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Nursing Education Degrees in the United States Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2020


Various nursing degrees have different benefits and drawbacks. An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) can be completed quickly and is not as expensive as a Bachelor’s Degree (BSN). The BSN, however, offers more opportunities to nurses and results in higher-paying jobs and more available positions. A Master’s degree is a necessary step for one to become a nursing manager and advance one’s career. Nursing educators may choose to receive a doctoral degree which allows them to influence healthcare policies. Each degree has its own implications for nursing practice. A push towards postgraduate degrees can be explained by the advanced range of competencies and deep understanding of the field that they offer.

Introduction and Purpose

Different paths of the nursing career require individuals to complete many levels of training to become professionals in their fields. Thus, education for future and current nurses offers many types of degrees and programs, each teaching new skills as well as theoretical and practical knowledge. The first possible degree leading to the status of a Registered Nurse (RN) is the Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) (Auerbach et al., 2015b). The second type is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which grants similar opportunities but with a broader sphere of implementation (Buerhaus, Auerbach, & Staiger, 2016). The next steps in nursing can open many possibilities for future educators and community representatives. Thus, a Master’s or a doctoral degree in nursing may also be helpful to a professional in this field. Each of these degrees has a specific purpose and also possesses various benefits. However, their disadvantages should also be outlined for nurses who are thinking about their future.

Choosing the right path for nurses can heavily influence their practice. Moreover, the rate of nurses pursuing certain degrees also affects nursing as a whole (Giddens, Keller, & Liesveld, 2015). Each degree has both advantages and drawbacks. Therefore, it is vital to define them and establish the impacts that each of these degrees can have on nursing practice. Another issue that can be outlined in this sphere of discussion is the push towards obtaining doctoral degrees for nurse practitioners. The purpose of this research paper is to analyze various types of nursing degrees, their implications for nursing practice, and the reasons behind nurses needing a more advanced education for their work.

Literature Review: Different Nursing Degrees


Many authors compare the success and performance of nurses pursuing different degrees. The first level of education that a nurse can go through to obtain the right to become an RN is the ADN. This particular degree usually takes a student two years to complete. After receiving an ADN, a graduate can pass the NCLEX exam to become an RN (Auerbach, Buerhaus, & Staiger, 2015a). This program focuses on practical skills and has a limited amount of theoretical knowledge in its courses. In general, an ADN offers a basis for becoming a working nurse.

The main advantage of this degree is its duration, as it is the shortest program available for students who wish to be practicing nurses. In addition, it may be less expansive due to the time it takes and the limited number of subjects that are covered. However, an ADN cannot offer a broad range of possibilities to its graduates as it does not give future nurses the theoretical knowledge necessary for a more advanced degree. RNs that want to move forward in their career are usually required to receive a BSN to pursue other academic programs (Auerbach et al., 2015a). Thus, this program can be helpful for individuals who want to finish their education and start working faster. However, it does not prepare nurses for future scholarly education and training.


A BSN degree provides nurses with a similar basis for becoming an RN (Giddens et al., 2015). However, it has some differences and takes more time to complete. The average duration of getting a Bachelor’s degree in four years, which is twice as long as the length of an ADN. Thus, some differences are to be expected from this extended and more focused program. First of all, a BSN gives students enough information to become RNs, as well as including courses such as adult health, pediatrics, maternal health, and others is its curriculum. In addition, future nurses pursuing a BSN degree often have more opportunities to learn about nursing theory and research. They may also study nursing technology in more detail, preparing to work in advanced hospital settings (Buerhaus et al., 2016). This program takes more time and gives nurses a stronger foundation for future study.

The main advantage of a BSN lies in the future options open for its graduates. Nurses with a Bachelor’s degree may have more hiring opportunities as many hospitals want to hire RNs with a more advanced knowledge base (Giddens et al., 2015). Furthermore, according to Auerbach et al. (2015a), the rate of RNs with an ADN being employed in hospitals is dropping, as they shift to working in long-term care. It appears that the qualification of an RN with a BSN degree appeals to employers more than the previously described program. Another benefit of obtaining a BSN is the preparedness of a nurse to pursue other academic degrees. A Bachelor’s degree allows one to achieve specialization and become a registered nurse practitioner (RNP), a nurse anesthetist, or a midwife. Higher positions in a hospital or other medical establishments are also available to nurses with a higher degree. The drawbacks of this program are its duration and possible cost.

Master’s Degrees

Nurses with a BSN degree can move forward in their education and receive a Master’s degree. Usually, this means earning the title of a Master of Science in Nursing. This degree allows them to become educators, mentors, and administrators and helps them to advance in their practice and teaching (Massimi et al., 2016). In fact, it is a necessary step for nurses who want to work on managing positions. A Master’s degree offers more specific courses, where nurses can choose a specialty in pediatric or adult care, gynecology, obstetrics, and palliative care. Furthermore, psychiatric care is also a subject of training in this step of education.

