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There are currently several pathways to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN): Through a diploma program (these are typically offered by hospitals), through an associate's degree nursing program at a two or four-year school, or by completing a bachelor's degree program offered by a traditional four-year undergraduate program. As there are three different education levels available for RNs, there is a lot of discussion over whether or not a higher level nursing education produces better nurses.

There are a variety of factors that must be taken into consideration when discussing this topic. First, the three pathways to becoming an RN vary in the amount of time they take to complete as well as the cost of earning the education. In addition, people vary in terms of personal goals, with some placing more value than others on higher education. After weighing the pros and cons of each education level, one can then look into comparison statistics and decide if it is worthwhile to earn a higher level nursing education and whether or not bachelor's degree programs really do lead to higher quality nursing care.

One can become an RN in about 2 to 4 years, depending on the program he or she chooses. For those who wish to be on the fast track to becoming a nurse, a diploma or associate's degree program may be a better option. This might be the case for those who are struggling to make ends meet and need to quickly change their financial situation with the help of a new career. This shorter path to becoming an RN may also work best for those who wish to become a nurse and remain a nurse for the entirety of their careers, though many nurses do choose to further their education after working as an RN for some period of time. Some argue that it is best to wait until one is employed to earn a BSN due to financial reasons.

Enrolling in a BSN program from the start is also a good option. There are many reasons to pursue a BSN. This may be a popular choice for those just graduating from high school who want to get the full "college experience" by attending a traditional four-year college or university. Some individuals may want to earn a BSN from the start because they feel that it is personally fulfilling, or because they envision themselves pursuing a role in nursing leadership or education. A BSN is also a great prerequisite for a nursing school applicant who wishes to pursue a master's or doctoral level degree in the future.

In addition to the time it takes to become an RN, there is also a difference in cost when comparing the different nursing degrees. According to a publication by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the cost of earning an ADN at a community college is roughly $6,000. The cost to earn an ADN almost doubles if one enrolls in the program at a four-year public school. The same study estimates the cost to earn a BSN at approximately $22,000 at a four-year public school. The difference in cost between an ADN at a community college and any nursing degree at a four-year school is significant. It is easy to see why many nurses opt for the shorter, less costly path.

In addition to the difference in the time and cost associated with an ADN compared to a BSN, it is important to consider the material taught throughout one's nursing education. Some claim that a bachelor's degree provides a better-rounded, comprehensive nursing education with more of a foundation in research, management, and the sciences than the education one gains from an associate's degree program. BSN programs typically require students to complete around 120 credits, but many undergraduate programs require a certain number general education courses outside of one's area of study. It may be argued that these courses that are not nursing related are not a necessary part of a nursing education. All must pass the NCLEX-RN before becoming licensed, regardless of education level.

From the perspectives of current nurses, there is no consensus as to whether the level of nursing education changes the level of nursing care provided. Many nurses claim they cannot tell the difference, especially with those who have been nurses for a while. Other nurses, primarily those who worked as RNs before earning a BSN, disagree with the argument that all RNs are the same. These individuals claim that earning a higher level nursing degree has allowed them to provide a higher level of patient care, and that they could tell a noticeable difference in their understanding of nursing-related topics.

In addition to the opinions of current nurses, there have been studies that attempt to decipher whether or not nurses with a bachelor's degree are better at their jobs than those who do not. In a report by the Institute of Medicine, an argument is made that the increasing complexity of healthcare is creating a need for higher educated nurses. Due to the aging of the population, the presence of chronic illness, and a shortage of physicians, nurses with a strong foundation in evidence-based practice, research, leadership, and teamwork are necessary. Those with a bachelor's degree or higher are supposedly more capable of thriving in the changing healthcare environment.

Another argument is that there is a higher patient mortality rate associated with nurses who have less than a bachelor's degree. According to recent studies done in the United States and Canada that examined over 300 hospitals, hiring more BSN-educated nurses seems to lead to a decrease in the patient mortality rate. It is unclear whether or not these studies may have been affected by other factors, including the experience levels of nurses.

Despite whether or not earning a BSN means better nursing, it is often true that those with a bachelor's degree have more opportunity outside of their direct care roles. Nurses with a BSN are more eligible for promotions to management and education roles, amongst other positions.

It seems as though the best answer to the ADN vs. BSN debacle still comes down to personal preference. Those who wish to become a registered nurse and remain in a direct care position may find that completing an ADN is the best option. Those who wish to pursue a higher level nursing degree or a more advanced role in the future may want to earn a BSN. An individual's motivation for becoming a nurse may be more important than the education level that he or she possesses. The role of an RN involves serious responsibility and should not be entered into simply because it can be done with an associate's degree and offers financial security. Whether one has an ADN or BSN may not matter as much as his or her passion for nursing and desire to provide high level patient care.

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