurses.

In fact, it’s often required to begin work as a practicing RN. 

Why Should You Get Your BSN?

Most hospitals are pushing to require BSN nurses due to the perceived benefits. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the baccalaureate degree in nursing is the minimal preparation for professional practice. 

Many hospitals that do not require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree have established “BSN-preferred” policies for new hires. New BSN-preferred hires are usually given a certain amount of time to acquire a BSN degree. Such a statement suggests that a BSN is the expected standard.

It is likely that eventually a BSN will be the only entry-level nursing degree program, leaving associate degrees behind.

As healthcare shifts away from hospital-centered and inpatient treatment, other points of delivery have emerged, such as:

  • Health maintenance
  • Public health
  • Home health
  • Outpatient centers
  • Public schools
  • Occupational health
  • Nursing school operated centers

Many of these facilities are part of new integrated health networks that provide and coordinate care among a host of facilities within a community.

This broader role requirement is the main reason why BSN nurses are preferred at some healthcare facilities and institutions.

How Do I Get a BSN Degree?

Typically, four-year universities offer BSN degrees both online and on campus.

Traditional BSN programs take 4 years of full-time study. They allow students to sit for the RN licensure upon completion.

Some colleges offer accelerated BSN tracks for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in a field of study other than nursing.

Accelerated BSN tracks take 15-18 months of full time and rigorous study to complete. Once completed, the student is granted permission to sit for the RN licensure.

Students who obtained an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can acquire a BSN degree through a bridge program.

Bridge RN to BSN programs are typically offered online and can be completed in as little as 9 months of full-time study. At the completion of this program, the nurse will have a BSN degree. 

What Is An Advanced Practice Nurse (APN)?

Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs) are registered nurses (RNs) with a:

An APN is a higher-level nursing degree than a BSN. In fact, APNs can:

  • Prescribe medication
  • Diagnose patients
  • Treat patients

APNs are considered mid-level providers. Mid-level providers are increasingly being used to render services autonomously to make up for physician shortages. This is especially true in rural and remote areas.

Types of APN Degrees

There are four types of advanced practice nursing (APN) degrees:

  • Nurse practitioners (NP)
  • Clinical nurse specialists (CNS)
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA)
  • Certified nurse-midwives (CNM)

These degrees require graduate-level training such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP). Other non-clinical graduate MSN and DNP degrees are offered but are not considered APNs. 

Only RNs with an MSN or DNP in one of the four APN roles (CNM, CNS, CRNA, and NP) are considered APNs.

Additionally, RNs with graduate degrees in non-patient facing roles are not considered APNs. These roles include:

  • Healthcare administration
  • Nursing education
  • Informatics

How Do I Get An APN Degree?

APN degrees are offered online and on-campus and require 2-4 years of study.

Traditionally, students start APN degree programs after a getting a BSN degree and clinical experience. Ideally, candidates for these programs have several years of experience in their specialty area before starting the program.

Once completed, the nurse can sit for the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) licensure exam. The APRN license would be an additional certificate to accompany the RN license. You do not lose the RN license once you complete your APRN. Instead, you get to keep both!

Some colleges offer direct-entry tracks for students with no nursing experience. Students without a RN license can:

  • Begin MSN courses
  • Sit for the RN licensing exam
  • Continue study to gain an advanced practice nursing license

Although these programs are somewhat controversial in the nursing community, they offer a quick entry into advanced nursing practice.

Another way to obtain an APN degree is through a RN to MSN bridge program. These programs provide the minimum requirements to obtain a BSN degree. This means you can quickly move on to the MSN portion of the degree plan. 

Bridge programs are most popular online.

APN vs BSN: Which Degree Type Pays More?

APNs are paid more than BSN nurses.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, APN nurses are paid on average $115,800 per year.

Meanwhile, BSN nurses make about $73,300 per year.

The minimum requirement for an APN nurse is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). APN’s pay differs per specialty.

For instance, CRNAs receive the highest pay among APN degree types. On average, CRNAs make $174,790 per year.

Although your career path should not be solely guided by your paycheck, it is something to consider when making long-term goals for your professional aspirations.

Choosing your career path because of your passion (instead of money) will:

  • Make you feel better about the work you do
  • Give you a sense of purpose
  • Stimulate your creativity within that role

APN vs BSN: Which Nursing Degree is Right for Me?

Choosing between a BSN and APN degree depends on your:

  • Short-term and long-term goals
  • Budget
  • Time available to dedicate to schooling
  • Timeframe in which you want to achieve your goals.

If you are unsure about where to start, start by getting your BSN degree and work as a bedside nurse for a few years. Then you’ll be able to identify your passions and determine if you should pursue an advanced practice degree.

You may find that the clinical side of nursing is not for you and pursue non-clinical graduate degrees in nursing. Or, you may enjoy bedside nursing and not want to make any further advancements. It’s up to you!

Either way, nursing is filled with opportunities, flexibility, and specialties. Choosing from any of these paths will lead to a fulfilling career.

References

Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2020). Occupational Employment Statistics. Registered nurses. Accessed from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm