April 1, 2019
The great thing about pursuing a degree in nursing is it offers you many career paths. The first step toward making your nursing dream job a reality is determining which nursing degree you need for the career you want.
For those with a diploma who want to enter the field as quickly as possible, an associate degree may be the way to go. Or, for non-nurses with bachelor’s degrees who want change careers to nursing quickly, an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program like the one Marian University offers could be a great route.
To help you decide which degree level is right for you, we outline the educational pathways available in nursing below.
Associate degrees in nursing
Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) programs provide a degree option for students with a diploma who want to enter the profession in as few as two years. Many community colleges and vocational schools offer programs for students to earn their ASNs, the minimum requirement to become a registered nurse. Just know many of today’s healthcare employers require a bachelor’s degree for many registered nurse roles.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Students who pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a four-year university or college (including Marian University) typically attend a majority of their courses on campus for the classroom learning portion of their education. Later in the curriculum, generally the last two years of the program, they attend clinical rotations at healthcare facilities near campus to apply nursing theory concepts and gain first-hand experience working with patients in a clinical setting.
Depending on your career goals and timeline, a couple options exist for earning a BSN, including:
Second-degree BSN programs are ideal for non-nurses with bachelor’s degrees who want to transition into nursing. While many universities (including Marian University) offer ground programs, online options are available for students who need more scheduling flexibility. No matter which path you pursue, expect courses to be challenging.
Because you receive credit for already completing your liberal arts requirements, second-degree BSN programs usually take two academic years or less to complete. Accelerated BSNs, a variation of the second-degree BSN, move even quicker—from 12 to 20 months. The 16-month Marian University ABSN program, for example, comprises online coursework, on-site skills and simulation labs and clinicals at St. Vincent in Indianapolis and Saint Thomas Health in Nashville.
If you’re a working nurse, a popular degree option is the RN to BSN, which allows you to enter a BSN program after already having completed a diploma or associate degree program. It’s a great route for those who want to advance their careers without having to take time off work to pursue a full-time BSN program. Many working nurses can complete RN to BSN programs, including Marian’s online RN to BSN track offered through Marian Adult Programs, in approximately two years.
Master of Science in Nursing
BSN-educated nurses who want to pursue a specialized track or management position may consider working toward a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Such programs typically involve one to two years of additional coursework.
An MSN is a job requirement to become an advanced practice nurse (APN or APRN), who generally has more clinical authority and autonomy than BSN-educated RNs. You also need a specialized master’s degree for many mid-level provider positions, such as nurse educator.
Doctorate degrees in nursing
A doctorate degree in nursing is the highest degree one can earn in the nursing field, and typically takes four to six years to complete. Before you can become eligible to enroll in such a program, you must first have a bachelor’s and sometimes, a master’s degree.
You have two options for pursuing a doctorate in nursing: a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and a Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc, also a DSN or DNS) or PhD. The primary difference between the two is one is more practice-based while the other is research-based.
A DNP program focuses on organizational management, systems leadership and clinical-practice administration. For example, Marian University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program offers two tracks: Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP). This and other such programs are ideal for those who want to pursue advanced roles including nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthetist, or nurse midwife.
A DNS or Ph.D., on the other hand, focuses on scientific inquiry and evidence-based nursing practice, and prepares nurses interested in pursuing nurse research, scientist, and scholar roles.