Individuals with a Master’s degree can further their careers in nursing and take on more management responsibilities. This is the primary benefit of this program since it provides nurses with more hiring opportunities. Furthermore, nursing administrators can enjoy a higher-paying position and more ability to influence healthcare. For example, a nurse can become an educator and raise awareness about the state of nursing in the community and the sphere of politics (Massimi et al., 2016). This program also gives one a chance to pursue the next step in one’s education, a doctoral degree. However, its disadvantage may lie in the fact that this degree may provide nurses with skills and knowledge that are not used by them in full. Thus, it is essential for nurses to decide whether they need to acquire this degree for their career and whether they want to become educators, managers, or administrators.

Doctoral Degrees

By getting a doctorate in nursing, one can impact the future of nursing and make a difference in the research and practice of other specialists. This degree requires significant time and commitment from nurses and requires them to acquire in-depth knowledge of the theoretical side of nursing (Auerbach et al., 2015b). Nurses with a doctorate can influence healthcare policies, represent communities, and community issues while speaking with government officials and become educators for future practitioners to relieve the shortage of nurses. There are some options for nurses who want to pursue a doctoral degree. Some may choose to receive a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), while others may focus on education, becoming a Doctor of Education in Nursing. Nurses may also become Doctors of Nursing Practice and influence the conditions and training of other working nurses.

A nurse with this degree can be hired to the highest administrative positions or even open his or her own practice. The range of opportunities open to nurses with a doctoral degree is a definite benefit of finishing this program. However, this level of education may be strenuous for nurses as it requires much time and energy to complete. Xu and Song (2016) state that nurses often develop problems with psychological well-being due to being overburdened with work, education, and other responsibilities.

Data Analysis: Implications for Nursing Practice

As was mentioned above, each step of nursing education can influence nursing practice in its own separate way. Nurses with ADN and BSN degrees are the majority of all working specialists employed in hospitals and long-term care settings. However, nurses with a BSN have more abilities to contribute to the development of healthcare practices due to their extensive theoretical knowledge. Therefore, the academic community often moves towards creating more programs for Bachelor’s degrees to benefit nursing practice (Buerhaus et al., 2016). Additionally, nurses with a Master’s degree can directly contribute to the development of nursing education as they become mentors for other workers and teach them necessary skills and practices. The evolution of nursing as a profession is highly dependent on nurses with doctoral degrees. Their influence on healthcare policies and decisions of the government can significantly improve the state of nursing practice as well as highlighting the issues that nurses face.

Switching from a Master’s to a Doctoral Degree

According to Auerbach et al. (2015b), a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) is considered to be “the most appropriate degree for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)” by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) (p. 3). Moreover, this degree is said to be more beneficial than a Master’s degree for APRNs who want to work within clinical practice. This belief is based on the fact that a DNP has more value regarding knowledge and the capabilities it can give to nurses. Therefore, it results in many qualified educators and researchers who can advance nursing practice and influence all of its aspects.


Various levels of nursing education offer different sets of skills and knowledge required for successful practice. RNs with an ADN can practice and contribute to their experience in hospitals and long-term care settings. However, a Bachelor’s degree can open more opportunities to RNs to advance their practice and base it on a more substantial theoretical foundation. A Master’s degree allows nurses to become managers and mentors to other workers, while a doctoral level of education turns nurses into influencers and representatives who can impact healthcare and change the future of nursing. All career paths available to nurses have an impact on their practice. Nurses may be inclined to choose a DNP as a way to become the most qualified professional.


Auerbach, D. I., Buerhaus, P. I., & Staiger, D. O. (2015a). Do associate degree registered nurses fare differently in the nurse labor market compared to baccalaureate-prepared RNs? Nursing Economics, 33(1), 8-12.

Auerbach, D. I., Martsolf, G. R., Pearson, M. L., Taylor, E. A., Zaydman, M., Muchow, A. N.,… Lee, Y. (2015b). The DNP by 2015: A study of the institutional, political, and professional issues that facilitate or impede establishing a post-baccalaureate doctor of nursing practice program. Rand Health Quarterly, 5(1), 3.

Buerhaus, P. I., Auerbach, D. I., & Staiger, D. O. (2016). Recent changes in the number of nurses graduating from undergraduate and graduate programs. Nursing Economics, 34(1), 46-48.

Giddens, J., Keller, T., & Liesveld, J. (2015). Answering the call for a bachelors-prepared nursing workforce: An innovative model for academic progression. Journal of Professional Nursing, 31(6), 445-451.

Massimi, A., Marzuillo, C., Di Muzio, M., Vacchio, M. R., D’Andrea, E., Villari, P., & De Vito, C. (2016). Are knowledge and skills acquired during the master degree in nursing actually put into practice? A pilot study in Italy. Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Public Health, 13(1), e11684-1-e11684-4.

Xu, L., & Song, R. (2016). Influence of work–family–school role conflicts and social support on psychological wellbeing among registered nurses pursuing advanced degree. Applied Nursing Research, 31, 6-12.

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