How does an associate degree in nursing differ from others?

How does an associate degree in nursing differ from others?

Mar 24, 2015 | 9:00 am

At first glance they all seem similar: You can become an RN whether you earn an associate degree in nursing at a community college, a diploma from a hospital training program or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a senior college or university. After completing any of these programs, you become eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which earns you the title of licensed RN.

So besides length of time, how does an associate degree in nursing differ from other degrees? There are a couple key differences that are becoming more prominent.

Level of Education

In the course of earning an associate degree, nursing students study anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition, microbiology, psychology and have supervised clinical experience. A bachelor’s degree includes all of those classes, but according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the BSN includes additional education in communication, leadership, critical thinking, physical science, social science and nursing research (as well as more clinical experience), which enhances professional development and prepares nurses to face the demands made on today’s healthcare professionals.

An associate degree in nursing has traditionally been a great starting point to enter the field as a staff nurse, but it’s also important to pay attention to trends. Nurses with a higher education are gaining more desirability from employers. According to Penn State College of Nursing, which is currently replacing its associate degree program with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, “The College of Nursing supports the national movement toward the baccalaureate degrees for entry-level nurses and encourages associate degree graduates to pursue a baccalaureate degree or higher.”

Role in Healthcare

A licensed RN with an associate degree in nursing often covers the following responsibilities:

•Collaborates with colleagues to provide direct care to patients
•Evaluates the wellness or illness of a patient
•Analyzes factors around the patient that could be impacting health
•Develops and supports comprehensive care plans

There are some similarities between nurses with an associate degree and bachelor’s degree, but the BLS notes that higher-degreed nurses have more diverse opportunities in administration, research, consulting and teaching.

The latest research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reveals the benefits of nurses with advanced education, linking better patient outcomes from nurses with a BSN or higher. Nonetheless, many RNs who hold an associate degree in nursing are more than qualified to perform their roles and bring a fresh perspective to health care.

Earning an associate degree in nursing from a community college can be a great first step toward a nursing career, saving you money and time before starting your career. The key is to research hiring trends in your area to know if this is the right educational decision for you.