Ultimate Guide to Nursing Degrees: BSN, MSN, DNP & More
Everything You Need to Know About Degree Paths in the Nursing Field
Nursing is the largest profession in our healthcare system and plays one of the most important roles in patient care. Nurses provide essential clinical care, monitor patient health, and provide support for patients in every aspect. They work closely with physicians to treat patients, and at more advanced levels occupy key roles as healthcare leaders and family practitioners. Nurses are needed at hospitals, clinics, and almost every type of healthcare facility.
If you want to learn more about the nursing field, the different kinds of roles, and what education path you should take for your nursing career, this guide can help.
What Do Nurses Do?
Nurses have multiple responsibilities, which vary based on their position and credentials. A registered nurse is usually responsible for taking care of many patients on a daily basis and is the health professional a patient will interact with most frequently. In addition to monitoring vital signs, taking blood and providing medication, nurses are often closely involved with treating illness. They review a patient’s medical history, check for signs and symptoms of disease, and perform tests. Nurses work closely with doctors and keep them updated on patient health, as well as assist during medical procedures.
As nurses gain additional specializations, certifications, or degrees beyond RN licensure, their responsibilities change and evolve. For example, as a Family Nurse Practitioner, you’ll focus more on developing long-term care plans for your patients, sometimes over their lifespan, rather than focusing only on their day-to-day health needs. Regardless of their specific role, nurses need to be compassionate, caring individuals who strive to improve patient health, whether they work in the ICU or the management office.
Types of Nursing Degrees & Certificates
The most basic training you need to enter the nursing field is nursing assistant training. With this, you can get approved by the state as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). If you want to become a licensed or registered nurse though, you’ll need higher education credentials from a nursing school or college. Explore all of the different types of nursing degrees below and the programs offered at our Touro schools.
Undergraduate Nursing Degrees and Diplomas
Licensed Practical Nurse Diploma (LPN)
You’ll need to earn an LPN Diploma or equivalent, and pass the NCLEX-PN exam given by the National Council of State Board of Nursing, to be considered a licensed nurse. Once you have your license, you’ll be able to work in hospitals and nursing facilities and help treat patients. This is the fastest path to becoming a nurse, although your earning potential will be limited. If you want to become a registered nurse, you can go directly for your associate or bachelor’s degree, and do not need an LPN diploma.
As an LPN, you’ll have more expertise and a higher salary than a CNA, but will need to work under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) by law. An LPN Diploma is a great educational opportunity if you want to enter the workforce after spending only about a year as a nursing student.
Registered Nurse (AAS)
A minimum of an associate degree is required to become a Registered Nurse. As an RN, you’ll have access to a much wider range of career opportunities than an LPN. You’ll also have more responsibilities; while an LPN generally only takes care of basic tasks like drawing blood, hygienic maintenance, and measuring vital signs, an RN is in charge of more advanced tasks like emergency response, assessing illness and wounds, and administering chemotherapy. Although the majority of RNs work in hospitals, they also find employment at psychiatric facilities, outpatient clinics, and schools.
As a Registered Nurse, you may also need to supervise multiple LPNs and Nursing Assistants on your team. An RN often spends more time directly interacting with physicians and responding to patient needs at a higher level, while the licensed nurses and assistants focus on maintaining day-to-day patient health and comfort.
On average, Registered Nurses with an associate degree make around $70,820 per year. This is a higher average salary than many other similar health care jobs that require an associate degree. For instance, Radiologic Technologists and Physical Therapist Assistants earn about $10k less per year, on average (nursingprocess.org).
RN Job Responsibilities
- Leading emergency response (life support)
- Monitoring and treating wounds
- Creating Care Plans for individual patients
- Managing medication through IV and central lines
- Managing and assigning tasks to CNAs and LPNs
- Taking blood and other basic tasks in an LPN’s absence
RN AAS Degree Programs
At Touro, our AAS Nursing Program at the New York School of Applied & Career Sciences (NYSCAS) trains you to work as a Registered Nurse. Available both part-time and full-time, the program covers the essentials of nursing care and prepares you for New York State licensure. You’ll have the opportunity to develop your working knowledge of nursing care at clinical sites and skills lab.
Nursing Bachelor of Science (BSN)
Like an AAS Nursing degree, a Bachelor of Science nursing program also leads to licensure as a Registered Nurse. While both degrees qualify you for the same role, a BSN provides you with additional education and teaches you more advanced nursing skills. The extra time in school also allows for more specialized training in areas like pediatric care or emergency/ICU care. As such, a Registered Nurse with a BSN degree will generally qualify for more roles and a higher salary than an RN with just an associate degree. In the same way, earning a master’s or doctorate in nursing will give you even further specialization which will allow you to become a nursing leader and even potentially open your own practice.
