An associate’s degree in nursing is one of the fastest online associate’s degrees you could earn, but will it qualify you to actually become a nurse? Unlike associate’s degree programs in education, psychology or a natural science, yes – an associate’s degree can prepare you for a nursing career without requiring an additional degree. Both the associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) and an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree are recognized paths to attain your nursing license, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the job prospects for a nurse with an associate’s degree – including the potential job titles, work environments and specializations and certifications available – may be different from those for nurses with a bachelor’s degree.
The Job Prospects for Nurses With an Associate’s Degree
Like nurses with a bachelor’s degree, nurses with an AND or ASN degree are eligible to become registered nurses, or RNs. In fact, 66 percent of registered nurses report an associate’s degree as their highest level of education, O*NET reported.
In many respects, the job outlook for RNs with an associate’s degree is similar to that of RNs with a bachelor’s degree. You can, generally, work in many of the same settings – including numerous departments within general hospitals, specialty hospitals, outpatient care centers, doctors’ and nursing care offices, home healthcare services, nursing homes and assisted care facilities.
However, not having a bachelor’s degree may limit your opportunities to some degree. For example, the BLS noted that certain employers, especially hospitals, sometimes require registered nurses to have a bachelor’s degree or give preference to candidates who do. Since 60 percent of registered nurses work in hospitals, having an additional barrier to entry for even some of these positions can limit which jobs are available to you. That employer preference for a bachelor’s degree is one reason that, according to the BLS, registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree will have better job prospects than those with only an associate’s degree.
Less traditional work environments for registered nurses with an associate’s degree include health insurance companies and colleges.
Entry-Level Roles, Not Supervisory-Level Roles
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With your ADN or ASN degree, along with a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), you qualify for entry-level RN jobs, the BLS reported. You might hold job titles like staff nurse or staff RN. With the right combination of experience and professional credentials, you could also hold a specialized staff nurse position. For example, your job title might be acute care nurse, critical care nurse or neonatal nurse, all at staff nurse levels.
There’s a lot you can do as an RN with an associate’s degree, but there are also some things you can’t do. If you want to move beyond entry-level job roles, there’s a good chance that you will eventually need to advance your education. High-level job titles like Director of Nursing usually require at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and even most charge nurse positions go to candidates with a bachelor’s degree.
It’s not only job title and position level that are restricted when your highest level of nursing education is an associate’s degree. There may also be limits on the specializations you can work in and the certifications you can pursue. In California, for example, you must have a bachelor’s degree to be qualified to work as a public health nurse, The Houston Chronicle reported.
Nurses with all levels of education often seek basic certifications like basic life support, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS). However, if you want to acquire certain in-demand specialized certifications, not having a bachelor’s degree may prevent you from reaching your goals. Likewise, if you ultimately want to become a nurse practitioner or another type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), you will need not only to go on to earn your bachelor’s degree but also graduate-level studies in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.
Whether you come to the field with an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree also affects your income potential. Registered nurses with a BSN make up the top 25 percent of earners in the RN profession, which means a couple of extra years of schooling could potentially raise your earning potential by upwards of $10,000 per year.
For many RNs, earning your associate’s degree is a stepping stone in your nursing education, not the end of your formal studies. Some employers – and some states – make working toward your BSN a condition of hire for candidates with an associate’s degree.