Updated February 22, 2022 • 4 Min Read

Returning to School to Enhance Your Nursing Skills

Nurses who seek career advancement, a higher salary, more skills or increased responsibility would do well to consider an RN-to-BSN program. These programs streamline training and minimize redundancy, meaning registered nurses can usually complete a bachelor's of science in nursing in less time than a typical four-year bachelor's degree program. The following will help prospective RN-to-BSN students select a school, review typical curriculum and learn the potential career paths available to graduates.

Find the RN-to-BSN Program for You

RN-to-BSN programs are offered online and on campus, with a practical hands-on lessons held at a clinic, hospital or other appropriate medical setting. Quality programs are those that are accredited and have instructors that are experts in the nursing field, with years of experience under their belts. As of 2013, there were nearly 700 accredited RN-to-BSN programs in the U.S., including more than 400 offered online. Use the search tool below to explore the options for earning a bachelor of science in nursing in the U.S.

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RN-to-BSN Educational Road Map

The following illustrates an example academic and career path for students who pursue an RN-to-BSN bridge program.

  • Earn an RN diploma/certificate or an associate's degree in nursing (ADN).
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN and state licensure.
  • Work as a registered nurse at a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility for at least two years.
  • Complete an RN-to-BSN bridge program at an accredited school, online or on-campus.
  • Pursue job promotions or alternative career opportunities available to nurses with bachelor's degrees.

Benefits to Earning Your BSN

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), RN-to-BSN programs focus on three fundamental areas: professional development, skill-building and cultural awareness. With a BSN, RNs become more qualified to make critical treatment decisions for patients and they improve their chances of a higher salary and job promotion. Nurses who hold a BSN are often considered for nursing positions outside of a regular clinic or hospital setting, such as with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Veterans Administration.

RNs with a bachelor's degree are often qualified for the positions of head nurse, department chief, administrative manager, nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse manager and nurse practitioner. The AACN states that hospitals and clinics staffed with a higher percentage of RNs who hold a bachelor's degree tend to have more successful patient outcomes, including lower death rates, shorter hospital stays and higher levels of patient satisfaction.

RN Core Competency BSN Enhancement
Patient Care RNs communicate with patients about symptoms and care, and also promote disease prevention and wellness. A nurse with a BSN is able to care for patients across the lifespan and in a variety of health care settings and educate patients about health care and wellness.
Teamwork and collaboration Nurses work with other nurses and doctors to treat patients. A nurse with a BSN is often in a managerial position and can direct RNs on the care and treatment of patients.
Leadership Although RNs must show leadership with their patients and in the workplace, nurses with a BSN take it a couple of notches higher by including quality assessment and improvement and patient safety into their skill set.
Clear oral and written communication Nurses with a BSN will report verbally and in writing on patient symptoms and health to doctors.
Technology Skills Nurses can perform procedures such as taking vital signs with a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. Nurses with a BSN will evaluate that information and use technology such as a clinic's computer system to locate and communicate that information.

Working While Getting a BSN:

There are several advantages to working while pursuing a BSN. Although it may be too difficult to hold down a full-time job while in a BSN program, there are several advantages to working at least part time, such as taking advantage of employer-based tuition assistance programs, qualifying for nursing scholarships and financial aid and spending less on tuition overall.

RN-to-BSN from Start to Finish

Because RNs already have a diploma or two-year degree, many schools offer RN-to-BSN programs to streamline training and decrease redundancy. Requirements may differ with each school and the admissions process is a competitive one. Below are the typical requirements students can expect when applying to an RN-to-BSN program:

  • Confirm the application deadline. Missing it could mean delaying your education by six months or more.
  • Meet with an academic adviser to discuss the program and required courses.
  • You will have to have taken and passed any prerequisites with a minimum grade point average (varies by school).
  • Hold a current RN licensure.
  • Show proof of two years of full-time nursing work.
  • Submit resume including work experience, certifications received and relevant volunteer work.
  • Submit transcripts.
  • Many schools require letters of recommendation from an immediate supervisor, professional colleague or faculty member. References from family members or friends are not acceptable.
  • Write an essay on which program you wish to apply for, along with what you hope to learn and how this program will help you in your career.
  • Identify and apply for financial resources such as scholarships and financial aid.
  • Take the nursing entrance exam, if required.

Programs also often require a background check, immunizations, CPR certification and health insurance coverage.

RN-to-BSN Coursework: Building on Your Skills

RN-to-BSN programs take into consideration previous RN nursing experience, and courses are related to advancing in the career with in-depth focus on nursing concepts, procedures and skills. Graduates will be able to use knowledge from nursing to address the health care of individuals, groups and communities. They will be able to apply the knowledge and skills of information management and patient care procedures to give care that addresses legal, ethical, historical and emerging health care issues. Nurses who hold a BSN will be able to apply a systematic process for application and evaluation of evidence related to the promotion of health, disease prevention and illness management.

The following is an example of courses that students typically take in an RN-to-BSN program:

Course Description
Contemporary Nursing and Health Care Issues RNs examine the role of nursing in current and future health care environment. They study historical, contemporary and potential influences on nursing practice and study and apply to current practice. The course also covers issues and trends and their application to the practice of nursing.
Community Health Nursing The course provides a foundation in offering culturally competent health care for individuals, families and communities. Health management strategies are discussed within the context of local, regional, national and global health initiatives. Epidemiology, health disparities, health care access and resources, lifestyles and disease screening are part of this course.
Pathophysiology of Health Deviations This course builds on previous knowledge gained from anatomy, physiology, chemistry and microbiology. It provides an opportunity to study health deviations and their effects on human function.
Nursing Leadership and Management This course sets up RNs to learn and apply leadership and management skills to contemporary health care issues in professional practice.
Principles of Pharmacology Students are introduced to the basic principles of drug action and nursing implications within the framework of the nursing process. Drugs and the pharmacologic effects on the body are studied, as well as the safety and legal implications of drug administration. The course often includes calculation of intravenous medications.

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