RN BSN Salary
Nurses with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn an average of $77,070 per year. That’s $7,000 more on average than nurses who only have an associate degree. A BSN will also give you a higher earning potential throughout your career and the opportunity to make upwards of $100k. The annual salary range of an RN holding a BSN is the highest of any profession requiring only a bachelor’s degree (nursingprocess.org). With employment growth rising 7% for RNs over the next decade, nursing is a smart career choice for both job satisfaction and job security. (bls.gov)
Top Benefits of Earning Your BSN
A BSN will give you all of the same skills as a Registered Nurse with an AAS, and also allow you to learn more specialized training. Here are some of the main reasons you might consider a BSN:
- Qualify for more management and admin roles
- Qualify for roles in patient education and public health
- Learn how to respond to a wider variety of patient situations
- Access to opportunities as a military or travel nurse
- Specialize in areas like psychiatry, delivery, and emergencies
- Greater job security and access to opportunities
Touro University offers a BSN degree program at the School of Health Sciences in New York City. This 4-year bachelor’s degree program prepares you to become a fully trained nurse with advanced knowledge and clinical skills. Along with essential knowledge needed in the field like anatomy, nutrition and medical-surgical nursing, you’ll explore topics such as pathophysiology and community health. Upon completing the program, you’ll be able to take your exam and then apply for your RN license with NYSED. After earning your RN license, you can enter the workforce as a Registered Nurse.
RN to BSN Programs
If you’re already working as a Registered Nurse, an RN to BSN program is a great opportunity to further your education and develop your expertise. Touro offers RN to BSN degree programs at the School of Health Sciences in Brooklyn and Valhalla, NY, and Touro University Nevada in Henderson, NV. Depending on your transfer credits, these programs can potentially be completed in one year.
Some nurses choose to enter the workforce with their associate degree and gain their bachelor’s while working. This path allows you to gain more extensive field knowledge before finishing your education. Although a BSN leads to higher salaries, a 4-year program is also a big financial commitment. Starting with your associate degree allows you to earn money sooner and prepare to invest in finishing your undergraduate education.
How Do I Know Which Undergrad Nursing Degree is Right for Me?
Some nursing professionals or aspiring nurses are at different stages of their career than others and have varying goals. If you want to get started in the workforce as soon as possible, becoming an LPN is the quickest option.
Choosing to opt for a 2-year RN degree or 4-year Bachelor of Science will open up opportunities for higher salaries and a more advanced role. It also gives you more job security; LPNs are being phased out in some states in favor of more specialized and skilled nursing professionals.
Graduate Nursing Degrees and Certificates
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
A Master of Science in Nursing program prepares you to advance in your career and become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). An APRN is highly skilled in nursing care and has specialized training in their chosen area. As a minimum requirement, a bachelor’s degree is necessary to apply to an MSN program.
Like RNs, APRNs also work in hospitals and outpatient clinics, but their focus is generally more on long-term care. As such, you’ll see more APRNs in private practice and long-term care clinics. Nurse Practitioners are a type of APRN who have more training and typically build relationships with patients and families over time. Nurse Practitioners also specialize in a certain area of health care during their MSN program and in their continued training, such as geriatrics or women’s health.
Earning your MSN degree can have a big impact on your salary potential. APRNs can make as much as $117k, with the median annual salary at $96,000. (payscale.com) Highly skilled nurses like Nurse Practitioners and Anesthetists can look forward to exponential job growth; according to government data, employment for these nurses is expected to grow by 45% over the next ten years. (bls.gov)
In your MSN program, you’ll be able to choose what practice area you want to focus on. After completing the program, you’ll take a certification exam in that discipline and prepare to work as an advanced nurse practitioner. Here are just a few of the MSN specializations you can pursue:
- Orthopedics - You’ll work with injured patients and assist with their bone and muscle recovery, and treat chronic illnesses like arthritis.
- Neonatal Care - This specialty focuses on care for both newborns with medical conditions and premature newborns.
- Anesthesia - A Nurse Anesthetist helps a physician with pre- and post-surgery tasks and applies anesthesia.
- Midwifery - A Midwife Nurse assists patients with the pregnancy and birthing process, including postpartum care.
- Informatics - This specialty combines nursing practice with data science and helps inform better decisions in health care.
Advanced Practice Roles
Earning a Master’s in Nursing opens up possibilities for your nursing career. While becoming an APRN with a chosen specialty is one of the main options for your next role, an MSN also allows you to take on leadership and education positions. In some states, Nurse Practitioners can also open up their own practice and operate independently. A few of the roles you can qualify for include:
- Nurse Researcher
- Nurse Administrator
- Public Health Nurse
- Nurse Educator
- Clinical Nurse Leader
Here at Touro, we have an MSN program at Touro University Nevada, Touro University California, and Touro College Illinois. Our MSN programs accommodate the busy lives of working nursing professionals. Our TUN and Touro College Illinois programs are mostly online nursing degrees, along with three on-campus intensives, while our TUC program is held during evenings and weekends with hybrid learning options.
