BSN vs. RN

Which Nursing Path Is Best for My Career?

All nurses play an important part in caring for our health, but not all nurses are the same. There’s a hierarchy of education, experience, and certifications, illustrated by a constellation of acronyms that the average patient might not understand but that make a huge difference in where a nurse can work, what they can do, and how much they earn. Two of the most common things you can pursue to showcase what kind of nurse you are, are an RN certification or a BSN degree. We’ll break down what these stand for and how earning each can make a difference in your nursing career.


An RN stands for “registered nurse” and is a professional certification and title. RNs are nurses who have met the requirements outlined by their state’s board of nursing or other government authorized licensing body. These requirements usually include a clinical experience component and an educational component like an approved nursing program, an associate degree in nursing, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. To become an RN, you are also required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN exam.

Earning this distinction is an important step up from entry-level, non-degreed nursing roles and opens a range of new opportunities.

Roles and Responsibilities of RNs

RNs work as part of a larger health care team and their duties can vary depending on the specific practice where they work, but in general, RNs can expect to handle many of the following tasks as part of their day.

  • Assess patient condition and vital signs
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Consult and collaborate with other health care providers
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Perform and analyze diagnostic tests
  • Educate patients and their families
  • Record medical histories and symptoms
  • Direct and supervise other health care professionals, such as licensed practical nurses (LPNs), certified nurse assistants (CNAs), and medical assistants

RN Career Paths

Earning your RN certification is a great place to start growing your nursing career and registered nurses can work in a variety of health care settings, in a variety of specialized roles including those listed below.

RN Salary Levels

The U.S. bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for registered nurses is $77,600 but can vary with experience level and geographic area. This is a significant increase from the $48,070 salary of an LPN and the $36,000 median salary of a nursing assistant.


BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing and is an educational degree, not a professional job certification like RN. RNs are not required to earn a BS, though it’s fast becoming the entry-level standard degree for nurses, especially due to the increased research showing better patient outcomes rising in parallel with the number of bachelor’s-prepared nurses in any given health care facility. Many large hospitals are particularly making a BS in Nursing a requirement.

Earning a BS in Nursing means a significant boost in salary, flexibility, and options like graduate degrees, leadership roles, and more.

Roles and Responsibilities of Nurses with a BS in Nursing

Nurses with a bachelor’s degree have reached a major milestone in their careers and, in addition to everything an RN already can do, they are ready to take on new responsibilities and lead in more important roles including:

  • Administrative tasks and promotion
  • Nurse education and training
  • Care management
  • Nurse management
  • Infection and quality control

Career Paths with a BS in Nursing

Earning your BS in Nursing means that you’ve advanced beyond the basics of nursing and are prepared to be a better critical thinker, a more holistic care provider, and more empowered as a leader. The job opportunities open to BS grads reflect these higher-level skills as well:

Salary Levels with a BS in Nursing

The types of positions available to RNs with a bachelor’s degree can command higher salaries than their counterparts without one. For example, according to Payscale, a nurse manager can expect to earn an average salary of $93,549, a nurse informaticist can earn an average of $86,069, and a nurse administrator can earn an average of $90,577.

Whether you choose to earn your RN with an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, it all depends on your interests and career goals. Any education you decide to pursue will only help you in the long term to do more, earn more, and be the very best nurse you can be!

Excelsior University has online nursing degree programs at every level so wherever you are in your career, there’s a degree to help you go further.