Both our TUN and Illinois MSN programs are dual degree programs that include a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) certificate. For more info on FNP coursework and the roles FNPs play in the healthcare space, explore the upcoming section.
Although our TUN program is mainly online, clinical rotations must be completed in either Nevada or Arizona. For TUN or Illinois, you may be able to complete your online program requirements while residing out of state, depending on approval from your state board of nursing. All three of our programs give you the advanced knowledge and clinical trials you need to become an APRN, and prepare you for your certification exam.
Family Nurse Practitioner Certificate (FNP)
A FNP Certificate is a post-graduate program that leads to a career as a Family Nurse Practitioner. FNP programs explore disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in a primary care setting. You’ll learn how to address patient needs and develop long-term health care plans with patients at all life stages.
What is a Family Nurse Practitioner?
A Family Nurse Practitioner is a highly trained APRN with specific education and knowledge around family care. While some FNPs may pursue administrative and leadership positions, they often occupy a patient-centered role. Although they don’t have the same training as a family physician, they do play a similar part in a patient’s life. Many times, FNPs work collaboratively with primary care physicians and assist them with prescribing medicine, conducting health exams, etc.
Family Nurse Practitioner Requirements
In order to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, you’ll need a Master’s in Nursing, a nursing license, extensive clinical experience, and advanced graduate-level FNP coursework. After completing your FNP program, you’ll be eligible for your FNP certification exam.
As one of the most highly trained professionals in advanced nursing practice, Family Nurse Practitioners can expect high compensation. The average salary for FNPs is around $96,000 per year. (payscale.com)
At Touro University California, our FNP certificate is available as a separate program from the MSN. At Touro College Illinois, we offer a combined MSN-FNP program. At Touro University Nevada, we offer both a separate FNP certificate and the option for a combined MSN-FNP program.
Our FNP coursework builds on knowledge gained from your master’s program and trains you to develop a more advanced, evidence-based approach to patient care. Of course, clinical rotations play an important role in all three programs, especially in regards to treating underserved populations. In these programs, you’ll further sharpen your primary care knowledge, with detailed coursework on diagnostics, pharmacology, and childbearing.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
A Doctorate in Nursing Practice is geared towards nurses who want to work in a leadership position. Some nurses who complete a DNP may still interact directly with patients, depending on their role and specialty. With a DNP, you’ll qualify for high-level roles in healthcare administration, public health, and more.
While a DNP graduate is not a physician, they play a critical role in guiding healthcare policy and ensuring better outcomes for patient health. DNPs cannot perform complex surgeries like an MD, but in many states are able to carry a lot of the same responsibilities as physicians, such as running a practice, diagnosing, and prescribing medication.
Along with a PhD, a DNP is the highest level of nursing education you can complete. As such, you can look forward to, on average, earning the highest salaries in the field. The average salary for a DNP holder is $103,471 (payscale.com). Many nurses with a DNP work in health management and they can potentially earn more than $150k per year. (allnursingschools.com)
Touro has a DNP program at Touro University Nevada. Our DNP is geared towards training highly skilled Nurse Practitioners with a well-rounded doctorate education. This is a full-time, 100% online nursing program focused on leadership and organization. Through your DNP coursework, you’ll learn advanced research, policy and management procedures and prepare for your next role as a healthcare leader.
Although based in Nevada, this online program is open to students in 24 states. For the full list of states and more info to apply, review the DNP Application Requirements page on the TUN site.
How Do I Know Which Graduate Nursing Degree is Right for Me?
There are many different paths you can take as you continue your nursing education and pave the way for a more specialized career. Generally, a master’s is enough if you’re looking to become a Nurse Practitioner in a specific discipline. For some specialties, including anesthesia or gerontology, your master’s program would need to be accredited in that specific area. A master’s also qualifies you for roles in public health and nursing administration.
A Doctorate in Nursing is the right choice if you’re set on pursuing high-level leadership roles. A DNP gives you more flexibility in your career and allows you to qualify for a wide range of opportunities in patient care, administration, and policy making. Of course, a DNP will also allow you to earn a higher salary through the course of your career.
If you’re looking to focus specifically on primary care, an FNP certificate is necessary. You can decide to enroll in an FNP program after your master’s or gain your certificate and graduate degree at the same time in a dual degree program. If you’re less interested in assisting patients with their daily health needs, and more interested in leadership and organization, pursuing a DNP is the better choice for your nursing education.
Regardless of what degree path you choose, earning an advanced degree in nursing will lead to a higher salary, high-level roles and a fulfilling career making an impact on people’s lives.
Reviewed by Sandra A. Russo, PhD, RN